In Pursuit of a Passion: Meet Zunara Naeem

By LIFT on May 4, 2015

Categories: Real Stories


Zunara Naeem, a LIFT-DC Advocate since January 2013, is a resident of Maryland and a junior at George Washington University. She is currently studying Human Services, Computer Science, and Journalism.

Zunara first found out about LIFT from a class she had registered for on a whim. She was taking a course titled, “Poverty in DC,” when a Site Coordinator from LIFT-DC came to her class and presented about LIFT as an organization that students could use to fulfill their service-learning requirements for the class. Zunara says, “I hadn’t heard about LIFT before, but it sounded like an organization doing something unique, so I joined as an Advocate, and have stayed on since.”

Before coming to LIFT-DC, Zunara says she wasn’t sure whether she always wanted to work in the social services sector. The direct member service she experienced as an Advocate however, has played an important role in shaping her decision to pursue Human Services as a primary career interest. This was an unexpected development for her, since she had always held aspirations to become a journalist. As most students at this point in their college years would relate, Zunara said she had a difficult time choosing between the two. She says, “I loved the community service projects I was fortunate to have been a part of during high school, and I was torn between what I felt I could do and what I enjoyed and felt most passionate about.”

For Zunara, no single moment stands out during the time she’s volunteered as an Advocate at LIFT. Instead, what continuously stands out to her is the relief that so many members inadvertently display at the end of their meetings. She says, “I see this often with new members– being poor is incredibly stressful, and without support it is so easy to become overwhelmed and not know what you can do to get out. The goal-oriented nature of meetings at LIFT, in my experience, mitigates a lot of that stress by providing that path, and I always remember how relieved members are when they find it at LIFT.”

Outside of LIFT-DC, Zunara’s commitment to working on behalf of her community is evident. She interns with another non-profit in DC and works part-time for GW’s Development and Alumni Relations department. She also participates in GW service events when she can, tutors middle/high school students in English and math, and spends time at an animal shelter on the weekends. In the past, she’s written newspapers, done program support for small non-profits and local community centers, worked as a teacher and served two years as an AmeriCorps member with Jumpstart: a national early education organization.

When asked what she takes away from her experience at LIFT, Zunara says, “Being an advocate has given me a lot of perspective into thoughts, beliefs, and experiences I’ve had with poverty and how poverty manifests in so many different and often difficult ways. I have learned so much from this experience, about DC, about structural injustices, about people. All of those things have provided me insight into my priorities, both professionally and personally, and that insight helps guide me often. ”

This insight also extends to how Zunara deals with the challenges she sometimes faces as an Advocate. In particular, she has found that at times, the difficult circumstances so many members share can be hard for her to process, because “as an advocate, [she’s] left wishing there was more [she] could do for members in situations that [she feels she] has very little power to change.” But Zunara plans to commit herself to the pursuit of changing this reality. At the moment, she is preparing to start classes in the fall, where she will be working toward her Master’s Degree in Public Affairs.