My internship experience was incredibly positive. And I think that overall I had different challenges and feelings than a typical intern. As the Housing Clinic intern, it was pretty much up to me to assist clients desperately in need of affordable, safe, and sanitary housing. This was a daunting, intense, and sometimes discouraging task. I had wonderful guidance and supervision, however it was up to me to meet and speak with clients. I did my best to utilize my resources (two of which are MassResources and MassLegalHelp), research new resources, and serve the clients to the best of my ability. There were clients who came in, however, and families I worked with, that sometimes I knew my work would ultimately not do much good. I served as an encouraging force, a safe person to talk to, and a resource for information that may or may not pan out. This was a definite challenge to my somewhat idealist and young desire to build upon my personal concepts of social justice in attempts to better the community of Waltham, Massachusetts.
What I’ve learned through this is a lot about the small things. Knowing that I can’t fix all the problems that families come in with: struggling with immigration status, in need of work, all but completely homeless, struggling to feed their children. But I strove to start with the little things. Little things like food stamps, food pantries, soup kitchens, day centers, shelters. Although their living problems seem immense, the most success I found throughout my internship was in these little things, that in reality, provide success and do go a long way. So although I was challenged daily, mentally and emotionally, and my previously idealist conceptions of social justice were challenged with too immense and real issues, they were affirmed through the small successes I had with all the clients I met with; their thanks, their empowerment and their small success little by little. I just had to keep in mind, and continue to keep in mind, that since I am only one person, it is the small accomplishments that truly do make a difference.
It definitely helps to have previously volunteered in the clinic when starting this internship. It is an amazing opportunity and provides a great opportunity, however the work is intense and the responsibility plentiful. It helps to at least me familiar with the community resources so you can help each client efficiently and with the most appropriate resources. Another thing I learned was that people won’t always come in for housing problems. WATCH is known as a helpful resource and a place to seek help regardless of your immigration status. A lot of problems that did crop up dealt with immigration and the newly implemented Secure Communities. At WATCH we worked to inform all our members about Secure Communities and their rights when it comes to the police. Check out the two flyers I created for our community members!
– Molly Lortie ’13
I am just about halfway done with my internship and it has definitely been a whirlwind. Some days are slow and I spend my time updating the database, researching housing resources, stuffing donation letters and other basic office activities. Other days I am very busy meeting with clients who come in to ask questions, look for housing or fill out applications. My learning goals for this summer were quite basic: I wanted to learn about the functions of a community based non-profit and develop organizing skills that allow me to serve the needs of community. On a level more applicable to my every day duties at my internship, my goal was to research and learn enough about Massachusetts housing law and the community needs of the people of Waltham in order to serve and assists clients as best as I possibly can. What I have learned and accomplished in those terms can be displayed by a variety of small indicators; like how now when a client who was served a Notice To Quit comes in with questions I can confidently explain the process to them without having to look up the eviction timeline in our resources. Or how it no longer takes me an hour to pre-read a Section 8 application before I feel okay starting to fill it out for a client. I have been viewing each client who walks through the door as a new challenge. Each one poses a challenge for me to help alleviate their housing issues at least a little. So the summer has truly been filled with challenges.
I have kept a tally sheet next to my desk and have tried to keep track of the number of clients who have come into or contacted the clinic for assistance. The numbers read 24 walk-ins, 12 phone calls and 2 emails.
Some of those are clients who dropped by with a quick question or were looking for a local resource, and others are clients who have come in repeatedly. That is a pretty good number of clients I’ve worked with. What I am even more proud of, however, are the communication skills I’ve gained through working with so many people. Many clients who come in speak little English, but their needs are every bit as large. Sometimes, I have an interpreter with me, but other times it’s just me and my minimal Spanish skills there to communicate and help solve some of their housing issues. On an anecdotal note, I’ve had one older, disabled man named ****** come in two or three times to get help filling out a variety of housing applications due to his limited English ability. He has spent probably a total of 4 hours working with me in my office and we have filled out five different applications and chatted a great deal. After the second time he came in and spent about an hour and a half going over the applications with me, a fellow intern who works in the office next door came in to my office and noted how ****** was here for about 2 hours and she did not understand a word he said to me the entire time, and yet I continued to respond without any hesitation or question. I hadn’t really noticed until she pointed it out, but between his broken English and my sad excuse of Spanish, we had created a vocabulary in order to communicate and form a dialogue. And, somehow we understood each other perfectly. It is overcoming language barriers such as this that I am most proud of during my internship experience, and I think it is these skills that will resonate most as I continue my career at Brandeis and forge into my future career, whatever that may be.
– Molly Lortie ’13
Last week I began my internship at WATCH CDC right here in Waltham, Massachusetts. WATCH is a non-profit founded in 1988 dedicated to providing housing justice in the Waltham community through empowerment and advocacy. Here in Waltham, those issues primarily deal with affordable housing and immigration. WATCH offers a Housing Advocacy Clinic open Monday and Thursday evenings that is staffed with students trained in Massachusetts housing law and equipped with information on local resources for financial, food and fuel assistance, legal services and shelters. Clients come in to the clinic faced with evictions, inability to pay rent and unsanitary conditions and the clinic helps them to demystify the laws, know their rights as tenants and connect them to affordable and helpful resources, meanwhile building confidence and leadership skills required to resolve future issues. In addition, WATCH has English language courses and participates in community organizing in attempt to create and maintain more affordable housing in Waltham.
As an intern, my duties are to run the clinic and train tenants on tenant-landlord law, aiding them in resolving their housing issues. I also update and maintain the database of tenant cases and connecting appropriate clinic clients to WATCH’s community organizing in order to pursue collective action.
I was first exposed to WATCH in the fall of 2011 when I participated in the Environmental Health and Justice JBS with Professor Laura Goldin. As part of the class, we were required to volunteer so many evenings in the clinic as advocates. What I found at WATCH was a connection to the Waltham community that transcended our Brandeis bubble and a realization that social injustice happened close to home. I continued working in the clinic as a Housing Advocate and volunteered weekly in the ESOL classes and this spring was offered a full time internship for the summer.
My first week has involved getting to know the full-time aspect of the office, as in the past I have been in only to work the evenings of the clinic and English classes. But since I have already been trained in housing laws and know how to interact with inquiring clients, I was able to jump right in to helping clients who stop by to ask questions during the day.
Looking towards the rest of the summer, my projects include researching resources in order to update WATCH’s community resource guide and calling past clients to follow-up and get them to participate in WATCH’s community organizing campaigns, since they have faced housing issues face on. I look forward to learning how to create action through community empowerment during my summer interning at WATCH.
– Mollie Lortie ’14