Whenever I tell people about my job at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter, I get one of two questions. “Have you always wanted to work in non-profit?” and “Don’t you want a job where you can make more money?” I can never answer these questions swiftly, in fact it usually becomes a lengthy conversation about how much I love my job and how there is nothing better than an occasional bartending shift to make ends meet.
To answer the first question: no, I did not always want to work in non profit. I once envisioned myself writing novels in secluded cabins (Thoreau, anyone?) and researching the great authors of past eras. I have always had a strong passion for Shakespeare, in particular. I did not intend to be poor, however. I would get my PhD in Renaissance Lit and work at an incredible university where they would pay me to travel and read. Sounds great, right?
After I completed my Masters Degree in English Literature, reality took a nasty bite out of my bank account. I had student loans, rent, bills, and a very old car that kept breaking down. Turns out, moving into a cabin to write the next Walden is more complicated than I had originally thought. I began working in public relations, then taught English at Chicago community colleges, all the while slinging drinks at neighborhood bars. I missed Shakespeare so much that I decided to take a position with The Shakespeare Project of Chicago, a non-profit theater company determined to make people love the original words of Shakespeare, despite what Hollywood has done to the man.
Still feeling unfulfilled (no published novel yet…) I began volunteering at LPCS. I would visit a few times a month to edit cover letters and cook meals. The feeling that I had every time I left, was the same that I would have when I finished writing a 50+ page essay on the subconscious being in Shakespearean tragedies (yes, my thesis was that drab!) – It was a feeling of accomplishment and success. I was just as proud helping a Guest edit a cover letter, as I was to complete 50 pages worth of essay writing.
Now that I am a full time staff member at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter, I get to leave every single day with a feeling of accomplishment and success. Even if the most that I can show for the day is completing a blog entry for thousands (eh hem) to read, it is all part of the process to help LPCS end homelessness.
*In case you still can’t understand why anyone would work in this field, here is a letter that a Graduate of LPCS sent us with a generous donation:
I cannot deny that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the love and practical help that I received from LPCS. Therefore, I give you this grant. I call this a grant because I am going to tell you how to spend it.
This money is NOT to go towards the clients, but instead it is to go directly to the staff. It is my feeling that a social service worker is not paid very highly. Day after day she helps clients secure affordable housing but perhaps has difficulty paying her own rent. She may doubt that she has chosen the right career. My goal is to reinforce her faith that the work she does is good. But most of all I just want to say thank you.
This money may not be used for anything other than a staff party or other creative ways to thank the staff of LPCS. The homeless are a glum lot. We are difficult and often do not appreciate the work you do, but the ones who are the hardest to love are the ones who need it the most.
I have been extremely lucky, and now I have a new life beyond my wildest dreams. Without LPCS, I would surely be dead, back in prison, or wishing I were dead.
Please, take this money and celebrate yourselves – the work you do and the path you have chosen. Put the kids on lock-down, hire a babysitter, and take yourselves out. You deserve so much more.
I ask you now, how can you ever wonder why I would want to work in non-profit?
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Community Relations Manager