Filling My Backpack with Lessons from LIFT

By LIFT on September 26, 2018

Categories: Events, First Person Perspective, Social Connections

My summer experience with LIFT ended just a little bit backwards.

This week, I finished out my last days with the Chicago team at LIT (LIFTers in Training), the orientation where incoming coaches get their first taste of what being part of LIFT is all about. As I settled into my seat to hear staff members speak about the organization’s history, I couldn’t help but register the irony of spending these final days in the place where many individuals start their journey with LIFT. I began to reflect on what I had experienced in the past ten weeks and the lessons that I’ll carry into the new school year.

On a balmy mid-June morning, I stepped into the brightly lit Chicago office for my first day. Not in a directly member-facing role, I was not sure how much of LIFT’s model I would be able to see in the day-to-day of my internship. Little did I know, though, that LIFT’s mission emanated far beyond the one-on-one goal-setting sessions between parent members and their coaches.

My main project for the summer was planning LIFT-Chicago’s Back to School Bash. The goal of this annual event is to offset the cost and stress that going back to school can bring to low-income families by providing an evening of delicious food, family-friendly activities and free school supplies. I dove right into scoping out different venues, sponsors and possible in-kind donations.

I had some ideas of what the event could look like, but after conferring with staff members, I remembered how important it was to have the input of the individuals the event would serve. Thus, I reached out to members from LIFT-Chicago’s Parent Leadership Institute to gather their insights on what would best assist families in the transition back to school.

Immediately, I saw the results of LIFT’s investment in intentional, member-driven relationships. A huge tenet of LIFT’s work is practicing unconditional positive regard in every interaction, whether it be with a parent or a fellow staff member. In speaking with LIFT members, I saw that same positive regard reciprocated. Individuals whom I had never met shared stories about their families, goals, and experiences with community organizations because they knew I was part of the LIFT family. A member was even able to connect me with a barber college willing to donate free haircuts to all kids at the event. I observed in real time how LIFT empowered members to build and engage their social capital.

The next several weeks zipped by as I set out to secure donations for the event. After numerous “no’s” and zero leads, I started to lose hope for securing support. Gradually, however, individuals and companies from coast to coast reached out wanting to pitch in, providing everything from sketchbooks and scissors, to paint sets and canvases. Slowly but surely, things began to come together. First the venue, then the food, and finally the school supply donations.

Before I knew it, the day of the Back to School Bash had come and the event was underway. I took in the sights and sounds of LIFT staff laughing with kids and sharing summer memories with parents. I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for having had the chance to be a part of this group that worked day in and day out to support members in reaching their goals.

After shadowing coaching meetings, tabling at recruitment events, and hearing member success stories across regions, I have truly seen what it means to be a LIFTer. Ingrained in every LIFTer is a persistent sense of empathy. I found it in the staff who spent countless hours helping me stuff backpacks with supplies, in the coaches who truly listened in one-on-one sessions, whether it was their first or their twentieth meeting with a parent, and in the Chicago board member who took the time to read children’s books at the event.

LIFT cheers you on and provides support when necessary, but you’re the one on the field making the plays, learning, and growing. I am leaving LIFT having felt what it is like to have people unabashedly and unequivocally on your team.

At the event, I looked down at the rows and rows of backpacks, all ready to be worn on the shoulders of little LIFTers. Amidst the vibrant hues and carefully labeled name tags, I also saw possibility. The possibility of what each child would create with what they found inside their backpacks. I began imagining the pictures they might draw in their sketchbooks, the paintings they might create on their canvases, and the stories they might write in their notebooks and I smiled.

Anything’s possible when you’ve got LIFT on your team.

This blog post was written by Shreya Reddy, a 2018 summer IOP intern at LIFT’-Chicago.