Zachariah’s Story: Committed to Putting People First

By LIFT on December 13, 2013

Categories: Our Work, Real Stories

When LIFT members from Chicago’s Uptown office meet Zachariah, they often compliment his laid back personality, understanding, practicality in meetings, as well as his beard. It’s not hard to like him–he always comes into the office with a bright attitude and quirky jokes. Having found LIFT through Loyola University’s School of Social Work in 2012, Zachariah spends 15 hours a week working the front desk, spending and developing questionnaires that assess LIFT’s services for community members.

While he is not a stranger to stories of poverty and the world of social services, he was not always interested in becoming a social worker. Born and raised in Champaign, IL, Zachariah comes from a family of social workers that includes his mother, grandmother, and stepfather. After graduating high school, Zachariah wanted to venture out of Illinois to gain a totally new experience so he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He knew that it would offer him free education after he finished serving. After five years, four deployments serving in Iraq and Japan, being promoted to Sergeant, and traveling the world, Zachariah returned home and made roots in Chicago.

Through his time in the Marines, Zachariah discovered that his strengths were working with people, seeing things from different perspectives, and helping people focus. However, upon his return to the States, Zachariah was still unsure what he wanted to do as a profession. That all changed upon a visit to his local Veterans Affairs Hospital for counseling. While in the post-9/11 wing, Zachariah noticed that the social workers working with the veterans were predominantly non-veterans who did not reflect the general demographics of the veterans coming in for services. In fact, only one of the eight social workers who worked at the hospital was male. Zachariah’s observation is backed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of 2013, which reported that only 18% of social workers are male in the United States. This statistic stands strongly, reflecting the predominant image and association of the social work profession as a “woman’s job.” Wanting to change that image, Zachariah decided that becoming a social worker who focused on working with veterans would be the perfect line of work for him because it would enable him to both give back to and represent his community.

To fulfill his dream, he enrolled in Loyola University Chicago’s social work program where he met LIFT through a service-learning class. When Zachariah reflected on the first time he visited LIFT’s Uptown office, he explained how he was nervous and excited, but was also “…impressed by all the students. Everyone was wholeheartedly working so hard for a good cause.” Through his work at LIFT, he has been able to work with a diversity of people, from a 55-year-old man to a 23-year-old Irish immigrant. He reflects on the fact that LIFT helped teach him that “poverty doesn’t have a certain face—people come from all walks.”

For Zachariah, the true impact of his work is centered around the people in the community. Recalling his most rewarding experience, he shares that a community member showed up to the office with only a suitcase. The member had just gotten off the bus that day from Texas carrying only $12.00 in his pocket. By working together, he and Zachariah were able to access resources that allowed him into a shelter immediately giving him a much needed place to lay his head. Stories like that illustrate how Zachariah always goes above and beyond for every member he meets, making sure that members leave the office satisfied with the services LIFT has to offer, even if it means taking extra time out of his day.

Learn more about how LIFT Advocates like Zachariah are building the personal, social, and financial foundations people need to get ahead.