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Using Privileged Positions to Eradicate Barriers

By Molly Snell-Larch, AmeriCorps Member Service Fellow, LIFT (DC).  Ms Snell-Larch is a 2015 Graduate of the College of Wooster and a member of the 2014 Shepherd Intern Cohort.

I came into my summer internship with the Shepherd Consortium fresh off a semester abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. I felt like a jetsetter, worldly and knowledgeable, easily adapting to cultural differences wherever I went. I felt invincible. When I stepped into the office of LIFT-Boston in Roxbury, Massachusetts, I felt like I had stepped into another world.

Molly Snell-Larch interned at LIFT-Boston in 2014 and has begun her professional career with LIFT - DC.

Molly Snell-Larch interned at LIFT-Boston in 2014 and has begun her professional career with LIFT – DC.

As a non-profit focused on poverty alleviation through one-on-one service with community members, LIFT employs interns like me as Advocates. During my two months there, I met with community members and helped them create a set of goals, and begin working through them. Typically, these goals centered around employment, housing and public benefits applications, with the ultimate goal being one of economic self-sufficiency. Members (short for community members, implying that they have as much a stake in the outcomes of the partnership as anyone) come in once a week to meet with the same Advocate for one hour, ensuring a long lasting partnership. This partnership, among other things, is an attempt to recognize Members as human beings, and for them to retain the dignity so often stripped from them as a result of social service access.

As a sociology major, I always thought that I understood social inequality in theory; its root causes, the populations it most affects, the way it has burrowed into the most fundamental American values and the ways in which it is self-perpetuating. What I learned at LIFT was that theory is not everything; in many ways it does not even begin to scratch the surface. How do I tell a mother who lost her children because of homelessness that this is really a result of a long history of racialized residential zoning? What good is theory if it is not helping the people who need it the most?

I went back to school for my senior year determined to bridge the gap between theory from the classroom and what I did with LIFT; I wanted to relate my experiences at LIFT with the people in low-income situations to my theoretical understanding of poverty and inequality. Through the College of Wooster’s Independent Study program, I did just that. I wrote a senior capstone thesis on how gendered expectations of women in poverty affects the ways in which they are forced to go about the process of accessing social services. I explored how the intersection of race, class and gender causes women to experience social service access differently, particularly in the ways in which they are defined in relation to their children. This thesis and the interviews I conducted with low-income women solidified my interest in poverty studies and poverty alleviation. It allowed the interplay of theory and life on the ground in a way I had yet experienced, and I then knew that I wanted to continue that type of work.

Following my graduation from the College of Wooster, I was offered a job with LIFT, the very same non-profit I gained experience with as a Shepherd Intern, in their office in Washington, D.C. As an AmeriCorps Member Service Fellow, I will be engaging with Members one-on-one on their goal setting and goal achievement. I will also be piloting digital literacy and financial planning programs to further the mission of “LIFTing” people out of poverty for good. LIFT’s Member driven approach continues to inspire me, and helps me see the power of listening, partnership, and the dignity of the individual. My theoretical understanding continues to help me conceptualize that we need people helping underserved populations directly, but we also need people on the macro level allowing lived experiences to influence public policy and opinion.

What my SHECP internship combined with my research taught me, above all, was that even though Roxbury may have felt like another world, it was very much the world we all continue to live in. This is an uncomfortable fact to face in our day-to-day lives; the way we live, the systems we implicitly condone, make lives very difficult for those in less privileged positions than us. We all have the responsibility to use our privileged positions to begin to eradicate the barriers of systems. I will seek to do that through a year of service and learning. Beyond that, I may seek a career informing public policy or teaching others the importance of empathy in poverty studies. Without my Shepherd Internship, this passion for reducing poverty by removing barriers to opportunity may never have found me, and for that I am forever grateful.


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