Post 5: Final Weeks at 826 National

I have spent this summer immersed in 826 National’s innovative approach to supporting young people’s education, and I will leave this internship more motivated than ever to cultivate education practices that ensure all our young people can meet their full potentials.

Despite the fact that the 826 mission revolves around supporting students, I have spent virtually no time working hands-on with students. Instead, my internship has focused on the behind-the-scenes end of nonprofit management. I have learned a staggering amount about the day-to-day processes that are required to support the vast network of 826 chapters. Many of my projects have supported the annual 826 National Staff Development Conference, which hosts more than one hundred staff members from across the country. Other tasks have been focused on expanding the resources available on 826 Digital, a free online resource for educators looking to take their writing curriculum to the next level.

This summer, I have learned that nonprofit work is not always easy, and that it takes a particularly patient, inspired type of person to do this work the way it should be done. Because of that, I have met some truly incredible humans this summer. The people who work at 826 National really believe in the power of this organization, and it’s easy to understand why when you see the writing that our students produce:

Our students are witty:
“Because they’re spicy. They’re rebellious. They don’t play by your rules. If you double-cross a jalapeño, you get the seeds.”
-Calvin, Grade 8, 826michigan

They’re eloquent:
“If writing was a medicine, there would be universal healing.”
-Jennifer, Grade 5, 826LA

They’re wise beyond their years:
“One of the worst things in the world must be when your mother’s ridiculous advice turns out to be right.”
-Cole, Grade 9, 826 Valencia

So while 826 National staff may not be working with students directly, reading through student writing — which I spent a good portion of my internship doing — makes every challenge worth it. That’s my first piece of advice to others looking to intern with a nonprofit like 826 National: the work will be hard, so find what makes the challenge worth it, and surround yourself with that as often as possible.

Get to know your fellow interns, too!

My second piece of advice is to get to know the people you are working with, and to start doing so as early as possible. The wonderful thing about this kind of work is that people don’t end up in these positions unless they have a deep passion for the mission. Every single person in my office had a different journey to their position at 826 National, but all of their paths reflect an incredible drive for social justice work. Building relationships with others in the office can give you some insight into the extensive number of jobs that exist in this world, but it’s also a great reminder that there isn’t one “right” way to build a meaningful career. There are a million potential paths, and college really only shows you a few. You’ll never know what might be out there unless you chat everybody up!

Which brings me to my last piece of advice: ask all the questions! In addition to asking about others in your office, ask what more you can do. Seek out opportunities to make your impact, because the best ones won’t just fall in your lap. Ask how your organization supports itself financially. Ask what your supervisor’s dream is for the organization. Ask to learn about everything that seems interesting, even if it doesn’t directly relate to your intern position. Remember that even though you are there to provide a service, you are also there to learn everything you possibly can about the real working world in the short time you are there.

Well, that’s my last post for the summer! Thank you to World of Work and the Hiatt Career Center for making this internship possible, and to 826 National for making this experience a dream. I am so grateful to have spent this summer learning under the 826 team.

-Katie Reinhold ’19

Post 4: Personal and Career Development | Lessons From Morrie Schwartz

Interestingly enough, this past week, I was introduced, randomly, to Mitch Alborn’s “Tuesdays With Morrie”. Shortly after beginning to read the book (in an attempt of accomplishing one of my personal goals this summer to read more books), I realized that the book is a memoir of a former student and a professor at Brandeis University, several decades ago. The professor, Morrie Schwartz, who suffered from ALS disease and was, thus, terminally ill, would have weekly coversations with Mitch, his former mentee and student, and reflect on several aspects of life, giving Mitch all the advice he could from the perspective of someone who was at a crossroads between life and death. I mention this book because I feel as though it came unto my life, unexpectedly, at a coincidentally very reflective time.

Over the past few weeks, I have definitely developed my ability to multitask and think quickly. When you are a part of an organization that tackles political and current events while offering a wide-range of services, everyday looks different and your workload can suddenly increase depending on the political and social climate of the week.

