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Conversations with the Inspiring Lisa Fiore

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Fiore.

Lisa, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I started working at Lesley University in 2002. I’ve taught courses in early childhood education, psychology, and social sciences.

I have always been drawn to advocacy and action around children’s rights and issues impacting children and families, so Lesley has been a perfect place to work and develop new initiatives.

In 2011, a Lesley alumna and her friend/business partner pledged to give a significant gift to Lesley over five years, with the primary goal being raising awareness about child homelessness through curriculum development and outreach.

We have since created a Child Homelessness Studies certificate — a 15-credit program that includes classes in psychology and social science, intended to provide students with knowledge and skills in specific courses: Child Homelessness, Critical Issues in Infancy, Intro. to Counseling, Trauma & Crisis, and Parenting Resilience. These courses grew out of numerous meetings and much collaboration with colleagues across programs. The common thread has always been a commitment to inspiring/impacting social change in meaningful ways, and a deep respect for children as competent and curious citizens.
Just this year, as a result of two years of conversations and creative thinking, we launched a formal partnership with Horizons for Homeless Children — this partnership has resulted in 22 staff members being able to take the five courses at one of the child care sites — for free, thanks to the fundraising efforts at the 2 organizations. It is very exciting!

Our hope is that we will establish more connections with organizations and donors/foundations that can support more and more practitioners’ participation in the certificate coursework, thereby impacting the experiences that children have and the support/understanding/empathy that their caregivers receive as well.

A related effort that I co-created, the Violence Against Women Initiative, was inspired by conversations with colleagues who felt compelled to do something to address the systemic, seeming epidemic, a problem of violence against women on a local and global level. Recognizing that the primary impetus for women and children entering emergency shelters is domestic violence, the work seemed to be a natural extension of the Child Homelessness Initiative efforts.

With two colleagues, I have planned and implemented work to launch an exhibition and conference that focus on Violence Against Women. The exhibition, titled “1 in 3: Comparative Perspectives on Gender Violence,” features artwork in different media, created by artists in the U.S. and several other countries. The conference features sessions designed by students, faculty, staff, artists, community activists, and more from the U.S. and around the world. Topics range from honor killings to dating violence to poetry as resistance and much more. Representatives from area shelters and organizations focused on empowering women so that they are never stuck in a dangerous situation will share their materials and interact with conference participants.

I am definitely a person who finds ways to connect with others — it is the most exciting and enriching aspect of my work. As a result of the work described above, I have been contacted by alumni who are inspired by the Child Homelessness Initiative, for example, and want to be involved. One woman who lives in Norway and works for a company that designs therapeutic kits for children and educators sent us two kits to play with and explore with children and educators. I invited her to participate in a Skype session with students to connect with them and share more about her work. Together, we are truly stronger and more important — the work that directly impacts children experiencing trauma and/or transition is stronger and more effective.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
There have been struggles, to be sure. One of the statements that I have heard multiple times is “homelessness isn’t sexy.” This statement — made by two male individuals on separate occasions, years apart, was made in the context of conversations about 1) writing a book focused on child homelessness, and 2) marketing the Child Homelessness Studies certificate program. In the first instance, I changed my primary proposed topic from child homelessness to the factors — grit, resilience, and motivation — that I believe ALL children benefit from strengthening. I wrote and published a book that still discusses risk factors and challenges but under the umbrella of those three concepts. I was able to also bring in advocacy efforts, hoping to inspire action among readers. Instead of scrapping the topic, knowing that many people would prefer to remain ignorant of the fact that, for example, on any given day in MA there are approximately 15,000 children experiencing homelessness, I shifted my focus and turned the topic to one that empowers readers and, ultimately, children.

In the second instance that the statement was made, I continued to work with others == primarily women — at different area organizations (such as Horizons for Homeless Children) and in the Cambridge Public School system to learn, to meet members of the respective contexts in which they worked, and at events that supported efforts to assist children and families.

I also sought out corporate entities whose work and business models could positively affect children experiencing homelessness. I discovered the sock company Bombas, whose mission includes a giving program in which partners help distribute pairs of socks to people experiencing homelessness. I applied to be involved in the giving program, and several months later, I received word that the Child Homelessness Initiative was invited to partner with Bombas and the giving program, and they would start by donating 5,040 pairs of socks! This felt to me like winning the lottery! I have delivered socks to numerous organizations, including Boston Health Care for the Homeless, a local high school student club that will choose which local shelter to bring the socks to, and numerous separate providers that each connect in their individual work/ways to children in the Cambridge Public Schools. People don’t think about the significance of socks in the lives of someone experiencing homelessness. The fact is that a pair of clean, dry socks can make a tremendous difference in someone’s health and self-esteem.

My advice to all women is to remain focused on your goal. My ultimate goal was always to help strengthen the lives of children and families. I shifted gears and let go of some ideas that I had or felt were important, while never letting go of the long-term goals. I also suggest when at all possible to open your mind to options that you might not recognize at first as opportunities. With the Bombas example, it demonstrated to me how, for example, it is one thing to seek funds that would help continue the work I am engaged with, and it is another to seek products that directly impact children and families while also supporting the mission of a corporate entity.

And most important is to find partners with whom you can laugh and sometimes cry in frustration when it feels like “no” or “not right now” are the most common replies you hear. Finding someone whose ideas sync with yours and challenge and stretch your own ideas is a significant gift that can’t be underestimated.

What else should we know about your work?
The work that I specialize in has young children and their families at the core. Whether it is teaching young children, educating people who wish to one day to teach young children or — most recently — opening opportunities for practitioners to access coursework that will strengthen their practice directly, thereby directly impacting children’s lives.

What sets this work apart from others is that an institution of higher education is able to draw upon an interdisciplinary set of faculty and connect with an organization whose staff represent an array of job titles and expertise. People use the term “social justice” often these days, referring to equity and fairness in society, defined in many ways. Engaging in the work of the Child Homelessness Initiative and the work involved with the Violence Against Women Initiative speaks to my commitment to aspects of society that need attention and remedies.

Do you have a lesson or advice you’d like to share with young women just starting out?
Don’t take “no” for an answer. If you believe in your work and feel passionate about your focus, then try not to get discouraged when someone or several people tell you that what you want to do won’t work, won’t fly, isn’t the right time to address, and so on. Be flexible in your thinking so that you can recognize an opportunity to capitalize on sometimes seemingly unrelated or different from the work you might define in different ways.

Being narrow in your focus can be a good thing sometimes, but being open to conversations and forming relationships is a vital part of achieving success.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Routledge Publishing Co., NY

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