Summer Fellows Share Why They LIFT

By LIFT on August 17, 2011

Categories: Our Work


As the summer winds down and LIFT’s Summer Fellows complete their terms, we asked the team to reflect on their LIFT experience by sharing their story of why they “LIFT.”  Through this act of introspection and storytelling, we hope that advocates are able to develop new insights about the realities of poverty and a fuller perspective on their experience with LIFT.

“Economic conditions, poverty, and inequality make up so much of what I study at school, yet I’ve always felt unprepared for discussions we have in class about these issues and dissatisfied with the overly theoretical tone debates usually take. Readings, professors’ viewpoints, and class discussion can only take you so far, and it’s not very far.  I grew up in an isolated area where notions of poverty, inequality, and lack of opportunity are different from those one might find here in DC. Exposure to these issues was limited and I was left feeling like I lacked key insights into issues I cared about. I felt a need to resolve these concerns for myself and give substance to what I was thinking. By talking with folks in the low-income community and seeing what inequality looks like in a city infamous for its problems with poverty, I believed I could develop (and equally importantly justify) my own thoughts on poverty and at the same time do my part to combat it. This is what I expected out of LIFT and exactly what I got out of it, so I’m very glad I spent my summer with the organization. It was truly moving to get to know such a great variety of people, with unique backgrounds and equally unique circumstances and challenges. All had similar aspirations and, by virtue of coming to LIFT, the motivation to carry on. The attitude and drive our clients have, given their situations, gives us invaluable perspective in looking at our own lives and appreciating what we have…”

– Ghalib Shaikh, LIFT-DC Summer Fellow

“As an incoming transfer student, I began at LIFT for the mere reason that the act of volunteering had been a large part of my high school education. Unfortunately, as a college student it became easy to get caught up in the rat race. It was the simplest thing to focus on school and forget about the rest my responsibilities. But after a [trying] time in my life had passed, I realized that social service was at the root of what made me feel complete. I searched for the opportunity to become a part of something greater than myself. And I found it at LIFT … [With] each meeting I am constantly reminded of what I often forget: one small group of citizens truly does have the capacity to create change in the world, even if it is on a smaller scale. The fact that a life is different/better because of LIFT, its volunteers, and its cause, is the main and only reason I have needed to LIFT.”

– Sonia Gomez, LIFT-Chicago Summer Fellow

“Being someone who spent his childhood growing up in Karachi, Pakistan, I was pretty familiar with the inequalities that exist in society and the burden that poverty truly has on people. Karachi is a city that is incredibly diverse with people from various socio-economic backgrounds and as a developing country in general, Pakistan is not a nation that has a lot of wealth to share. Fortunately, my parents were able to afford to move our family and to relocate to the US and since moving I have lived a very fortunate life. However, my childhood memories never escaped me and I left behind friends who were truly struggling. When I came to America at the age of 11 I thought it was the land of the affluent with big cities, big roads (I was surprised that there were no cows on the roads), and big personalities. Although I lived pretty isolated in the suburbs on New Jersey as a teenager it was not until I moved to college here in DC that I was really exposed to what poverty means in America.

Through my experiences with LIFT these past few months I have learned that poverty in America is in some cases better than poverty in Pakistan, but in other cases it is much worse. I learned that poverty is poverty no matter where you are and that no one deserves that kind of lifestyle and everyone deserves to live a happy, safe, and long life. I have truly been amazed at the diversity of the clients, volunteers and Site Coordinators that I have met these past few months. I have been inspired by the strength and dedication that so many of LIFT’s clients have. There has always been at least one thing that I have learned from each client, and after so many rewarding client meetings, joining LIFT as a Student Advocate has probably been one of the best decisions I have made thus far.”

– Aly Azhar, LIFT-DC Summer Fellow

“Every day at LIFT, I attempted to help individuals overcome personal barriers, navigate nearly incomprehensible institutional and government pathways, and reach their personal goals. I often faced difficult challenges from the very people I was trying to help—reluctance to share information, inconsistent meeting attendance, and other issues—but more often I was awed by the enthusiasm, motivation, and optimism of people who are struggling against so many inequalities.  I worked with community organizations with meaningful missions whose work contributes to and complements LIFT’s own, demonstrating the importance of communication and collaboration. Inside and outside of our LIFT office, I have grown deeply connected to the Boston community and to how this organization is working to improve it.