As someone who plans to pursue very similar work, I plan to be equally as engaged in activism on current events in addition to the services I will offer,  so I know that multi- tasking will be a crucial aspect of the work and managing time wisely.

I also learned that, in the work place, it’s very difficult for me to sit for long periods of time at an office desk and remain productive. Taking walks definitely helps, and keeping myself hydrated through out the day is key for maintaining my energy. As I remember to take care of myself through it all, I’ve tried to learn how to set my limits, and not take on more than I can handle.

My relationship with my coworkers is pretty great, and I’ve learned that this plays a big role in one’s work experience. Being able to easily communicate what your needs are and offer support to each other within the work place, makes hectic days a lot easier especially given that we are a small team. This work has also taught me the importance in diligence and accountability both on my end and everyone on the team.  

Here is a flyer I made for our third annual Decolonize Birth Conference that I was super proud of!

Additionally, I feel as though I have also gained a much better understanding of the financial aspect of running a small business that offers free/ low- cost services. This understanding has come through my work with processing grant applications and the extensive work I have done on sponsorship/donation requests for our third annual Decolonize Birth Conference. I am grateful for this learning and experience.  I am fully aware of the importance of this skill set especially given my career goal: to begin my own non-profit that offers reproductive health services and family planning resources to primarily LGBTQ+ people of color.  Given my lack of experience in these administrative areas, I was nervous and unclear about how to develop and enhance these skill sets. Having the chance to jump right in through my internship has helped a lot.

This summer, thus far, has  allowed me to gain a clearer vision of what I want my future to look like in several aspects. Morrie Schwartz’s anecdotes have been teaching me how to fully experience my fears and emotions so that I can detach myself from them and to prioritize love in every situation. My internship has brought me clarity, and taught me patience, finding a balance, and persistence. I am grateful for the experiences that have afforded me this knowledge.

Post 3: Finding Power in Coalition Building and Communal Growth

Hey everyone!

This week, I have been thinking a lot about how I define change and progress both personally and within the organization where I am working. In thinking about the goals of my organization–which are very much centered around social justice and health equity– it is always crucial to question where there are areas for continued growth and development, while also acknowledging the big and small strides and positive outcomes. This evaluation is key in assessing what could be the most effective steps to reach our goals as an organization.

With the goal of making equitable maternal healthcare accessible to low-income families, as well as black and brown folks, Ancient Song Doula Services wears many hats as a community-based organization. It is important to note that this lack of access to healthcare, resources, food, and housing stems from a much larger root cause: anti-blackness. Because of this, reaching our goal as an organization is not solely about providing resources to our communities, but also involves taking action around the systems and institutions that first put these barriers in place. Given the immense nature of this multi-faceted goal, what one could consider an “immediate success” becomes difficult to measure, making endurance and consistency key in this work.

At Ancient Song Doula Services, we are constantly multi-tasking, taking on different roles, planning for community outreach events and reaching out to other organizations for support and/or partnerships. We are always looking for different opportunities to spread the word and collaborate with other social justice collectives because it is crucial to identify the intersection of different movements, whether it be birth justice, food justice, or environmental justice. It can be very stressful–especially for a small organization–to take on such a wide range of tasks, but this is why we stress the importance of collaboration and solidarity.   

” A Day of Solidarity” held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Click on the image to watch the full panel

So, what does change or progress look like for me? Progress, I’ve learned, is very much rooted in and driven by coalition building and communal growth. Recently, my supervisor was a panelist in an event called “A Day of Solidarity” held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where the panelists engaged in a conversation around the recent policies regarding the separation of immigrant families and discussing ways to take action. One of the main topics discussed was how crucial it is for communities to gather in support of each other, stand in solidarity as allies, engage in dialogue and, most importantly, listen to each other. Listening and trusting one another gives marginalized identities agency over their own narrative and experience. At Ancient Song, we often practice this is, as we not only hold events by and for the community in collaboration with other organizations, but also center our workspace around physical and mental wellness. In this way, I’ve learned that, as an organization, listening and building trust and community allow us to constantly assess and reassess the needs of the communities we serve so that we can continue to evaluate our methods for change and be that much closer to reaching our goals.  

