A Life Shaped by Service: Eleni’s Story

By Ryan Miller on November 19, 2015

Categories: Real Stories

LIFT’s team members come from all walks of life. They represent a variety of life stages, from college students to seasoned professionals. By weaving together this rich tapestry of experiences in service of a common goal – helping families lift themselves out of poverty for good – we are able to achieve big things. To offer you a behind the- scenes look at the stories that shape LIFT’s identity we sat down with one of our superstars, Eleni Refu, who recently transitioned from the role of AmeriCorps Shriver Fellow to staff member, and asked her to tell us more about her LIFT journey.

Finding Refuge and Support in the United States

Eleni was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and came to the U.S. as a refugee when she was just a child. Moving from Ethiopia to Idaho might have come as quite the culture shock to some, but Eleni flourished in the welcoming environment of her new home. She found peace among the sizeable population of refugees living in her community.

After graduating with a degree in Political Science from the University of Rochester, Eleni was determined to use her education to set herself on a career path that made a difference on an issue that many refugees face today: poverty.

“I applied to LIFT because I really loved the AmeriCorps program, and I felt like LIFT’s mission resonated with my experiences as a child of an immigrant family. I understood what LIFT was trying to do, and I knew it would be a great fit for me.”

Finding Herself Through Service

In her role as a Fellow on LIFT-DC’s development team, Eleni worked to build the capacity of the organization through grant writing, prospect research, donor outreach, and social media. As time passed, Eleni thrived in her role and grew to love the work she was doing even more. “I want to be one of the people that is making changes,” she tells us.

Beyond the joy she found in her day-to-day work, Eleni also spoke about the welcoming staff and professional development support – both factors that helped her decide to stay on past a single year of service. “LIFT has changed the arc of my future. It’s given me the confidence to be vocal on the issues I care about.”

Eleni tells us her favorite LIFT memory: “All of us fellows were sitting around a table, and I think the conversation started by talking about one Member’s experience, and we started to talk about what we thought about poverty,what we thought were the important issues, and I remember sitting around and listening to what everyone was thinking and really admiring everyone and…” Eleni begins to cry. “It just made me realize that everyone was so admirable. Everyone was so motivated and they were all so ambitious in the causes that they cared about, and I remember thinking these are the perfect people to be around at this point in my life.”

Eleni’s smile and positivity are infectious. It is hard not to be happy when you are around her. Her contributions as a LIFT staffer are an important thread in the tapestry of stories that make LIFT such a special place for so many people.

Did You Know?

The Shriver Corps is a once-in-a-generation initiative. Through it, AmeriCorps*VISTA members are committed to helping people across the United States lift themselves out of poverty. Shriver AmeriCorps Fellows serve full time at LIFT sites to further realize Sargent Shriver’s vision: Americans engaged in service to their fellow citizens, working together to build pathways to prosperity.

The ShriverCorps is a collaboration between LIFT, A Woman’s Nation, and AmeriCorps VISTA funded through the generosity of Bank of America.


About the Author

Ryan Miller

At LIFT, Ryan writes and edits for a variety of communication products, including video, newsletters, fundraising campaigns, websites, blogs, new media and social media. He works with LIFT’s communications team to ensure that our voice is heard far and wide. Ryan LIFTs to expedite the journeys of those seeking the American dream. As a first-generation Read More