A Story of LIFT and Los Angeles
“I’m from Los Angeles.”
An oft-practiced and almost automatic response. It’s what I said to everyone who asked me where I was from during my first year in college. To me, it made sense – no foreigners or east-coasters have heard of my small city of La Verne, so I claimed LA as my own. Sure, I lived over an hour away, but I knew LA, I breathed LA, I was LA. Right? It wasn’t until right about now – the summer of 2015 – that I have finally begun to understand that I hardly know Los Angeles. Whoops. But it’s been a blessing, and I’m eternally thankful for the experience that has opened my eyes to this reality. That experience is called LIFT.
I started working as an Advocate at LIFT-Los Angeles earlier this summer. LIFT is a national non-profit dedicated to lifting (get it?) people out of poverty by empowering community members and helping them realize their own potential. It’s a fantastic organization with important goals, high hopes for ending poverty in America, and (luckily for me) a beautiful office operating out of 1910 Magnolia Place in Los Angeles.
As an Advocate, I help comprise the team that’s on the front line of member service. I meet daily with members, learn their life stories, empathize with their struggles, and collaborate with them to achieve their goals. It’s what I would call a hands-on job. I’ve handed tissues to crying strangers and smiled at curious babies. I’ve tried to understand the horrors of poverty in order to more effectively plot how to avoid them. I’ve crafted resumes, trawled Craigslist for free beds, phoned public housing projects, and brainstormed ideas for mid-life career pivots. I’ve watched proud professionals from faraway countries struggle to talk to me about their employment goals – just imagine an accomplished and licensed educator reduced to scrounging for temp cleaning gigs. Imagine them trying to remain upbeat when talking jobs with a teenager. I’ve watched eyes light up in nostalgia, and soften in sadness. I’ve dealt with frustration, with pain, and – most importantly – with staggering optimism. I’ve only been working for two months.
I am a doctor, LIFT is my stethoscope, and Los Angeles is my restless patient. It doesn’t take much straining to detect the pulse. It’s a beating, booming, swinging rhythm. Reminds me of salsa drums, or maybe deep chants reverberating from a soccer stadium. It’s the footsteps of members who walk to work, it’s the yells and whoops of their children, it’s the jingling bells of the elote carts, it’s the never ending mix of ringing phones and clapping hands and braking cars and that dude blasting Kendrick from down the street. It’s the heartbeat of the city and my members are its life blood – their hopes and fears and sorrows propelled forwards by the beat of the city.
My story so far at LIFT has been one of learning. I am learning what it means to be an Angeleno. Being an Angeleno means learning to be optimistic in the face of oppressive obstacles. It’s hard, tiring, ceaseless work. It’s like taking the 10 west bound at rush hour. Your traffic doesn’t clear, it’s hot out, and you’re anxious. Maybe you’d thought all along that you would take a different route, but hey, you’re here now and these signs seem to be guiding you. So you drive on, praying that you’ll get to where you’re going, fingers tapping earnestly against a steering wheel. And perhaps now, if I saw you and offered you a LIFT, I’d be able to tell you with a little more gumption that, “Yes, I’m from Los Angeles.”
This post was written by Eduardo Gonzalez, an Advocate at LIFT-LA.
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