There is power in unification, as it is crucial not only for the healing of marginalized identities, but also, in standing firmly against or for a movement and demanding action. This is progress.

Post 2: As a Trailblazer

Eighth Grade Graduation at Trailblazer’s Academy

The past month at DOMUS and Trailblazer’s Academy has truly been a special experience. Through the various meetings and school events that I became a part of, I was able to get to know some of the students on a personal level, as well as get a better appreciation and understanding of what family advocates do on a typical day.

Additionally, I was able to input and analyze data related to student attendance and experience. To see these students everyday come in with a smile on their face, knowing the obstacles that they have had to face or currently overcoming, is remarkable.

While continuing my work with the DOMUS Foundation, I have been able to see and work with various emotional support resources for the students, including the school psychologist. While working with the school psychologist who works with both of DOMUS’ charter schools, I was able to see the types of cognitive and executive functioning tests that are done for students who have individualized educational plans (IEP’s), as well as the reports that are created to determine what specific resources each child needs depending on the given IEP.

From this information, along with the behavioral reports, grades, and attendance records, families were contacted to suggest summer school for their students to ensure that they don’t fall behind  or lose momentum in the progress that they have made this previous academic year.

The family advocates also are making sure that their students have the proper resources during the summer. Every academic year, a certain amount of home visits have to be made for each student by their family advocate. During the summer, the family advocates take advantage of their time without students to schedule home visits with families. Before this is done, attendance reports, as well as home visit reports must be inputted and reviewed to see which students should be prioritized.

Over the past few weeks, I have been helping with creating and mailing these types of documents for the school psychologist and family advocates, as well as being trained to go on these home visits with a family advocate.

Working with DOMUS has made me realize how vital social work is as profession as well as the impact it can make on a student’s life. I was recently able to help a family advocate with finding a scholarship for three young boys to attend camp for part of the summer. I spent hours calling and emailing camps to see if there were any openings for these kids. When I was finally able to find a camp that would give a scholarship and had openings for the boys. It was a relief to the family, the family advocate and to me that we were able to enroll the kids in camp. These boys are able to meet kids their age and to start their adjustment with their new guardians in a new living area. Helping connect students and families to resources such as summer camps or summer schools for the Trailblazer’s Academy students, as well as other youth is another rewarding and crucial role of a family advocate through the DOMUS Foundation.

Post 3: Growth and Development (and Cartoon Network!) at 826 National

“There’s a place in my mind where ideas can grow into sprouts that turn into trees.”
– Renee, Grade 7, 826 NYC

All the work 826 National does serves to support the regional chapters in the work that they do. Together, the 826 network can best achieve their social justice mission: to work toward more equitable education opportunities for all students, regardless of circumstance. At the national level where I am interning, progress is focused in two areas: growth of existing chapters and development of new chapters.

Growth: For chapters that are well-established, 826 National is constantly collaborating with them to improve and enhance the great work that is already being done. Sometimes, that can be as simple as facilitating monthly department check-ins across chapters so that everyone working in a similar capacity can touch base about what is working and what they might need ideas about. Sometimes, progress involves facilitating exciting partnerships with companies like Cartoon Network! Recently, 826 National and Cartoon Network collaborated to launch the Inclusion Storytelling Project, which encourages youth to share stories about kindness and empathy in an effort to work toward a bully-free world. Each 826 chapter is taking part, adding their own local twist.

Third grader Aakhirah suggests beignets receive their own monument!

