July 18, 2013

I had a lot of pre-conceived notions about poverty and people living in poverty.

These ideas are challenged daily this summer as an intern working at LIFT, a national non-profit whose mission is to help community members achieve economic stability and well-being.

After a comprehensive training orientation with skilled teachers, I have the opportunity to work one-on one with clients in LIFT’s Bronx office to secure housing, employment, public benefits, legal services and financial advising.

In 5 short weeks this experience has educated me and raised my awareness about people living in poverty. The people who come to LIFT as clients are not at all lazy. They work hard every day and come to LIFT because they just need help getting back on their feet.

Having lived through the recession, I think we can all relate to changes in economic security – some folks clearly impacted greater than others – but we all shared common feelings of anxiety, nervousness and panic.

The more I talk to and get to know my clients the more I realize how much I have in common with them.

We work together to get them back on their feet.

My daily tasks at LIFT revolve around addressing the unique needs of each person at that moment in their lives. These tasks range from creating resumes, gaining them access to a substance treatment program, to writing advocacy letters for them to take to housing court.

Part of what I learned here at LIFT is the importance of active listening. It is so important to never assume anything about the lives of our clients and to listen closely to their needs. It is not my place to judge their situation, but to work to develop a relationship by listening to what they say they need help with and then work to provide that support or to direct them to the right resources.

There have been moments when I’ll be listening to someone talk about their employment status and realize acquiring a new job will mean that they will need assistance finding child care and registering for public benefits.

This is what I’ve learned from LIFT. We take a holistic approach when working with clients because the solutions to economic problems are multi-pronged.

Like I said, our clients work hard to get back on their feet.

There are days when a client calls and says they got the job they applied for or someone calls to tell you that they were able to pay their rent and avoid eviction.

My reward – it’s fulfilling when you and your client work together and they are able to resolve a problem. That’s when you see the impact of your work.