Leela joined LCBH in 2020 as the Development and Grants VISTA. Leela has since served a full year and been admitted to The Juilliard School for a Masters in Fine Arts in acting. Though not a member of the permanent staff, Leela has been instrumental in developing a very solid support structure for the Development team. We send her warm wishes for a wonderful transition. We are grateful to Leela for her important contributions to the LCBH staff.
Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
I love to rock climb. I’ve been rock climbing since junior high. I recently started doing it again after getting vaccinated and I am happy to be back at the wall.
How did you decide to become a VISTA?
I graduated from the University of Iowa in May 2020, after double majoring in acting and creative writing. My plan was to move to New York to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, my flight got cancelled due to the pandemic and I moved in with my parents in the meantime. Broadway was completely down and New York looked less ideal at the time. I started to explore my options, considering what an extended time at home would look like. I wanted to give back during a time when so many people were suffering, so I looked into AmeriCorps. My uncle had a great experience volunteering with AmeriCorps programs in the past and so did several of my friends. I wanted to stay relatively close to Iowa City, so I chose to look at Chicago-based non-profits. I was very interested in law, so I applied exclusively to legal aid non-profits in the city. I immediately resonated with LCBH’s mission and grant writing overlapped with some of my skill set, so I applied.
What about LCBH’s mission resonates with you?
There was an immediate interest in LCBH. The notion of housing being a human right really struck me. I’ve found that it is easy to stay motivated and connected to the daily work – whether it’s directly or indirectly related to helping people maintain a safe and stable place to live - because at the end of the day, LCBH is helping provide a basic human need.
What were some of your responsibilities while at LCBH?
My official title is the Development and Grants Vista. My main tasks are helping write letters of inquiry for new grants and/or grants we've previously applied to, and then working on full grant applications. I’ve additionally been trained in our Bloomerang database, and spend time maintaining, updating and organizing donor and grant data within the system. I help with some event related development activities, campaigns and other team activities that overlap with communications as they arise.
What have you learned during your time here at LCBH?
Working alongside Allen and Sylvia has been incredibly helpful. I’ve learned so much about the grant writing process, from prospecting to submitting LOI’s and applications to progress reports and renewals. I’ve developed writing skills that I didn't previously have. In just observing LCBH as an organization this last year, I’ve learned how legal aid non-profits are run, how demanding the work is and how flexible and responsive they must be. The ways in which LCBH has grown and adapted to unforeseen and emergency circumstances has been tremendous. Everyone pulled from different skills and resources to adapt to these tough times. Learning the basics of eviction filings and eviction court, and the many ordinances and protections that shape people’s lives has been very eye-opening. Learning more about the issues and inequities related to housing happening in Chicago and nationwide, I’m definitely more tuned in. After I leave LCBH, I plan to continue to be a housing justice advocate.
Which of your accomplishments at LCBH are you most proud of?
I’m proud of all the work that the Development Team does. Some specific work that comes to mind are the few grants that I took on more independently. The Chicago Racial Justice Pooled Fund grant that we co-wrote with the Chicago Housing Justice League in the fall brought in $40,000 for the League, which is helping them carry out their great work and advocacy. Working with staff members Victoria Ogunsanya and Michelle Gilbert in the spring on the Englewood Women’s Initiative grant was an amazing experience. The third one that comes to mind is the work we did on the city contracts in May and June, which required a lot of technical grant language, compilation of documents and input from several pockets of LCBH. That was a great learning experience.
What are your career goals? Has your time as a VISTA honed or advanced your goals in any way?
In August, I’ll begin my MFA program in acting at The Juilliard School. My career goals right now are to be a full-time actor and writer. I am also interested in law, especially after this year at LCBH. I took the LSAT in June, and plan to keep law school in my back pocket for a while. I would be excited to return to the legal world if that is where my career takes me!