826 New Orleans, for example, linked the project to Confederate monuments that were removed from the city at the end of 2017. Third graders at a local school wrote a book filled with their own  suggestions about what should replace those monuments, which was published by 826 National. Buzzfeed recently picked up on it, after some of the images from the book when viral on Twitter!

Development: Speaking of 826 New Orleans, another way that 826 National works toward progress is by working with groups looking to establish their own 826 chapter. Until recently, 826 New Orleans was actually a chapter in development, which involves a process that can take up to two years. Sites apply for the chapter development process and, if selected, undergo a series of phases to create an organization that matches the 826 model. Once they become a full-fledged chapter, they have access to all the resources that the national office has to offer. Though it can be a time-consuming process, all of the steps involved lead up to a new regional site, which enables us to vastly increase the number of students we reach each year!

In order for the 826 National office to adequately support its chapters, we need to be sure that we are operating in the most efficient, effective way. This means that we are also doing work internally to make changes that aid our ultimate mission. In the short time I have been at the office, staff have come together several times to talk about ways they can improve their own work. These conversations involve both self-reflection and feedback from chapters about how the national office can better support them. I admire 826 National’s strong commitment to being the best version of itself, and I am learning a ton about how to use effective reflection practices for actual change. It’s a skill that I can take with me to my future workplaces–to ensure that my work is always aligned with the mission.

–Katie Reinhold, ’19

Post 2: The Importance in Standpoint Theory as ASDS Testifies at NYC Council Hearing For Birth Equity

Hey everyone!

Its been another busy week at Ancient Song and we’ve made many great strides. Last week, Ancient Song’s founder and executive director, Chanel Porchia-Albert, testified at a City Council hearing at City Hall. Chanel Porchia-Albert advocated for bills on reporting on maternal mortality, assessing the need for doulas for folks who are pregnant, and evaluating how available low-cost to free doula services are (a testimony that I was super excited to have co-written!).

During this testimony, Chanel described the valuable and important work of Ancient Song in providing doula services and accessible maternal care to marginalized communities, highlighted the trauma and oppression within the history of black and brown people in medicine and health care, and emphasized the importance of community-based and culturally relevant doulas and birth workers to be experts and key sources in addressing the racial disparities in maternal health.

The testimony was particularly impactful because it gave Ancient Song the opportunity to speak on a matter that Ancient Song has been tackling for over ten years, but has only just recently gained the attention of the council members of New York City. It made me think of a concept I was introduced to in a previous course I took at Brandeis with Professor Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman called Black Feminist Thought. One of the many concepts she introduced to me was the standpoint theory. First described by Patricia Hill Collins, the theory acknowledges the knowledge that stems from social positions and the importance of theorizing from “below” (in terms of class, nation, sexuality, political need). It highlights the fact that often seemingly objective or “scientific” accounts of something may ignore the perspective and experiences of marginalized identities. This is why we must prioritize the perspective of the most marginalized identities to inform the objective.

This connects back to why we think it is crucial to have community-based and culturally relevant birth workers at the forefront of the movement towards birth equity. It also drives much of current community-based workers’ concerns in NYS Governor Cuomo’s proposed Doula Pilot Program. How is the government going to effectively address racial disparities in maternal health without having a holistic understanding of the needs of those most affected?

Before the hearing began, Ancient Song held a rally for birth equity in front of City Hall where birth workers, reproductive justice advocates, and members of the community attended and spoke on their experiences. This reminded me of the importance of making this information as accessible to the communities most affected as possible. A lot of folks from these communities are not aware that these hearings are taking place and how much of a difference their voices can make. This is why the work we are doing around community outreach is crucial to achieving birth equity.

Thank you all for reading, I can’t wait to update you all again next week!

Post 2: Fighting Education Inequity with 826 National

As an Education Studies major, so much of what I learn in my classes is reflected in the work 826 National does. Education inequality takes many forms, and 826 National has taken a writing-centered approach to improving overall education outcomes for their students.

