Giving the Gift of Trust

By LIFT on December 2, 2014

Categories: First Person Perspective

by Maicharia Weir Lytle, Executive Director, LIFT-Boston

As the Executive Director of LIFT-Boston, I have many stories to share about the amazing work of our members and volunteers, as well as the ways LIFT engages in active partnerships and relationships based on trust, mutual respect and reciprocity. Today, I am writing to share my story and the impact I discovered this fall season through my own efforts to get involved in direct service.

This past September, I became an advocate alongside our dedicated team of volunteers who partner with members to reach goals such as securing employment and stable housing. Similar to how our new volunteers feel their first day, I was nervous and at times I doubted my own ability to help.

Our Cambridge-Somerville team scheduled me with Michael for our first meeting on September 2nd. Michael came to LIFT a few years ago with a goal of securing a job. I could not help but question how I was going to make a difference. My first day of member service, the nerves came back, but when I met Michael and he told me what he wanted to work on that day, the nerves disappeared, mostly because I knew at that moment that this was about Michael and not me.

After my first meeting with Michael, I questioned whether Michael’s goal of getting a job was realistic and whether LIFT could help.  After all, Michael had been out of work for 7 years while taking care of his mother who recently passed, and he had a big road ahead of him. Not to mention, I know that applying for a job once a week for one hour was not going to lead to a job. I brought these questions to my team and they smiled at me and told me to hang in there. I have hung in there and I’ve realized on a very personal level why LIFT is an important participant in the movement of helping lift members out of poverty. Because at LIFT, we recognize that it takes much more than just getting the job, and Michael has demonstrated that beautifully.

Michael and I continue to meet every week and I wanted to share a few of the key lessons Michael has taught me:

Working WITH is more powerful than working FOR

LIFT’s model intentionally trains volunteers to support members in doing the work they need to do to reach their goals. That said, during my first meeting with Michael we were not able to get as much done as I had hoped. I was so close to letting Michael know that I could, later that day, update his résumé, draft a cover letter, and submit the application we did not finish. I had to pause and remind myself that at LIFT we work with not for our members. So instead we discussed what we’d work on and accomplish the following meeting. Each week, Michael and I work together to write and edit his cover letters and résumés, with him being the lead author and decision maker. Moreover, Michael takes pride in telling his story, articulating his goals and applying to positions.

Members are teaching us new things every day

Part of being an equal partner is recognizing that success is achieved by combining and leveraging supplemental sets of knowledge, skills and experiences – and Michael has taught me that I don’t know everything. My perspective and knowledge is limited by my own experiences, and Michael has taught me about new sectors and fields I previously knew nothing about, as well as the types of skills and physical demands many of the jobs he seeks entail. He has taught me what it takes to be a receiver in a warehouse. Not understanding his goals or the required skills and attributes to reach them would have prevented me from fully helping. Because my drive to learn and reach goals matched Michael’s, we are able to succeed as equal partners in the process.

It is NOT JUST about getting the job

When I first started to work with Michael, I thought success would only be determined by him securing a job. While this is his “ultimate goal,” I am learning that we are achieving many smaller successes along the way and Michael is growing in the process.  Through our hour-long weekly meetings, we talk a lot. We talk about options, possibilities and barriers, and we brainstorm. Several weeks ago I suggested a job-training program he might be interested in and Michael hesitated and said, “let me think about it.” It was clear to me that he was not interested in this at the time. Three weeks later when I greeted Michael for our meeting, he told me that he was interested in attending the information session for the job-training program we spoke about before. I was surprised and excited that Michael did think about it and made the decision to learn more. I also realized the power of planting seeds. Just last week, Michael came to his appointment happier than usual and told me that he got accepted into the program, which starts in February.

I’m LIFTed by direct service

Every day, members come into LIFT with ambition and goals they strive to achieve – often in the face of adversity, doubt, barriers, disappointments and urgency. They enter our offices with trust in our volunteers and trust in LIFT. Trust they will be supported. Trust their stories will be heard. Trust their goals and dreams will be embraced. Trust they are ready to work hard. In order to support their goals and to accomplish true success, we must trust in all they have to teach us and trust they will hold up as equals in LIFTing together.

I am inspired by Michael. I am inspired by our volunteers who show up every day with as much ambition as our members. I hope you will be inspired to help others, to ask for help when you need it, and to be patient partners with us in the work of LIFTing lives, households and communities.