I started volunteering in the StandUp For Kids – Detroit program while I was in graduate school, over ten years ago. I began as a street outreach counselor three nights a week. After a short while, I was asked to “step up” to become a co-executive director, to help to grow and expand the fledgling Detroit program.
I took the baton with no hesitation. The need was too great, the cause too important.
In 2008, StandUp For Kids – Detroit went on to develop the first ever foster-care outreach program, and later that year, our proudly chapter received the Program of the Year award. Those years working on the streets with the kids for this important mission are cherished memories I will never ever forget. I keep in touch with several of those kids (now adults) still today.
Jessica Lizardi (left)
I have served in many volunteer roles with StandUp For Kids over the years. I was also an employee when I was the charity-student liaison when StandUp was chosen as the beneficiary of Northwestern University’s Dance Marathon. Awe inspiring were the months I spent helping to launch the first Chicago program by training and recruiting their leadership team, the weeks spent training student leaders at NU, and the 30 hours culminating in Dance Marathon, which raised $550,000 to help us get closer to ending youth homelessness across the country.
Like many of my fellow volunteers and board members, I have been with StandUp For Kids (though intermittently after my son was born) through a few storms. I have always known its challenges were only preparing it for its continued resilience, because we must always be strong for our kids.
Through it all, though, the real reason I have stayed with StandUp is something I don’t really talk about much.
You see, I, too, was once a homeless youth. I was raised in an unstable, nomadic household by a single mother who received public assistance and worked a myriad of jobs to survive. There were a string of addicted father-figure boyfriends tunneling in and out and I was subjected to various forms of abuse as a child. My biological father, I would learn later, was in prison. By the age of 17, I had enough. I left home and spent my senior year of high school couch surfing and living in my car, because I could no longer live in a constant state of fight or flight.
If I had not had mentors (people like you) who cared for me enough to help me find a place to live, and food to eat, I surely would not be here today writing you. I would not have gone to college. I would not have done a lot of things.
I am so very grateful to have had the opportunity to know and learn from all of you and our selfless leaders across the country, while also feeling the empowerment of giving back to kids in my community, who were just like me.
I am saying all this to you for one reason only: Please, please know that the work you do is this important. It is more than life changing, it is life giving.
“Please, please know that the work you do is this important. It is more than life changing, it is life giving.”
Transitioning off the board is not something I really want to do, but I have learned that I can only do my very best at a few things at a time, and I have a number of home and work issues to tend to. I take solace knowing there will be many others across the country with talents and love for this work who will continue to be “called” to this mission, like I was.
In closing, I want you to know how much I admire your tenacity, dedication and fire, in a very deep and sacred way. You are all such amazing people whom I have had the great opportunity to know. Feel free to share this with others.
Thank you for being the beacon of light in the darkness for so, so, many kids who are lost and afraid. Best wishes in all you do.
Yours in service,