A Sneak Peak Into the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, Brought to you by Max Justice Parish: Part 2

Enter the dog days of summer. Enter the hours spent bobbing and weaving around the Massachusetts State House, enter meetings with organizational endorsers of a campaign to increase state-funding for an important welfare program, enter beautiful walks through Cambridge and Somerville. Enter Sandman (*que Mariano Rivera’s entrance into the ballgame*). The midway point of my internship at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless is here.

Night time view of the Massachusetts State House
Night time view of the Massachusetts State House

When I decided that I wanted to continue interning at Mass Coalition over the summer (I am fortunate enough to have been with the organization since this past January) I had a few goals in mind. I wanted to learn how to manage a successful policy campaign. Check. I wanted to learn what it takes to be a good community organizer. Check. I wanted to learn what life is like spending extended amounts of time at the State House. Check. Crossing these aspirations off my to-do list was incredibly rewarding. But there’s more.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the benefits I’ve reaped from living in Waltham over the summer. Specifically, interning so close to campus enabled quite a few valuable opportunities to present themselves. I won the opportunity to meet with Waltham’s State Representative Tom Stanley with the help of my mentor, Brandeis’ Director of Community Service Lucas Malo. Through this meeting I was introduced to a few consulting operatives who help manage local Massachusetts elections, and it was they who offered me an opportunity in the fall to do what I love and help create a database to identify the characteristics of the average voter that supports their clients. It is an exciting project and I wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of the opportunity to work on it had I not been interning in proximity to Brandeis. Other benefits to remaining on campus over the summer include: taking professors out to lunch, seeking out Waltham’s hidden gems, teasing out ideas for a senior thesis with advisors, receiving ample support from Hiatt for truly anything that I need their assistance with, and taking the time to walk all the way from Waltham to Cambridge along the Charles River Reservoir Trail – something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time to explore during the semester. Seeking experiences in other parts of the world and the country are valuable and important, but, simply put, life ain’t too shabby in Waltham over the summer. I mean it.

Charles River at night, with the Cambridge bike path on the left side of roadway
Charles River at night, with the Cambridge bike path on the left side of roadway

Aside from the traveling across the State that I pursue in my spare time, I do quite a bit for my internship too. Presently I’m visiting organizations that have endorsed the Coalition’s campaign to increase funding for EAEDC, a Massachusetts program that supports elders, children, and those who are disabled and are unable to afford their living expenses. Most organizations that have endorsed our campaign include nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state. I visited two of these organizations a few weeks ago; Lynn Economic Opportunity (LEO) serves those who experience poverty in Lynn, and Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services provides stable living for the elderly. The purposes of these meetings are to educate organizations on exactly what the legislation would accomplish and how organizations can contribute to our campaign. Typically endorsers are willing to distribute postcards to be signed by colleagues and clients addressed to legislators, write a letter to the editor in support of the campaign, sign and distribute online convio-action letters, and in some cases, are willing to help the Coalition collect testimony to show legislators why what we are working on is so important.

Heading into these meetings, truth be told, I wasn’t confident about leading them. I wasn’t certain of what to talk about and when. I reached out to one of my supervisors and she agreed that I shadow her on one of these meetings prior to me leading a few on my own. The plan worked to perfection. As I watched my supervisor lead one meeting I figured out how to do the same; what stories to tell, what actions we want to focus on, and ironing out the details to follow up and ensure that progress be made. I walked away from this experience with an understanding of just how important it is to ask for help when needed. It certainly paid off.

The more time that I’ve spent at Mass Coalition the more I have discovered areas in which the organization could improve upon its resources available for the talented community organizers it employs. At the beginning of the summer I set a new goal for myself: create a new tool that will allow Mass Coalition staff to reach out to and solicit more participants for its policy campaigns. That tool came in the form of a database that I created which includes university-affiliated clubs in Massachusetts that address topics of homelessness, poverty, and justice. Not only will it allow the Coalition to garner more support for its campaigns and programs in the future, but it will hopefully inspire the leaders from these clubs to join forces and address homelessness together more cohesively. I look forward to speaking with my colleagues in the future about how they were able to use this tool to strengthen the policy campaigns that they work so hard on.

