Why I LIFT: Allie’s Next Chapter

By Allison “Allie” Olson on November 20, 2018

Categories: First Person Perspective, Real Stories

Growing up, I was always aware just how different my life was than that of my parents. Their childhood stories offered a stark contrast to my lived experiences as a young girl. Stories like my mom being turned away from birthday parties because she couldn’t afford to bring a birthday gift.

When I am asked why I LIFT, it is hard for me not to think about my mom and her family—and in particular, my mom and my grandfather.

From an early age, my sisters and I thought that my grandfather was simply the best. He lived in Massachusetts, while we lived in Connecticut. But many weekends we would awake to his car pulling in to the driveway and all three of us would run out to greet him, his arms always extended and somehow, no matter what age we were, his giant hands were always able to scoop us all up for kisses and tight squeezes. His booming voice and deep chuckles would envelop us.

It was as if he knew the secret that life’s most precious resource—is that of love. It was love that made my grandfather the richest man I have ever known.

My grandfather was always a larger than life giant to me. I think in large part because that is how my mom viewed her dad. He became my hero in part, because he had always been hers.

My mother grew up the second youngest of four. Her father worked very long days making knives at a cutlery factory and then would transition to his evening job as a waiter at the local restaurant.

While it was a constant struggle for them to make ends meet, my grandfather was always willing to focus on the needs of others. He lived his life knowing that it was not about the money in your bank account but rather the way in which you find the opportunities to be there for others, to catch them when they need it most, and to lift them up.

After scraping together enough money, my mom’s parents purchased a small duplex. It was a big step up for them—it offered a safe and warm place for their own four children and the potential to realize their dream of owning a single family home by leveraging the rent from the additional apartment. Soon after moving in, however, my mom’s parents learned that their pregnant aunt/uncle and four cousins were being kicked out of their apartment. Without thinking twice about it, my grandfather offered the additional apartment to them. However, my mom’s uncle was rarely able to hold on to a job and it became clear pretty quickly that any form of rent was unlikely. What was meant to be temporary turned in to a family of 12 (ten children in total) living next door for the entirety of my mother’s childhood. And of course, my grandparent’s dream of owning a single family home rather than a small apartment faded. But not once did my grandfather complain.

My mom’s mother became ill with cancer when she was just nine years old and making ends meet was even more difficult. My grandmother died when my mom was just 15. (My grandfather who rarely ever said a bad word, raised his voice or argued—had his one fight with his sister-in-law after his wife had tried to save him the burden of raising four children on his own by asking her to help raise the two youngest. My mom and brother. “These are MY kids. I will NOT give them away. I will do it. My mom has shared that that was the most heroic thing that he did. Keeping his kids together, finding a way to work multiple jobs and be a single dad).

My mom often recounted she and her siblings gathering together to beg their dad — who was working 2-3 jobs after his wife passed — to speak up and to ask their aunt and uncle for rent so he could spend more time with them and less time working, to try to find a potential way to alleviate some of the financial strain. And again, without thinking about it, My grandfather’s response: “Those kids are your mumma’s nieces and nephews. We can’t put them on the street.” And that was the end of that.

These are the stories that surrounded me as a child as my mom would recount her own childhood.

My grandfather would find the quiet moments to step up for others — and it was not about the fanfare or the recognition — it was based on his simple belief that everyone deserves the same opportunity and same kindnesses in life.

At Christmas time, rather than filling the space under their own family’s Christmas tree, my grandfather shifted the holiday to be just as much about my mom and her sibling’s gifts to their cousins so that they had pajamas, underwear and socks. Not toys, but the basics for living.

My grandfather’s quiet leadership and commitment to giving back to others was fortunately passed on. It was because of these quiet moments that were modeled to my mother that then my sisters and I grew up volunteering in soup kitchens, delivering Thanksgiving meals to the elderly and homebound, choosing gifts for families in need over our own wish lists, etc. My mom (and dad) made it a constant part of conversation in our household—we were always aware of the privilege that we had and that others were not provided the same. But that they should be and that it was just as much our responsibility as theirs to work to ensure others had resources, support and love.

My grandfather worked in that same cutlery shop for 47 years, He started out making $.60 an hour. And he waited on tables in the evenings until he was 70 years old. He raised four children, for a great portion of their lives, as a single dad and helped to put all four of them not just through college but through graduate school.

I LIFT for my parents who know what it is like to grow up with very little and to have parents who struggled to provide for them.

I LIFT quite simply because I CAN. Because my story was not that of my parents’ and I had the privilege of a choice to commit myself to the challenges faced by people living in poverty

I LIFT because my grandfather and my parents LIFTED before me, so that I didn’t have to LIFT in the same way. And so that my own family doesn’t have to LIFT in the same way.

I LIFT because I believe that your zip code, the language that you speak, your educational level, the color of your skin or the amount of money in your bank account should not determine the opportunities that you are afforded.

I LIFT because I am a mom of two small children (Bridie and Felix) and I have the same hopes for the families who we serve at LIFT that I have for my own family—that they too will get to live the life that they dream of and reach their full potential.

I LIFT because I want my own children to grow up knowing that their humanity is tied to that of others — a simple phrase “I am because you are”— and they need to fight for and work on behalf of others.

I LIFT because my grandfather taught me that love is a currency. And It can make you the richest in the world.

I LIFT because LIFT too knows that it takes more than just money, resources and expertise. It takes hope and LOVE to truly help families.

This story was featured in our 2018 annual report, The Next Chapter. Explore the interactive, all-digital report now: Report.WhyWeLIFT.org

About the Author

Allison "Allie" Olson

Allie leads the team at LIFT-Los Angeles. In her role, she is responsible for developing the organization’s vision, and achieving its goals for continued financial stability, community engagement and enhancing the impact of its program. Equity and access have always been at the heart of Allie’s work. She lifts because she has the same hopes Read More