Meet Dan Antoszyk, Shriver Program Fellow
Nearly one year ago, the inaugural Shriver Corps class gathered before Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), ready to take the AmeriCorps Oath in Washington DC. I stood as one among many Shriver Fellows who would soon be deployed across the country to support LIFT, an organization determined to realize the vision of Maria Shriver and her father Sargent Shriver of ending poverty in the United States for good.
At this formal occasion in our nation’s capitol, reflecting on the large and complex task before us, I recall feeling apprehensive about the year ahead. That is, until Wendy Spencer approached the podium to teach me and everyone else an important lesson.
Ms. Spencer walked on stage to a Beyoncé song which blared out over the speakers. I didn’t know the lyrics (I don’t listen to much Beyoncé), but I do remember joining everyone else in an impromptu dance party led by the CEO herself, and I remember seeing smiles all around the room. In that moment Ms. Spencer managed to form a connection with many of us in the audience, infusing the occasion with the energy and human touch necessary for putting idealism into action.
I’ve found this memory to be particularly instructive because making connections is at the core of what Shriver Fellows do every day. Formally, we spend our time “capacity building,” or growing the ability of LIFT to support our clients. However, regardless of the capacity building strategy at hand, forming human relationships must always come first.
In order to meet with more community members and put all of our office infrastructure to use, an early project of mine was to recruit, train, and retain a strong base of volunteer Advocates. I approached the problem by creating a detailed strategic plan, but equally important was the effort my team and I made to personalize our interactions when speaking to potential volunteers, most of whom were college students. We eventually brought our office to 100% capacity, thanks largely to the emphasis we placed on incorporating many small “Beyoncé moments” into the hiring process. Later in the year, when the Boston region decided to focus on strengthening ties between our Somerville and Roxbury offices I again thought back to the importance of creating connections. Before we could streamline our regional processes we had to build relationships between staff members. I provided multiple new opportunities for cross-office collaboration during our volunteer training, the outcome of which was a recent day-long “field trip” where the entire team visited seven nonprofit partners across Roxbury and Somerville. This project required coordination and participation across the two cities, and by the end we all felt closer to each other as well as the to communities where we lived and served.
Of course, the most important connections we make at LIFT are with our Members themselves. As a Shriver Fellow I still find time to do some direct service alongside our Advocates, supporting folks who are resilient, resourceful and upbeat, but often who are dealing with stressful situations in their personal lives. One of my Members, a woman named Rita, appeared especially dejected during our weekly meeting close to Mother’s Day. Her own mother had recently passed away and she had lost her apartment directly after. I did my best to validate her feelings of frustration, but our meeting had more or less come to a standstill and there were some time sensitive phone calls we had to make regarding a great new housing option. At some point I remembered a story Rita had told me, about how she and her mother loved to watch horror films. I pulled up YouTube, chose a movie, and before long I was covering my eyes while Rita laughed at whatever was happening in the Paranormal Activity trailer. Afterwards, we had no trouble making our phone calls.
LIFT’s mission, to lift people out of poverty for good, is something I truly believe we can accomplish over time. My experience as a Shriver Fellow has shown me that it is worth taking the energy to set up a foundation of human connections as groups, across organizations, and in one on one situations. With this is mind, sustainable solutions to poverty are much for likely to follow.
The Shriver Corps is a once-in-a-generation cohort of AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteers committed to helping people across the United States lift themselves out of poverty for good. The program is a collaboration between LIFT, Maria Shriver’s A Woman’s Nation, and AmeriCorps, and was created to honor the legacy of Sargent Shriver, the founder of the landmark VISTA program.
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