Recent data suggests 1 in 2 Americans is either in, or at the brink of, poverty.
At Loyola, that figure is not going unnoticed. LIFT-Chicago, along with several other Loyola organizations, is hosting Poverty Awareness Week, March 26-31. The week will feature a documentary screening, panel discussion, and monologue reading, among other events, in order to raise awareness about the problem of poverty and motivate Loyola students to act against this problem in Chicago.
Junior LIFT student activist Nick Passarelli says the week was started last year as a way for LIFT, a fully functioning non-profit social service agency, to take its presence from its offices onto campus.
“We wanted to help people be a part of the solution,” he says. “We wanted to bring the issues that we confront everyday to a broader audience and create a discussion involving our peers, faculty, and staff on these issues.”
At LIFT, which has offices in Pilsen, Evanston, and Uptown (though Loyola students work primarily at the Uptown location), volunteers sit with clients and help them navigate through the bureaucratic structure of social services, including welfare and unemployment, among many others. Passarelli points out that one of the aims of the week is to “re-perceive” poverty, to understand that people who need these services can be nearly anyone: from a mother of four, to a debt-ridden former student with a masters degree.
In order to help re-perceive the notion of poverty, and the ideas behind it, LIFT invited members of the Loyola community to anonymously submit their ideas of what it means to live out the “American dream.” These stories were read as monologues by LIFT members at a discussion on Monday, March 26. Passarelli says the forum served as a platform for discussion about what the American dream means to different people, why this is, and how it can be changed.
Another aim is to help people understand the complexities and challenges of social services for the poor. Members of the Loyola community can step into the shoes of someone in poverty attempting to navigate social services at LIFTopolis, a simulation on Saturday, March 31. Participants (who pre-register here) will be given a new identity and asked to achieve a set of objectives by working their way through the necessary social services. Afterwards, the participants will be given a chance to debrief about their experience and reflect on the hardships that face someone in this situation.
In addition to these events, there is a weeklong food and toiletry drive, a showing of the documentary The End of Poverty, and a panel discussion that will explore the idea of opportunity.
Passarelli says the purpose of Poverty Awareness Week is to educate and mobilize people to action.
“I think the main goal is to implicate people and hold them accountable for what the perceptions of these issues are and implement change once [they] know what the issues are,” he says. “We want to create life-long advocates for change, create new ways [people] can talk about poverty, and spread that throughout their personal networks.”
He adds that the work done at LIFT is translatable to any major: every area of study has a unique perspective and course of action to solve the problems of poverty.
“The work we do is really interdisciplinary,” he says. “Whether you are going to be a social worker or a policy maker, or reflecting these things in a future business deal, there are a lot of ways you can implement these issues into your future.”
Overall, Poverty Awareness Week aims to show students how they can make a difference in the fight against poverty, this week, and beyond.
“We want to make this an issue that does not end in one week,” Passarelli says. “We are hoping this will spark some interest or get people fired up to make them feel like they can make a change.”
To find out more information about Poverty Awareness Week, visit the website here.