The Shepherd Alliance Program placed me with a wonderful non-profit organization called East River Development Alliance (ERDA). Its purpose is to help improve economic development and reduce poverty in the Long Island City area through helping adults find employment, helping youth get into college, educating people on financial literacy and helping working families become self-sufficient. While working at ERDA, I was able to form great relationships with their clients as I helped them in the computer lab with job searches and created thank you letters and cover letters. I was also able to meet people in the community through door knocking as I passed out information about ERDA's credit union, invited students into their college access program and helped with the food pantry.
My experience opened my eyes to the false stereotypes and misconceptions about people in public housing. The clients that I worked with were often unemployed because of the changes in technology and the fluctuations in the workforce. Many industrial jobs and labor intensive jobs are no longer needed because of machines and computers. These adults who have worked in the same job for the past 20 years did not have to know how to use computers when they graduated from high school, therefore they are struggling to find employment now. There were various other reasons for unemployment and the need for public assistance. Unbeknownst to strangers who may judge based on their label of being "impoverished" or "poor," ERDA's clientele had compelling stories and situations which would prosper from aid.
One of the biggest takeaways that I learned is that poverty is a state of mind and it's based on the perception of the individual in the situation. Also, this experience truly helped me realize that poverty is present in low-income communities because of the vicious cycle that started generations ago, where minorities were only able to make a minimal income and had to struggle to support their family. This subsequently forced children to enter the work force early just to help support the family, thus causing their education to suffer. Because they could not always go to school or if they went to school, they could not focus on learning because of their poor living situation, criminal behavior and mental illnesses surfaced. Also, with a low income, these families did not have access to health care, resulting in less money because unhealthy people cannot work. Because of the deteriorating health, low to zero income, crime, illiteracy, mental illnesses, etc., it is extremely difficult to break out of this cycle and become self sufficient, especially when this has been going on for generations.
My summer experience in the Shepherd Alliance program, working with East River Development Alliance has encouraged me to explore more about solutions to poverty reduction and dig deeper to find the root causes for poverty in urban communities. Later in life, I would like to start my own non-profit organization or help to expand ERDA to reach more people and more communities.