Continuing our series of stories of Hunger Center alums, we talked with Lisa Moore, PhD., LICSW. Lisa was a National Hunger Fellow from 1994 to 1995, and currently serves as Senior Lecturer and Director of the Master’s Program in Social Work, Social Policy, and Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.
Something about Lisa Moore’s fellowship placement was bothering her. As a member of the very first class of National Hunger Fellows1 , she had been put in charge of creating child nutrition programming with the West Side Food Bank in Phoenix. Working with a nutritionist from Arizona State University, she led cooking demonstrations and showed families how to make the best use of the commodity foods to provide sufficient nutrition for their children. “Trying to help people understand how to use that food was a big learning curve for me,” Lisa remembers. “That’s not something I had to pay attention to growing up. It made me have an appreciation for the level of planning and thoughtfulness people put into how they eat. How to plan to eat so the food lasts, so you have fuel for the body that will last the month—that was a whole different mindset for me.”
But beyond the learning curve, she realized that the project she had been working on had a problem: who was doing the teaching. It was clear to her that some of the people who visited the food bank already knew a lot more than she did about the best use of the government cheese, powdered milk, and canned vegetables they received. “I mean, having a Black woman from the South, from an upper-middle class family, teach folks who are Latine or Indigenous how to use cheese, beans, rice, and canned vegetables? I don’t know if that’s the most practical.”
“When I left I told the nutritionist and the folks at the food bank, ‘You really should hire some of these people to lead these classes, because they know way more about what to do than any of us do. Way more. And they’re using it in ways that are palatable to them.'” This realization helped her to pick her lane for how she would make her contribution to leading change in the world. “The lane I needed to be in was to be able to support people emotionally and behind the scenes. Because the people who have had the experience are the ones who need to have more power.” This drive to support has defined her subsequent career, from studying clinical social work and direct service, to teaching and higher ed administration.
Following her placement in Phoenix, she returned to Washington, D.C., for her placement with Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). Working with Ellen Teller, she developed press releases and worked on a sign-on letter campaign. Lisa’s placement was the first in a long list of fellows mentored by Teller and placed with FRAC; As of fall 2023, FRAC has hosted 50 Hunger Fellows and five Zero Hunger Interns.
Following the completion of her fellowship, Lisa worked with the National Alliance for State and Territorial Aid Directors before pursuing a graduate degree in social work from Smith College. “I picked Smith because of the block placement model,” she recalls. “After my experience in the fellowship I wanted to do something that was practical, that had a lot of experiential parts to the education.”
After 10 weeks of classroom education, she traveled to the Dallas Child and Family Guidance Clinic in Dallas, Texas, where she was responsible for creating afterschool groups for African American and Latine boys and girls. “I definitely drew on my experience with the fellowship for how you create a program. I partnered with members of the community when I formed those groups, which was really helpful. I had a member of the neighborhood association in Oak Cliff who helped me with the adolescent African American boys’ groups. Another person who was a Spanish-speaking helped me with the Spanish-speaking group.”
The lesson from Phoenix had stayed with her. “Going in there as an outsider was not something I wanted to do without collaboration. That’s something I took from the fellowship program—how to do it a different way.”
After completing her Master’s and working in direct service for several years, Lisa’s career was drawn back toward higher education when she took a position as Director of the Mary McLeod Bethune Multicultural Center at Clark University. Her motivation in returning to academia was in part to show up as a visual representation of who “belongs” in a classroom. “Academically, I wasn’t a strong student. I have learning disabilities. This was before we had the ADA, so I had to push through school. The decision to go back to academia was to support students like me. Students who were Black and Brown, students who struggle to get through school, many of whom come from homes without food, from homes where they didn’t have access to education.”
Lisa subsequently held teaching positions at St. Olaf College, Boston University, and Smith College, served as assistant dean for Multicultural Affairs at Reed College, and as Assistant Director for the Women’s Community Center at Stanford. “I’m in higher ed because I love students,” she says. “I know that many of the people I served in the fellowship would have loved, and many I hope have had, opportunities to pursue education. And I think higher education institutions can be some of the most traumatic experiences to go through. They can do a lot of harm. My presence is to try to interrupt that harm from behind the scenes.”
Lisa now serves as Senior Lecturer and Director of the Master of Arts in Social Work and Social Welfare Program at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. “I’m in charge of hiring, training, and mentoring adjunct faculty,” she explains. “All the part-time lecturers at the Crown Family School are community practitioners. Many of the people who teach for us grew up in communities in Chicago and the area around us. Many are addressing hunger or community violence. And I get to hire them to teach our students how to offer care from their unique positions. That’s a really powerful way of being in service.”
When asked for her advice for people who want to get involved in ending hunger today, Lisa highlights what her fellowship experience helped her understand: listen to people who are affected by the issue and find your lane. “People are so passionate about wanting to see justice happen that sometimes they get ahead of themselves, and they don’t stop to listen to what people are actually saying they need,” she says. “I spend my life with people who have dedicated their lives to helping people, but oftentimes I have to ask: hey, can you slow down? Can you listen to what they’re saying they need? They need our organization to actually treat them as people, who are living lives.”
“I would want a young person who wants to go out and end hunger to know…that one person and one organization cannot alleviate hunger. It’s about understanding connections, it’s about understanding where you fit in the piece. I feel like my role is teaching people to interact with other people better. For others, it may be to be on the ground with people, helping them realize or engage their own power and working with community members. For some people it may be farming. Or it may be actually organizing food.
“Find out what your place is in the change. The fellowship is really awesome for figuring out where your place may be: having the chance to work in a placement, work in policy, and get a sense of, ‘is this where I fit?’ It may be that where you fit is beyond what the fellowship offers, but you won’t know that until you do the fellowship!”
- At the time the National Hunger Fellowship, now named in honor of the late Rep. Bill Emerson, was named after Rep. Mickey Leland.