The Ed Studies department loves to talk about “gaps”. In particular, we frequently discuss both the achievement gap and the opportunity gap. At their core, these terms refer to the ways inequality and inequity manifest themselves in our education systems. The achievement gap refers to the unequal distribution of educational results — test scores, general grades, ultimate level of education — between groups. The opportunity gap is the inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities — access to experienced teachers, rigorous coursework, safe environments — that create the achievement gap. From a social justice perspective, these inequities in education serve as the foundation for so many other social injustices, from the effects of the school-to-prison-pipeline to cycles of poverty.

There is much debate about the best ways to approach closing these gaps, but I’m going to focus on the strategies 826 National has incorporated into their work. As a primarily writing-centered program, they focus on creating curriculum that is challenging AND engaging for students who often do not see themselves or their cultures reflected in traditionally white, eurocentric lesson plans. When educational opportunities are actually engaging students, the learning comes far more naturally.

Image credit to Afterschool Alliance

One of the many inequities facing students actually happens outside the classroom. After school opportunities like extracurriculars and tutoring are typically only available for those who can afford them. This after school time is important for long-term in-school achievement, and many kids are pushed out of school because there is simply no safe, engaging space for them after school closes. For this reason, 826 programming is free. Free access to fun, safe, research-based tutoring and workshops for students in underserved communities helps ensure that these young people are not left behind as more affluent students head to their private tutoring sessions.

Additionally, research shows that individualized student attention enhances student outcomes. In the media, we hear about this as the need for smaller class sizes. And while low student-teacher ratios is a goal we should certainly be working toward, 826 National recognizes that right now this is not possible, especially in urban school settings (where it is arguably needed the most). Instead, 826 chapters commit to low student-volunteer ratios in their after school programs and workshops. Even if a student is one of thirty-five in the classroom all day, at their local 826 center they work with a volunteer in groups of one or two students per volunteer. This individualized attention in the afternoon re-engages a student in their work and gives them the time and resources they need to succeed in school.

Access to resources, individualized attention and help, and the right to explore one’s creativity are the cornerstones of success for 826 National’s students. Understanding these principles is essential for the work I do at the National office. My tasks involve working with the local chapters to provide the support and the resources they need to adequately engage students. So while I am not working directly with these students myself, I would not be able to properly work with other chapters without an understanding of the educational barriers that our students face nationwide.

-Katie Reinhold, ’19

Post 1: Doulas Crucial in Ending Racial Disparities in Maternal Health

Hi everyone!

My name is Marleny and I am a rising junior and STEM Posse Scholar at Brandeis University. This summer I am an intern and co-coordinator at Ancient Song Doula Services, a Brooklyn, NY-based and low-cost doula service.

As a reproductive justice organization, our goal is to serve families of color and low-income families who do not have access to doula care. Through a collective of several services and resources for parents of color and low- income families, we ultimately aim to bridge racial disparities in maternal health by addressing racial and implicit bias.

In New York City, the maternal mortality rate, for example, is 12 times greater for Black women than for white women. Given that systematic oppression is a social determinant of the high Black infant and maternal mortality rate, shifting tasks and responsibilities down the hierarchy of the healthcare system are both necessary and ideal for the survival of marginalized communities. For these reasons, the most crucial aspect to birth equity is free and low-cost doulas services such as Ancient Song Doula Services.

Given that there have been recent opportunities for reform within maternal health as New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo proposes a state doula pilot program that includes Medicaid reimbursement as well as a Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, Ancient Song also centers their work around political reform and advocacy for the marginalized communities it serves. Prioritizing the reimbursement of community-based and culturally-relevant doula services through Medicaid is key to bridging racial disparities in maternal health, so we have been gearing most of our attention towards this lately.

A lot of my responsibilities, as of now, include community outreach, writing testimonies to present to the city council, planning events to gain momentum for our #ourtimeisnow campaign for birth equity, and creating promotional material to share with the community and with other local and national organizations.

