By Batsheva Honig, Washington and Lee University (2017)
The train stops at 56th Street station. I linger a moment making sure that I am at the right stop. I hurriedly make my way off the train just as the doors begin to close. I walk one block down the street and pass a Fresh Grocer on my right. Apartments line my periphery – most have seen better days. It is a scorching 90° outside, and I feel for my strap – making sure my backpack is in place. Inside, I have one notebook, a few pencils, a pen, and my lunch for the day – PB&J as always. As I come to the end of the sidewalk, I look both ways trying to find my destination. At first, I think I am lost, but then I spot the bright letters of my internship agency’s LIFT logo. I cross the street and then cross again to reach my stop that was hidden away by the daycare sign on the other side of the building. I ascend the stairs, open the door and am surprised to see someone already here. It is 8:30am. I am early for my first day of work, and a man is already sitting on the bench in the waiting room. “Good morning,” He says. “Good morning,” I reply. “Do you work here?” I ask. “No Ma’am, just waiting for the doors to open.” “Are they locked?” I question. “No, someone is already here, just knock and they will let you in.”
Batsheva (W&L) lived in Camden, NJ and interned at LIFT in Philadelphia.
This summer I was fortunate enough to work at LIFT in Philadelphia. LIFT is a community resource center where interns are dedicated to working one-on-one with clients to advocate on their behalf. Interns help clients navigate different systems in order to reach their goals. The main goals that LIFT focuses on are securing stable housing, employment, higher education, basic needs/benefits and healthcare. Using a member driven approach, interns work together with clients on their goals. Only through this partnership can we be successful. The ultimate goal is to lift our members out of poverty so that they can achieve financial stability and well-being. LIFT also focuses on providing referrals to those in need of food, shelter, and clothing. LIFT is not a direct placement agency, and does not provide direct benefits of any kind. Rather, clients are in charge of their goals and of their plan for achieving them. For example, if a client had the goal of securing employment, interns would work with him to complete his résumé, his cover letter, and help him apply for a number of jobs and practice his interview skills. LIFT’s success comes from empowering each and every member. This empowerment entails a strengths-based approach. Sometimes people cannot see their own strengths, but when you talk about it and highlight their potential, it really brings positive thinking into someone’s day. From what I have seen, highlighting strengths pushes people to strive towards their goals and find success within themselves. The intangible benefits of compassion, dignity, and kindness are equally as valuable as the tangible services offered by LIFT.
My favorite aspect of my work with LIFT was talking directly and getting to know the members. Much of the information that we deal with is highly confidential and personal in each person’s life. It is important to make our members feel comfortable and know that they are in control of their goals. I think that this is what separates LIFT from many other community resource centers and case-management organizations. Members know that when they come to LIFT, they will be treated with kindness and respect. We are on equal footing with our members and do not look down on them. Finding common ground may not always be easy, but I have heard from a number of members that they love coming to LIFT and that it is one of the best things that has happened to them.
As noted, when I walked in the doors at LIFT, a client greeted me. Some clients arrive before we open, so they can be first on the walk-in list. Sometimes they just stop by to chat. The clients who come to LIFT possess skills and knowledge to determine and achieve their goals; however, they cannot always do so alone. Clients may have a hard time connecting to jobs or opportunities that meet their needs. LIFT provides valuable, crucial services as well as giving hope.
I found it both sad and unfortunate that three of the six LIFT offices closed on July 31st of this year. My last day as an intern was also the last day of LIFT in Philly. While LIFT members are resilient and will go on, they will face many more obstacles and challenges without the collaboration of an organization like LIFT. I worry that without LIFT some members will not go to a computer lab to check their e-mail to see if they have heard back from a job application. I worry that members will not apply for health insurance correctly or in time to meet the deadlines of the marketplace exchange. I worry that they will not be treated with dignity and respect when they seek help at other places. But, in the end, I hope. I hope that they will be successful. Without LIFT in their community, all we could do was connect members with names and numbers of other places that may be of help to them – and hope that they will be successful.
I will never forget the beauty and reality of how kindness and hope can uplift people. While LIFT may have provided services that can also be found at the welfare office or at multiple other organizations, they did so in a way that each member felt valued. We worked with our members, not for or against them. This partnership fostered bonds and relationships that I cherished. Moreover, LIFT clients valued their time at LIFT and the people who stood by them through thick and thin. Sometimes when we are immersed in what we do, we forget that we are working with people – each unique and wonderful and deserving of being heard and being able to accomplish his or her own goals. It is my hope that other agencies will rise up to take on the challenge and responsibility of providing quality, compassionate care for both LIFT’s clients and all those in need of a helping hand. This summer I learned the value of working as a team, striving to achieve a common goal for a community with so much need and so much potential.