By Jessica Collins
Lisa Alford’s favorite poem is Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata.”
“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,” Ehrmann wrote in the 1927 poem, “and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.”
Lisa said the poem reminds her she must be open to everyone, on a personal and professional level.
“We must listen to and learn from those we serve, in order to truly help them,” she said. “Give people the opportunity to speak their truth. People want to be heard and acknowledged.”
In a family filled with educators, social workers, and medical personnel, Lisa learned from an early age the power of learning, leading, and service. Growing up in Augusta, Georgia, she has fond memories of great family support, involvement in their church, and the “family legacy of helping making the community in which I live better.” Lisa’s experiences in serving others have taught her that we aren’t given opportunities just for ourselves.
“If I am given opportunities, gifts, skills, even relationships, how do I build on that?” she said. “I may be in certain places and spaces where I can say or share the truth that other people may have that may not have that direct opportunity.”
In order to fulfill her desire and passion to help make people’s lives better, Lisa has worked with a number of nonprofits, including the American Heart Association, the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York, the OASIS Senior Education Program, Governor Cuomo’s New York State Behavioral Health Advisory Council, the League of Women Voters, the CNY Population Health Improvement Regional Advisory Committee and the Junior League of Syracuse, Inc.
Lisa currently serves as Commissioner of the Department of Adult & Long Term Care Services, whose mission is, “To provide support to improve the quality of life and overall well-being for adults and those with long term care needs.”
While the majority of those the department serves are adults, not all of them are elderly, and about 10 percent of people served in the long term care unit are under 18 years of age. The department includes services for mental health, veterans, long term care and protective services, including safety monitoring, NY Connects and advocacy.
If the Department of Adult & Long Term Care Services doesn’t provide a resource or service, they will point people in the right direction. Further information can be found at ongov.net/adult/ or by calling (315) 435-3355.
While Lisa’s job primarily focuses on the elderly, she also works with the younger population. She is an active member of the graduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., whose focus is on education, service, and the success of young women. Lisa is often given opportunities to mentor young women, primarily young women of color, who are upcoming leaders or are already leaders.
She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Women’s Fund of Central New York, serving as Vice-President. The Women’s Fund of Central New York afforded her the opportunity to fulfill her desire to be a TEDx speaker. In her TEDx talk, “Lessons From Mr. C,” she shares the lessons she has learned from her son who, born at 24 weeks and weighing only one pound, is the epitome of “resilience and keeping trying.”
She recalls a line her son loves from the movie “Shrek,” in which Shrek is talking to Donkey and says, “They judge me before they even know me.”
Lisa likens the line to the scripture verse Hebrews 13:2—“ Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
“Your help may not always look like you — it may not be from your neighborhood or ethnic group,” she said. “Help can come in lots of different forms, as can inspiration. We limit ourselves. Many people will miss their lesson or miss their blessing because it will not come in the package in which they think it will come in. I don’t want to miss a thing that God has for me.”
While her life is dedicated to service to others, Lisa acknowledges the importance of taking care of herself. She prays and meditates, and feels these things can be done anywhere, anytime. She loves her Yogalates class and describes it as “my mental church,” a calming time and space at the end of the day. She enjoys learning about history – especially history as it pertains to African Americans in particular communities, community history, and family history, and relaxing with movies and podcasts.
Lisa knows that taking care of herself and her needs allows her to continue to serve others in the community. She believes in service but also believes that taking care of ourselves first is not selfish, it’s self-full. Sometimes we have to say yes to ourselves first so we can yes to other things later on. She likens self-care to the instructions issued on airplanes about putting on our own oxygen masks before assisting others. She explains we should serve from our saucer, not our cup.
“When you fill your cup and it overflows to your saucer,” she said, “you are able to serve others.”