An Advocate’s Take on Service Through LIFT and City Year
At LIFT-Boston’s 2014 upLIFTing Awards, we are honoring Michael Brown, City Year’s CEO and Co-Founder, with the “Legacy Award” for his visionary leadership and commitment to social justice and national service. In anticipation of the event on March 4, a former LIFT-Boston advocate and current City Year corps member reflects on her experiences and connections with both service-oriented organizations:
Neither LIFT nor City Year claims to be the sole answer to ending poverty or solving the dropout crisis, yet each works tirelessly and equips volunteers to serve to the best of their ability.
The skills that I learned serving as a 2009-2013 LIFT-Boston advocate in Somerville are essential to my daily service as a 2013-2014 City Year Corps Member in New Orleans. We face difficulties as a team. Whether it’s searching for housing in a time crunch or building a student’s confidence in reading, the work is done carefully and with an open mind.
As an advocate at LIFT-Boston, I learned about job searches, housing, healthcare, education, incarceration, the legal system, public benefits and so much more. LIFT works with families and individuals from all backgrounds on their goals in order to achieve stability and well-being. Advocates connect members to additional resources, often more specialized services, to ensure they are fully supported in achieving their goals.
Through City Year, corps members have the incredibly unique opportunity to serve within a school as a mentor and a tutor. Corps members are able to do the work that overloaded teachers often wish they could make enough time for. City Year gives me full time experience in a classroom before pursuing a career in teaching—a passion that has grown stronger since a LIFT-Boston supervisor encouraged me to apply to be a corps member.
The shared values of the two organizations were apparent the moment I began my journey with City Year. Corps members focus on three aspects of a student’s life: attendance, behavior and academics. The same is true for LIFT advocates and community members: they work together to build the strong personal, social and financial foundations needed to get ahead.
Each day I find myself using LIFT skills to better serve my students. For example, sincerity is invaluable when working within LIFT and within City Year, and I learned through LIFT that an effective way to demonstrate sincerity is to be personal while forging professional relationship. If a student is struggling with a problem, they need to know that I care as a mentor and that I am on their side; otherwise, they will not feel safe asking for help and may dwell on their problem rather than pay attention and learn in class.
Often, the problems we encountered at LIFT seemed insurmountable unless broken down into smaller pieces that we could conquer goal by goal. I find this strategy effective for myself in City Year, and for my students whom I tutor in reading. As the students learn to read, we set smaller goals along the way to reading fluency so that we can celebrate successes and gain momentum to keep trying—just like at LIFT. With one group of first graders, I am working on segmenting, or breaking words into sounds in order to figure out the words. Our goal is for the students not to get to the point where they don’t rely on this method, but mastering this skill is a step towards their literacy. Getting to celebrate their progress with this skill is as encouraging for me as it is for them, because these relationships are genuine. Many times at LIFT, members will call their advocates out of the blue to share the exciting news of a job interview or accepted housing application. Their goal isn’t completed yet, but they’ve taken a great step forward.
A former LIFT coworker once explained to me that, to her, “teaching means believing in students and showing it.” When I teach, I will carry this mantra among other lessons from LIFT and City Year with me. I will encourage students to get involved with service that they feel passionately about because I understand the joy of internalizing applicable lessons through service work.
At City Year and at LIFT, we believe in service; in giving time and building relationships. We know that there is no one right answer, and we value flexibility in the name of productivity. I proudly serve as a City Year Corps Member in New Orleans, knowing that every day I draw upon what LIFT-Boston taught me.
LIFT-Boston is hosting The upLIFTing Awards Celebration on March 4, 2014 and will be honoring City Year CEO and Co-Founder Michael Brown. Find more information here.
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