Thursday, August 12, 2010

Top 10 LPCS Moments

As our 25th year celebrations wind down, we asked several staff, volunteers, and board members to share their top 10 memories--good and bad--of LPCS.  Here is what current Executive Director Erin Ryan had to say...

Last September, I celebrated a decade at LPCS with a surprise party full of friends, co-workers past and present, and the LPCS Board. This started me reflecting on all I’ve learned and experienced in these 10 years. Boiled down, here are my Top 10 LPCS Moments:

1.      I remember my interview at LPCS in August 1999 for a volunteer coordinator position. It was my first job out of college, and I had just moved to Chicago. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into! When I asked why the position had been open for over a year, I was told, “This is a special place, and we need a special person to fill it.” When I was offered the position and started at LPCS, it became immediately apparent that this IS a special place, and I felt honored to have been welcomed into the LPCS family and determined to make it proud.

2.      One of the best parts of working at LPCS is being able to help someone move into their new apartment. One of the first people I helped move was LaVance. Over his 7 months at LPCS, we had established an easy rapport, and I learned a lot from him about recovery and how hard it is to start over in mid-life, reconciling years of disconnectedness from his family and addiction with this new leaf. As we loaded my car with his few possessions and drove to his new apartment – his first in over a decade – LaVance said, “I never thought that at the age of 50, my best friend would be a 23-year-old white woman.” I was so touched that he thought of me as a friend, and that he had learned as much from me as I had from him. This showed me that despite our differences, we all have something to offer each other, and LPCS had allowed that to happen. LaVance is still one of our greatest success stories, 9 years later!

3.      After two years at LPCS, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in social work to improve my skills and prepare me for other roles at the organization. In school, I took an internship with another agency that served women in recovery. The first day of my internship was Sept. 11, 2001. I was introduced immediately to my first client: a woman who was skeptical, at best, about my ability to understand her situation or help her. As we sat, though, watching the TV in awe at the events unfolding, she said, “for the first time, I feel really connected to something bigger than myself.” Joyce taught me the power of community. Those who are on the margins of society are often disconnected from community, and those of us with it usually take it for granted. I have ALWAYS felt a part of something bigger than myself, and I realized that I could help bring that sense of community to the guests at LPCS, and that would be more powerful than anything.

4.      Advances in technology - when I started, we had one computer and no email or website! We did all our volunteer scheduling via phone trees. Our main office was on the 2nd floor of the church, and the case management office was in the basement. Every time our social worker Evan got a phone call, we had to walk the cordless phone down 5-something steps! Things are so much more efficient now!

5.      Testifying during Zoning Board of Appeals hearings (to get a special use permit and start our renovation); I have never felt so nervous…the reputation and future of the organization was at stake. I felt very alone at the front of the room, being cross-examined about the need for LPCS programs and hoping desperately to make a case. But as I exited the city council chambers and saw over 400 people standing there in support of LPCS and our mission, my confidence was bolstered and I knew that we would win the permit.

6.      Laughing with staff about strange donations: from wedding dress crinoline to gas masks, we’ve seen it all! We’re so appreciative of all the in-kind support we receive, but some things that are not very practical for use by homeless people slip by from time to time!

7.      Waiting up at St. Pauls with Barb, Evan, or Amy for a notoriously late overnight volunteer. We didn’t need two people to stay, but some of our best conversations about the programs and guests happened in the St. Pauls kitchen at 10:30 pm!

8.      Trying desperately to avoid earning the “marshmallow award” – given to staff when we are “soft” on enforcing the rules, then growing into the realization that being compassionate and responsive to an individual’s needs is not necessarily being “soft,” and that sometimes, being “soft” is the best approach.

9.      Celebrating the open house of our newly renovated facility, then watching it flood two weeks later. In a torrential downpour, we had several inches of water all throughout the facility. However, we also had dozens of guests, staff, and personnel from Lincoln Park Presbyterian and St. Pauls down the street furiously mopping and vacuuming up water to save the floors and furniture. I’ve never seen so many people come together so quickly! One guest remarked, ”I didn’t know we were getting a swimming pool!”

10.  Sitting vigil with Mike, a graduate of LPCS who was in hospice at Lincoln Park Hospital. Mike was estranged from his family, and his LPCS family was all he had at the end. Fellow staff members Betsy, Anna, and I took turns sleeping on the couch and sitting with him, and volunteers and even guests who didn’t know Mike joined the rotation to keep him company until he passed away.

There are plenty of sad/confounding moments as well over the years. But these are the 10 I’ll choose to remember because of their lessons and inspiration. Thank you to everyone who has made the last 10 years fly by as I’ve grown and learned so much about the world and my place in it!
 --Erin Ryan, LPCS Executive Director

1 comment:

Katie said...

This was an inspiring read! Happy 10 years and thanks for all of the hard work and emotions you've put into LPCS. And I like #8 haha :)

-Katie