My name is Emma Poveda, I’m seventeen years old, I’m a Senior at Harvard-Westlake School, and I’ve been volunteering at LAFH since 2016.
My connection to LAFH started with my Mitzvah Project which is a social action project required for all Bar/Bat-Mitzvahs on their thirteenth birthday to mark the transition into “adulthood.” It entails some form of immersion into your community that will make an impact for a greater cause you feel passionate about. I knew I wanted to get involved in assisting the homeless community of Los Angeles. I found LAFH and was immediately excited by their encouragement to get involved.
Party guests at my Bat-Mitzvah made stuffed animals that I donated to children of families at the Family Solutions Center. I received a photo of the recipients smiling as they held their stuffed animals close— and that was when I knew I needed to go back.
LAFH soon became more than just a project for my Temple or checkmarks on my school’s community service form; my involvement became a central part of my identity.
My participation at LAFH grew during in my sophomore year of high school when I joined the Youth Action Council (YAC). Members of the YAC not only interact with residents and help behind the scenes, but also are taught about topics ranging from what it takes to run a non-profit to the most recent homelessness legislation in California. YAC is special to me because I can connect with other young adults who are dedicated to the issues surrounding the homelessness epidemic in L.A.
YAC enabled me to launch my non-profit project, “Writers Room.” Creative writing has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. Writing poetry, prose, and short stories allows me to make sense of my own experiences, to discover truth in life. The goal of Writers Room is to cultivate that same outlet for the younger LAFH residents. Through writing workshops, community members develop the language tools to express themselves and connect with their emotions in a creative and constructive way.
It takes practice to get in touch with one’s feelings. Through various writing exercises, the children have been able to open up and get in touch with their thoughts and emotions. During one workshop, I asked the participants what their favorite songs were and why. Such a simple question rendered some beautiful responses. Phillip, age 11, wrote that his favorite song was High Hopes by Panic! At the Disco. He wrote, “I like this song because it makes me happy no matter what my mood is...how much courage it gives you...it makes me think I can do anything.” Phillip’s words embody the greater attitude of LAFH— one of resilience, hope, and courage.
In a city like Los Angeles, seeing individuals sleeping on park benches or standing on freeway exits with a cup or sign is the norm. It becomes easy to develop assumptions about what homelessness looks like. Often, we transform those assumptions into facts because it makes seeing something so unsettling and tragic more palatable for us. It’s a way of coping with the presence of turmoil and injustice in our society. Yet volunteering at LAFH taught me that the way to address homelessness is not to label it. Homelessness comes in many shapes and sizes— it cannot and should not be confined to one standard. I learned that individuals are not homeless, but rather experiencing homelessness. It is temporary and should not be seen as a permanent condition or identifier. The families and children who reside at LAFH do not let their homelessness define them or their sense of worth in society. The work done at LAFH allows individuals to see beyond their present circumstances.