Despite all of my efforts to empower individuals and support the disadvantaged, I have been constantly confronted by the harsh reality of social and economic inequalities in the United States. Working with LIFT, I have witnessed personal, organizational, and institutional factors that work to deprive the disadvantaged of power. I have faced the behemoth of government social programs that tramples the neediest and seems designed to fail individuals. I am constantly reminded that the structure of this country’s economic system stratifies society and abandons large segments of the population. I can see that something needs to be changed. However, I am not naïve enough to think that capitalism will change in a day, and people are poor, hungry, and needy now. Until the roots of poverty are resolved, people will struggle in the face of hardship to meet their needs and goals. I can help. This is why I LIFT. I LIFT to empower people to survive and thrive today and to work for a better future.”

Theresa Strachila, LIFT-Boston Summer Fellow

I’ve been volunteering at LIFT since the fall of 2009, and it’s a really come to be a defining part of my identity as a student and as a person.  Every day and every client is a rewarding experience for me, as I can see the results of my work and the positive effect it has on the client. From the good days (helping an engineer tailor his resume for his new job) to the bad (applying for emergency aid for a woman at imminent risk of being evicted), each shift is a new challenge and a new opportunity to do some good.  In one more memorable experience, a client turned to me at the end of our meeting and said that I was “a blessing.”  It still makes me well up, thinking of the positive impact I was able to have in her life.

LIFT has helped me realize that my future lies in public service. When I think of what I’d like to do professionally, I turn to what gives me satisfaction, and that always leads back to LIFT.  I carry my experiences with LIFT with me after I leave the office, and it makes me happy to remember the good I’ve done and the smiles on the faces of those I’ve helped.  I’m so proud of the impact I’ve been able to make, and grateful to LIFT for giving me the means to do so.  I LIFT because it gives back to me as much or more than I put in.

Michael Guhin, LIFT-Evanston Summer Fellow

During my college career, I became more aware of social injustice around the world, and I had an opportunity to go to Uganda to see and experience poverty. Although I was very interested in international issues, I had been very apathetic about domestic issues.  One day when I was walking by a homeless person after class, I decided to talk to him and offer him food. After talking to him, I realized that poverty exists everywhere not only in developing countries, but even here in America. After this epiphany, every time I passed by a homeless person, I was very conflicted because I wanted to help him out, but I did not know how except to offer food. I felt very small in front of this huge issue of poverty, and felt helpless.

That is when I heard about LIFT from my friends. Working at LIFT opened my eyes to a lot of different things, and I feel like there is so much more we can do. However, I started to understand that change happens gradually and slowly. By helping that one client today will bring more positive changes in the world. Ending this vicious cycle of poverty will start from helping that one client.

Irene Cho, LIFT-Evanston Summer Fellow

Everyday, there are stories on the news about home foreclosures, unemployment, and other consequences of the economic recession.  For many of us, those affected by economic difficulties remain a distant entity, merely statistics reported in the papers or on TV.  I LIFT because I believe that people who struggle with economic insecurity or limited opportunities are more than just a number.  At LIFT we interact with people, not statistics.  LIFT puts a human face on the issues that so many Americans are unaware of or choose to ignore.  Though my work at LIFT can’t change the system, it can help individuals to overcome obstacles and work toward expanding opportunity and achieving success.

Eli Kaplan, LIFT-Evanston Summer Fellow

When I began deciding what I wanted to do this summer I felt as though now was the perfect time to finally learn about what I could do for my region. Being raised near Evanston, Illinois I always felt as though the city and suburbs of Chicago shaped me into who I am today. Therefore, when I saw that I could not only work for a non-profit but in a community that I have been around my entire life, I was excited to join. There are very few organizations that mobilize young college students across the nation to not only confront the socio-economic realities of poverty, but to also actively fight against structural and economic injustices.  I LIFT because the ability to meet and work with people to help them find real solutions for their very real problems while simultaneously empowering them to grow on their own made me feel as though I was making a lasting impact in my community.

George Gore, LIFT-Evanston Summer Fellow