Jennifer’s Story: Finding Oneself Through Service
Sitting across from me, Jennifer’s hands fly in the air as she leans forward and passionately details the lessons she learned as a LIFT advocate. She divulges, “A person who is successful is a result of the community; it is not necessarily the result of the individual alone.” It’s refreshing to see that a 21 year old, rising college senior is able to see beyond individual hard work and aspirations, and recognize the social, personal, and financial factors that go into one’s success. But I’m not surprised. Jennifer is not your average 21 year old. She has been fighting poverty as an advocate at LIFT-Chicago for more than three years. During this time, Jennifer has come to understand that “just because somebody is low income or somebody is staying in a shelter [does not take away from the fact] that they need the exact same things every other person needs” – a system of support, belief in oneself, and economic stability. In considering her experience, two of these aspects that truly resonate with her are LIFT’s supportive community and how it often leads to a sense of optimism and potential for members and advocates alike.
On Jennifer’s first day, it quickly became evident that members and advocates feel deeply connected to LIFT. She observed members as they excitedly entered the office, looking forward to meeting with their advocate. She watched as advocates greeted members with a friendly handshake, sometimes a hug, and they got right down to business. Although it was hard for her to picture then, Jennifer would soon become one of the advocates members enthusiastically came to see. LIFT-Chicago’s Director of Programs, Sol Anderson, notes, “Jennifer is everything we look for in a LIFT advocate. She’s caring, friendly, and welcoming to everyone who comes into the office. She genuinely wants to build relationships with members to help them reach their goals.”
Undoubtedly, Jennifer has had a significant impact on many of the members with whom she has met. She believes her greatest influence is helping members become confident and optimistic. Considering one member, Jennifer notes, “you can tell since coming to LIFT he has opened up a lot and he finally feels that he has the resources necessary to get a job. That is the most gratifying, when members are so excited to come here because you can tell they feel like they can and will accomplish their goals.” This sense of human potential makes all the difference during troubling times when it feels like hope may not be enough. Helping a member realize their possibility is the very reason, as LIFT-Chicago’s Executive Director Ben Reuler notes, that “we all share the [belief] that relationships matter. [Relationships] are the backbone of LIFT’s success.”
While Jennifer emphasizes the significance of member-advocate relationships in fostering a sense of possibility, she also notes the importance of the bond among advocates. During her first year, Jennifer looked to older advocates for guidance and reassurance. She says, “I felt like we were this big community for change. That I was the next leader in this fight against poverty.” Recognizing how important the sense of possibility was in keeping her engaged in the fight against poverty, Jennifer was determined to recreate her experience for future advocates. For the next two years, she took part in the Leadership Team – a selected group of students who help recruit new advocates, serve as role models in the office, and plan events to raise awareness about LIFT and poverty. In her final year at LIFT, Jennifer became Co-Director of the Leadership Team. Needless to say, Jennifer flourished in this role. Jessica Snype, a rising senior at Loyola University Chicago who co-lead the Leadership Team with Jennifer, notes, “Jennifer’s hard work and dedication to the LIFT-Chicago advocates, members, and organization as a whole have pushed me to always be at my best. The opportunity to work side-by-side with her as a student director this past year proved to me that, no matter what she decides to take on, Jennifer will put her whole heart into.”
After three years at LIFT, Jennifer has switched from thinking she wanted a career in biochemistry to now wanting to work on national policy. She says, “see[ing] first hand where all the cracks and flaws in the system are… I [now] want to be able to actually do something about them.” Heading into her final year at Loyola University Chicago, Jennifer knows she will always carry her LIFT experiences with her. “We are never going to forget anything we did here no matter where we go in life… we are always going to be fighting for the greater good and fighting for the cause and the mission of LIFT… It’s organizations like this that give me hope for the future and hope that we can actually make a change.”
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