Part Four: Once a LIFTer, Always a LIFTer

By LIFT on February 25, 2015

Categories: First Person Perspective

In our final post in the four part series, we are going to hear from LIFT-Chicago Alum, Grace Nash. Grace spent a summer interning at LIFT-Chicago after her first year first Amherst College. Below, she reflects on the impact that summer had on her interests and career trajectory.

As my first year at Amherst College was coming to an end, I began to panic unsure what I was going to do with my summer. Most students seemed to have a plan. I sat, staring at my computer, having no idea where to even start looking. I did not even know what field was of interest to me. I decided to start Googling “summer internships for undergraduate students in Chicago.” Soon enough, I came across a link to an internship at LIFT-Chicago. I immediately recognized the name. Many community members from my hometown, my family included, are supporters of LIFT.

Upon reading the job description, and doing additional research on LIFT, I immediately wanted to be part of that summer internship program. The opportunity to engage in hands on work, instead of just busy work, was unusual for an undergraduate internship.

After the first day of orientation, I knew the work I was doing that summer was going to have an impact on my career path. The direct service work I engaged in at LIFT was invaluable. As an 18 year old I was working one-on-one with individuals to help them overcome major challenges like financial instability, unemployment and homelessness. Not many people that age get to help others (mostly adults) grapple with and overcome such obstacles. I loved the work I was doing at LIFT and could see the difference I was making in people’s lives.

Once the summer ended, I headed back to Amherst knowing I wanted to continue doing similar work. I reached out to a student who worked at the local homeless shelter, Craig’s Place, and she informed me of a new Resource Advocacy program they were starting. This program allowed students from the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College to work one-on-one with individuals who are homeless in the Pioneer Valley helping them find homes, jobs and gain access to public benefits. This was a great way to continue the work I did at LIFT. I worked one night a week for the entire shelter season (Craig’s Place is a seasonal shelter so it was only open November-April) and through this work I became very aware of the issues specific to homelessness in Amherst. Towards the end of shelter season, I was asked to participate in a study of Craig’s Place the following year.

The goal of the study was to determine the role Craig’s Place has in the town of Amherst. In collaboration with professors, a member of the Town Housing and Sheltering Committee, and another local college student, we embarked on a semester-long research project where we would report our findings in a presentation to the town. Part of this research entailed interviewing a variety of different “key stakeholders.” These “key stakeholders” included Craig’s Place staff members, town officials, the Amherst police chief, the director of the Survival Center and several other important people. In addition to the interviews we analyzed data we received from the shelter, researched the history of the shelter, and looked at the issue of homelessness outside of Amherst as well. By the end of the semester, we formulated a 30-page report and gave a 45-minute presentation on our findings.

None of my direct service nor research work at Amherst would have happened had I not spent the summer after my first year of college working at LIFT-Chicago. LIFT opened the door to an entire line of work that I previously had never considered. It gave me the experience, knowledge, compassion, and enthusiasm to not only continue this work but to be successful in doing so. Last summer I interned at Northwestern Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and after that I realized that post-graduation I want to go to law school. I have been looking into other organizations that are similar to LIFT – supporting underserved populations – but that also have legal clinics. My hope is to be able to one day continue my LIFTing as a lawyer for these clinics. My journey into and passion for social change work would never have happened if it were not for my first experience at LIFT. Once a LIFTer, always a LIFTer.