Laura’s Story: Finding Oneself Through Service

By LIFT on February 17, 2013

Categories: Our Work, Real Stories

It was during her summer LIFTing in the Bronx that Tufts University Senior Laura Garbes chose a career for herself. “I was so inspired by the Bronx Defenders,” she says, referring to the group that supplies LIFT members with legal advice. “And now I want to become an immigration lawyer.”

As a LIFT fellow in the summer of 2013, she worked full-time at LIFT-The Bronx’s office, within walking distance of where most members live. Enoc, for example, was originally from Puerto Rico. His wife, who was in the hospital after a kidney transplant, was coming home soon, but he knew it would be impossible for her to get up to their third-floor apartment. The fact that the apartment didn’t have hot water underscored the urgency to move, and when Enoc had a small stroke, Laura knew something had to be done right away.

She enlisted the help of a LIFT advisor with expertise in housing law and helped Enoc transfer to a more suitable apartment. “That’s why LIFT works,” she explains. “Advocates learn just how far they can go on behalf of the members. Beyond that, it was such a relief to have advisors at our side saying, ‘This is exactly what you should do.’”

When Jocelyn, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, got behind on her rent, Laura connected her to an emergency cash grant. “It’s not people doing things for other people,” she explains. “Members are on top of managing their own lives; they just don’t always have all the information they need.” Laura, who improved her Spanish while studying in Peru, acted as translator for Jocelyn so that the young mother wouldn’t have to rely on her eight-year-old son.

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t always easy for the college senior to handle these experiences without feeling emotionally and physically drained. Laura credits Rachel Jones, Program Coordinator at the Bronx office for reminding her: “Be kind to yourself in order to be kind to others.”

In fact, at one point, the entire LIFT team rallied around Laura after a mugger assaulted her. “Everybody was so supportive,” she says. “Rachel visited the hospital with flowers and magazines. There was always someone to walk me to the subway.” The members of the English-language conversation group she started made her a card—in English—and eight days after the incident, Laura was back in the office, helping them attain their goals. “It was great to go back to work,” she says.