Q&A: Anisha Sinha

| 22 Feb 2012 | 01:43

M-W graduate joins anti-poverty group in West Philadelphia, By Bob Curtis Anisha Sinha, a 2006 Monroe-Woodbury alumna, recently joined LIFT-Philadelphia as a site coordinator in its West Philadelphia office. LIFT combats poverty and strives to help people find jobs, locate safe, stable housing and secure child care, health care and other services. LIFT serves low-income individuals and families in Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Since 1998, more than 5,000 volunteers have assisted more than 30,000 people. Sinha began her two-year term with LIFT in July, supported by an AmeriCorps grant. She manages student volunteers at the West Philadelphia Office and assures that clients receive quality employment, housing, public-benefits services and referrals to partner agencies. She graduated from the University of Michigan with degrees in English literature and psychology. During college, Sinha worked with underserved populations in Detroit, particularly formerly incarcerated individuals, learning disabled children and people with mental health issues. “Anisha has such a passion for service and a diverse volunteer background. We are happy to have her,” said Josh Romalis, executive director for LIFT-Philadelphia. “LIFT creates a transformative experience for staff and volunteers, providing real-world experience outside the ‘bubble’ of the university.” Sinha, whose parents live in Monroe, answered questions for The Photo News regarding her local background, her new position and what helping others means to her: Photo News: Did you learn about helping others as a child at home, in school at Monroe-Woodbury? What did you learn from your first volunteer experience? Sinha: My interest in community service started at a young age. In middle and high school, I volunteered at Arden Hill, a nursing home, even an animal hospital. However, these early experiences were overwhelming, as I empathized with those I was assisting, but felt confused about how to fix their problems. PN: If you participated in “cause-related” activities in M-W, what clubs or activities did you join? What did you gain? Sinha: At M-W, I was involved in tutoring and was a member of Students Teaching AIDS Reduction Strategies, an interest I pursued in college. I enjoyed working with people, especially kids, and found myself seeking similar opportunities after M-W. PN: In college, you worked with many people in need. Where did you find your passion for “other-centered” service? Sinha: My desire to work on behalf of others is rooted in my frustration with inequalities I see over and over again. Whether a disabled youth or a person struggling to re-enter society, many barriers keep certain groups from truly succeeding. I like to stay involved and keep learning about a problem - doing all I can to make necessary changes. I cannot ignore what I’ve learned and simply not do anything. PN:: Tell us about the AmeriCorps grant that funds your position? Is your service related to President Obama’s call for young people to serve others? Sinha: AmeriCorps recruits individuals over age 17, although some programs have a minimum age requirement of 21. They ask people to commit to one year of domestic service and recruit people who have a strong desire to help others. While the program speaks to Obama’s call for service, it was established by President Bill Clinton. PN: What do you say to prepare volunteers whose work you manage for their service? Sinha: My best advice is that they become aware of their own preconceptions and prejudices in relation to those they are serving. It is often easy to say you want to help others based on the idea that they need your help. At LIFT, we want to empower our clients, and a big part involves recognizing the ties that unite volunteers and clients. Those commonalities are essential to the empowerment of clients and the life-changing experiences of volunteers PN: What is the background of your volunteers - do you see yourself through their eyes? Sinha: Our volunteers are local college students. In West Philly, we recruit volunteers from University of Pennsylvania and Drexel, and they undergo rigorous training to ensure they can handle client services. We require that volunteers make a time commitment. The work isn’t always easy, but they return and work hard with every client - that shows me how much they care. They come from a variety of backgrounds and levels of exposure to low-income communities. There is no typical volunteer profile - just the common desire to assist others as best they can. PN: What do you hope to accomplish through your work at LIFT-Philadelphia? Sinha: I hope this work will make a difference, not only in Philly, but in the larger network with other site coordinators engaged in the anti-poverty movement. I hope to gain new perspectives on the issues I’ve read about and plan to do even more going forward. PN: As a University of Michigan graduate, with English literature and psychology degrees, how did your college experience help secure the position at LIFT? Sinha: I wanted to take time off after college and do some sort of outreach. I discovered LIFT while searching for such a position, and was really drawn to their model. My volunteer experiences greatly influenced my career choice, so I appreciated that LIFT not only helps low-income clients, but also provides its volunteers with valuable experience. College prepared me for this work as I had so many opportunities to work with low-income populations. On a broader level, my coursework covered a variety of issues related to poverty in this country. Because of the readings, lectures and courses I have taken, I feel even more compelled to join the fight against poverty. PN: Once your term at LIFT ends, what do you do next? Sinha: I have no idea what these next two years will bring, so I have no set plan. I’d like to continue working on behalf of those unable to fully advocate for themselves. Ideally, I’d like to attend a law school where I can pursue both a law degree and an MS in social work. Then, I hope to focus on policies and help make positive changes in the poverty landscape on a wider scale. PN: Some say it is a very cynical world. What do you say to those who question your motivations and rewards for doing this type of service-oriented work? Sinha: I would say I understand - there is a lot in place that makes change difficult. On the flip side, I know that spreading knowledge and sharing experiences provides insights on how changes can be made. I have such strong feelings about fighting poverty that I want to have those conversations about the cynical world and figure out how to change it for the better. As to motivations and rewards, I have learned so much about the ravages of poverty that I cannot ignore it or take my own privilege for granted. I do this work because I don’t want to lose that feeling and stop fighting. It isn’t really selfless, because it gives me a personal sense of purpose. I genuinely believe that for every client that we serve who secures a job placement, or finds housing, it is a reward. I’m not sure how to explain to skeptics, that seeing the success of clients is enough, but it really is. PN: So what has caused you to take the direction you have. Sinha: My parents always encouraged me to volunteer, but never pushed me to do anything I didn’t feel strongly about. I remember visiting India as a fifth grader and seeing such immense poverty - and I remember just wanting to do anything to help. I’ve never been particularly driven by money - I really believe that you should do what you feel passionately about, and I’ve made an effort to live by that. As I have engaged in various service organizations and activities, that feeling has just heightened even more. My interest in prisoners’ rights, for example, was sparked by a course that offered provocative and emotionally charged readings. Experiences like that, especially those from my college career, solidified for me that choosing a service-oriented path is right for me. Caring is important to me, and I think engaging in community service, for me, is the best way for me to do things I care about.

I cannot ignore what I’ve learned and simply not do anything. Anisha Sinha

It is often easy to say you want to help others based on the idea that they need your help. At LIFT, we want to empower our clients, and a big part involves recognizing the ties that unite volunteers and clients. Anisha Sinha