In Honor of Americorps turning 20, Meet LIFT Local Leader Awardee, Cherina Booker

By LIFT on September 12, 2014

Categories: First Person Perspective, Real Stories

Meet Cherina Booker, former AmeriCorps Member at LIFT from 2006 to 2007. Currently a Special Needs Teacher in the heart of Brooklyn, Cherina’s experience with LIFT (back when we were National Student Partnerships) was transformational for her. In honor of AmeriCorp’s 20th anniversary, we asked her to reflect on her experience. Read on…

It’s exciting that AmeriCorps is turning 20 today.  Tell us a bit about your AmeriCorps experience:

My year of service in AmeriCorps continues to shape everything that I do both professionally and personally. I began by working with community building and support in Philadelphia. Through that work, I was inspired by the community and school partnerships that I helped to develop. It truly shaped my belief that community development can happen with partnerships between [community based organizations] and neighborhood schools. Immediately after leaving my AmeriCorps service, I began working in the social work field with people living with HIV/AIDS. I have since begun teaching and am currently in the process of laying the groundwork to develop community partnerships that will benefit my school and students. I aspire to open my own school that acts as a community center and partners with CBOs to really help change the Brooklyn neighborhood my school is in. My experiences in AmeriCorps fuel my passions for education and community development [on a daily basis].

Education is one of the most crucial issues of our time. It is only through education that communities can develop and thrive. In addition, partnerships are so necessary to make this happen. Daily, I serve my community by educating the youth and working to ensure that our school provides them with a safe space to grow and learn. I believe in educating the whole child. Through AmeriCorps, I took a pledge to strengthen communities and persevere. Teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs ever, but I know that my impact will be larger as I seek to bring various community entities together to strengthen them.

Education is clearly your passion. What are you doing these days?

Currently, I am an 11th grade special education and history teacher at Acorn Community High School in Brooklyn, New York. I am the lead/head teacher of history. My school has a large population of English language learners and special education students. We are a school serving predominantly low-income Black and Latinos students.

I am also a student in the NYU Steinhardt School’s Building Leadership program where I am expected to graduate in the summer of 2015. I also teach a class to teachers interested in leading professional learning communities at their schools to deepen their practice and increase student outcomes by leveraging the power of data driven instruction. After graduation, I am interested in opening and leading a high performing urban public school that acts as a site of community empowerment. My vision for a school is a direct result of the partnership that the West Philadelphia LIFT site had with the Sayre Beacon program and University of Pennsylvania.

You were a Site Coordinator in Philadelphia back in 2006-2007.  How has your experience with LIFT shaped your trajectory?

I have so many stories from my time at LIFT. I truly credit my experience as formative to my views on education and community-based organizations. I know that through the work that LIFT does, the community in west Philadelphia is changing and becoming more self-sustaining.

The one memory that sticks out the most was working with Mike, a community member living with HIV/AIDS. He came to LIFT to seek assistance with learning computer skills at the Sayre Beacon program. From there, he moved into being a full time member of the offices. Through our work together, he and his partner were able to get a case planner who helped him receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), housing and finally, hospice care. Initially, I assisted him with his SSDI application at LIFT offices and helped him get all of the medical documentation he needed along with his case planner. After my time at LIFT, I transitioned to case management where Mike later became my formal client for several months before he passed away. It was through that initial contact that his last couple years of life changed for the better. I also remember visiting LIFT with Mike as his health faded. He had found a friendly place in the LIFT offices and wanted to continue utilizing the services even as I worked with him in another capacity.

I also credit LIFT with developing my leadership and management skills. I worked with Delese Harvey and Kirsten Lodal, LIFT’s CEO, to develop these skills.

Tell us why you LIFT?

I LIFT because I have seen the force of positive change that comes from a visionary leader, which I believe LIFT CEO and Co-founder, Kirsten, embodies. Through her vision, a lot of young people have firsthand encounters with the inequalities that plague low-income communities. Many people go on to continue in the field of social change after their stint at LIFT. I am inspired daily to continue my work simply because of the early exposure I received at LIFT. As I stated before, my vision of radical educational change is directly influenced by the work of LIFT and its partnership with Penn and the Sayre Beacon program. I believe that a school that expects high results for children must also do the work of helping the community and partnering with community based organizations like LIFT that harness the energy of young volunteers and community partners, to develop a safety net for communities in need.

Cherina was nominated for the AmeriCorps Local Leader Award for her work with LIFT. Please help us congratulate her for her service and dedication to the community. She deserves it!