It’s been a rewarding summer so far. I’ve learned a lot about community organizing and how I see myself using the skills and experiences that I’ve gained throughout this internship in a professional setting. I love politics. Good politics requires good community organizing. I will, no doubt, use what I’ve learned to pursue a career in political consulting. Until that pursuit begins in full, however, feel free to reach out to me and ask me about my experience interning at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. Until next time. – Max Parish

PS. One of my supervisors from Mass Coalition, Lois Ferraresso, will definitely be reading this blog. How do I know? Because it is her job to read every subject matter on the internet that includes “Mass Coalition” in its content. With this knowledge in mind, I want to thank you, Lois, for being a helpful supervisor but even more so a wonderful friend. I am so grateful to have you in the office to make me laugh, talk college hoops, and keep me awake when the air conditioner is set too high and my fan isn’t enough. Looking forward to creating more memories with you.

Max Parish, ’16

A Sneak Peak Into the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, Brought to you by Max Justice Parish: Part I

In 2014 there were approximately 20,000 people who, at one point or another, experienced homelessness in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There are two avenues someone can pursue to help people who endure this condition; one is to provide them with direct services. The other avenue is to seek lasting change on the public policy level. The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, my internship site, pursues both.

The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, an organization that advocates for those who experience homelessness, carries a mission of eradicating homelessness from the Commonwealth. In pursuit of this goal, the Coalition operates both Public Policy and Community Organizing Departments. These departments conduct policy campaigns to promote legislation that enfranchises those who endure homelessness. Located in Lynn, MA, the Coalition also operates a furniture bank in the same facility to assist those who were previously experiencing homelessness in acquiring furniture for their new residences. My focus as an intern is with the Public Policy and Community Organizing Departments. As a Legislative Intern, I research policy proposals, recruit organizations to endorse the Coalition’s policy campaigns, and encourage communities to write to their legislators in support of these campaigns.

Sr. Linda Bessom, Senior Community Organizer at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless
Sr. Linda Bessom, Senior Community Organizer at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless

As a Coordinator of the Hunger and Homelessness Division of the Brandeis University Waltham Group, a student-led community service organization dedicated to connecting the student population with Waltham’s population of those who are homeless, I first learned of the Coalition’s work by researching local policy institutes with my peers as a part of an effort last year to incorporate advocacy into our club’s programming. Having begun the club’s official partnership with the Coalition this past fall, I familiarized myself with a few of the Advocacy Directors who are employed there. In January, as I thought about the importance of obtaining an internship for the second semester of my junior year, I knew exactly who to contact. Fast-forward 5 months and I continue to intern for an advocacy agency that has scored significant policy victories over the last several months, highlighted by the signing of House Bill 4517 into law, An Act promoting housing and support services to unaccompanied homeless youths. With your help, we can ensure that the legislation will be adequately funded for the fiscal year of 2016 (FY’2016).

Kelly Turley - my supervisor - Director of Legislative Advocacy, Mass Coalition for the Homeless speaking at the 10th annual Forum on Family Homelessness sponsored by Advocacy Network to End Family Homelessness & Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, at Trinitarian Congregational Church in Concord, MA
Kelly Turley – my supervisor – Director of Legislative Advocacy, Mass Coalition for the Homeless speaking at the 10th annual Forum on Family Homelessness sponsored by Advocacy Network to End Family Homelessness & Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, at Trinitarian Congregational Church in Concord, MA

The Coalition is staffed by a very talented group of women who possess and display a worthy amount of humor in the workplace. I am fortunate to look up to a few of them as role models. My first week as an intern in January I found myself trading and discussing good books with a co-worker. Although much of the initial work that I performed in the office was limited to collating extensive amounts of policy fact sheets, I have graduated to completing much of the same work that my colleagues in the Advocacy Department perform, which includes researching and communicating with other organizations in Massachusetts that share a mission similar to that of the Coalition’s.

