What's Love Got To Do With It?

May 15, 2013

By Michelle Rhone-Collins

Early in my career when I was working with youth in the Lower East Side of New York, I was chastised by the CEO of the organization for writing the word “love” in a grant proposal- it was inappropriate, it was trite, it was soft.  Now I respected this man tremendously, and still do– to this day he has remained a mentor.  But that moment stuck with me because I knew that was the essence of what we were doing and what was creating the difference for the youth I was working with at the time.  Some of them I am now in contact with through Facebook, and one let me know that it was a book I gave him that unlocked his love for photography.  He is now interning with National Geographic magazine.  The small loving actions, made a big difference in lives.  The very things I felt compelled to do, because my own parents loved me so fiercely.

Those of us in human services know why you call a specific service provider to help a client over another. For parents, it is why you want your child to be in one classroom over another…because that person takes the extra step, they see and know the whole person, they are passionate about their work…they love.

Well back then, the stubborn in me changed the word in that proposal to agape (well, you can imagine that didn’t work) and then, pulling out the psychology jargon, to unconditional positive regard. That passed muster.

So it is now really remarkable to me that I am working for an organization that places love right up in the mix of what we do.  Here I am saying it loud and proud…love love love!  Because that is what is at the core of LIFT’s work as a radical response to what people in poverty experience in their daily lives….overcomplicated systems, a cold attitude, wrapped up in a society that regards them as weak or lazy, to blame, silenced.  Arundhati Roy says “there is no such thing as the voiceless, there is only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.” At LIFT we not only hear, we listen, and we act.

LIFT-LA is a community-based nonprofit that engages trained volunteers to serve low-income individuals. LIFT operates in South LA, located in the Magnolia Place Community Initiative, where clients and volunteers work one-on-one to find jobs, secure housing, make ends meet through public benefits and tax credits, and obtain quality referrals for critical services like food assistance and healthcare. Meeting each client at their point of need, advocates work side by side with clients to overcome their immediate concerns and address long-term barriers on the road to financial stability. Simultaneously, the LIFT experience pushes clients and volunteers to grapple with LA’s most challenging issues related to poverty, race, inequality, and policy.

LIFT believes that poverty is complicated as it is and getting help should not have to be.  Los Angeles community members struggling with poverty today need more than financial assistance; they need help plugging into a changing economy; they need help accessing services; they need a safe place to stay; they need social connections and emotional supports. They need someone in their corner. As David Bornstein wrote in the New York Times, “If the American Dream is to be resuscitated for many of nation’s poor, there is a great deal that we can learn from LIFT.”

It is a daily sobering reality to hear the needs of our clients.  And, yes, those needs are material:   housing, clothes, food, jobs. But as critical is the need for caring support, a dignified and empathetic response.  The moment that someone experiences when they know that someone will be by their side for the long haul, to share in the frustration, to help to manage the documents and applications, to help prepare for the interview, that is when the real work begins and different realities become possible.  This is not rocket science here, but as Steve Jobs would say, it is the simple things that are complex to articulate, but when you do, you can move mountains.  With LIFT’s loving model, we are positioning ourselves to move the mountain of poverty policy locally, and nationally.

Won’t you let us know: Is love expressed or implied at your organization?

 Michelle Rhone-Collins is the executive director of LIFT-Los Angeles.

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