As I navigate my way through a jam-packed summer full of trips to the Massachusetts State House and extensive rides on the commuter rail, I hope to continue to gain valuable experience contributing to the Coalition’s current policy campaigns, including one present campaign to increase FY’16 funding for an important welfare program, EAEDC, that benefits elderly, disabled, and unaccompanied youth populations who are unable to adequately support themselves. Although I have only been with the Coalition for several months, it is very clear to me that these campaigns are crucial to the transformation of policies from proposals to state law. For this reason, interning for the Coalition has proven to be a fulfilling experience. Cheers to the next 2-and-a-half months!

Max Parish ’16’

Busy in the Small Non-Profit

Approaching the midpoint of my internship at WATCH, I can look back and appreciate the progress that I have made since it started almost two months ago. Although I had been familiar with the setting and the work at WATCH from my semester involvement with the Housing Clinic, I had made it a goal to understand and experience firsthand the work of a non-profit organization. WATCH proved to be a great place to get the right perspective about the public sector. The amount of responsibility that I am given at WATCH, as well as the degree to which I am involved with the inner workings of the organization, would have been unheard of had I been employed at a government office, big organization, or larger company. As an intern at WATCH, I have been given the opportunity to work closely with the full-time team, which is comprised of only four people: an Executive Director, Development Director, Office Manager, and Program Manager. In a big organization, I would have worked in a small department, which would have had its own niche objective, and I would not have been able to see the big picture. At WATCH, our staff meetings involve only the full-time staff and me. I am able to learn about every role in great detail, and this experience gives me a great perspective on the management and inner workings of a non-profit organization.  *maybe add an example about viewing the annual budget and having a real-life example to what I learn in my economics classes.

Here is the flyer we made for the TAG meeting
Here is the flyer we made for the TAG meeting

My other main goal was to learn more about community organizing and successfully engaging with community leaders to seek action to better the housing situation in Waltham. We decided to schedule a Tenant Action Group meeting (TAG) at the end of this month. In this meeting, community members will get educated about their rights as tenants, and we will try to address a specific housing problem that the people are facing, such as unsanitary and unsafe housing conditions. We are hoping to empower the TAG participants to actively seek change and action from their local representatives – for instance, sending personal letters to them describing the issues they face. The first step we took to schedule this meeting was to compose and send out a mailing to recent Housing Clinic clients inviting them to attend. Next week we are going to call approximately one hundred people to notify them about the meeting. I am very excited about it and cannot wait to get my first taste of community organizing. To learn more about community empowerment and organizing, please visit WATCH Community Organizing page.

I am using several methods to keep track of my personal progress and growth. I have a Google document in which I write down everything I do; projects, activities, people helped, etc. I track clinic progress under four categories: Walk-Ins, Emails, Phone Calls, and Letters that we empower tenants to write to their ward councilors, which are the representatives of each ward in Waltham in the local government. In the first period, we had 26 Walk-Ins, 9 emails, and 32 phone calls. We did not write letters to ward councilors because we are still working on implementing letter writing to the intake process.

Sending out the mailing

At the beginning of my internship, I felt overwhelmed with the amount of work, follow-ups, and resources I was told to update. At this point, however, I feel that I am finally on top of my work and I am now much more experienced than when I started. I spent a great deal of time learning about the Massachusetts housing law, and about different resources that I can offer as an advocate. I feel proud that I can assist the clients that come into the Housing Clinic and actually be able to help them with their struggles. Since I started, we have had a couple of success stories, such as a family who got their security deposit back from their landlord after two years of court disputes with the support of WATCH. Also, we helped a number of households communicate with their landlords and demand repairs to their apartments in order to improve their living conditions. Besides increasing my knowledge of the law and assisting people, I feel that through personal contact with real people and real situations, I become a better communicator and problem solver. Working at the Housing Clinic entails rationalizing, thinking critically, and assessing the problems I encounter. It is gaining skills like these that I am most proud of during my internship experience, and I believe that they will prove invaluable as my career path develops.


– Shimon Mazor ‘16