Additionally, while we continue advocacy at such a crucial time, I am responsible for coordinating our third annual Decolonizing Birth conference called “Decolonizing Birth: Addressing The Criminalization of Black and Brown People within the Healthcare System,” which is being held September 22-23. This involves looking for sponsors, keynote speakers, and reviewing proposals for prospective workshops. My internship requires a high level of responsibility and I am really enjoying my time at Ancient Song for the second year.

The work I am doing is super important and falls in line with my career goals. By the end of the summer, I hope to have improved my ability to manage my day to day tasks and become more familiar with the policies that have been and will be put in place to address the disparities in maternal health. I am looking forward to sharing my journey at Ancient Song with you all this summer and I am looking forward to what is to come!

Post 1: Learning the Ropes at 826 National

“I open doors
and live out my parents’ dreams
I am what education is supposed to be.”
–Marlin, age 11, 826 Valencia

Hi! I’m Katie Reinhold, and this summer I’m a Programs Intern at 826 National.

826 National is a nonprofit that supports and provides resources to a network of 8 (soon to be 10!) regional chapters. These chapters provide young students in under-resourced communities with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. Our mission is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with individualized attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. As an Education Studies major, I was drawn to this internship because I admire 826 National’s commitment to closing the achievement gap.

While 826 is certainly not the only organization working to solve this social injustice, the aspect I love most about 826’s work is their unique approach to education equity. Among other programs, each chapter provides free After-School Tutoring for young students, and every tutoring center is disguised behind an imaginative store front. In San Francisco, students traverse the Pirate Supply Store. In Chicago, they visit the Secret Agent Supply Co. In Boston, the Bigfoot Research Institute. These are operating storefronts, and all proceeds help support the organization’s work. But the real benefit of these storefronts is that they help eliminate the stigma of tutoring. Instead, students enter a world of limitless creativity, where students and volunteers spend afternoons tackling homework and exploring creative writing projects.

So how does 826 National support these chapters? Well, my department in particular helps promote staff development across the network and supports developing chapters. This summer, many of my responsibilities revolve around the annual Staff Development Conference (SDC). In late June, more than 100 staff members from all over the country will come together to explore how they can continue to improve practices. Currently, I am helping prepare materials before the big event in a few weeks. Once the SDC is over, I will help compile a toolkit that reflects what the network has discussed, created, or asked for additional support on. This will be distributed to chapters as a valuable resource for the coming year.

Last year, 826 National also launched a 826 Digital, a pay-what-you-wish online platform that provides adaptable writing curriculums and resources for educators. The goal is that 826 Digital will have a broader student reach than current chapters can, so that we can captivate young writers everywhere, not just in places where a chapter currently exists. This summer, I will be working to expand the resources available on that platform so that educators of all ages have a dearth of high-quality, low-cost resources at their fingertips.

Throughout the summer, I look forward to gaining knowledge about how a national nonprofit supports its network. To date, my experience in the nonprofit world has always involved direct engagement with the target community, so I am excited to explore the more behind-the-scenes end of this work, and hopefully figure out if I can see myself working in this capacity in the future!

-Katie Reinhold, ‘19

Giampietro Gallery Post #2

I can’t believe how the time is flying this summer at the gallery! My impression of the gallery remains complete awe and admiration. Fred, the owner, and Katie and Adam, run an incredibly personable gallery that is truly there for the artists. Yes, it is a commercial art gallery and they make a profit, but the artists come in daily just to chat and catch up, or ask for advice of help of any kind, and they are always welcomed with open arms. It is a truly wonderful place, and the kind of gallery that I hope to own one day.

Install Shot of Gallery from one angle

I have to say, the most surprising thing about this internship, was really just how much one needs an internship to truly learn. I absolutely love my time at Brandeis more than anything and I wish I could stay there forever! But, I have learned so much in this internship that I could never have learned in school. It is, in some ways, a very physical, hands on job. Since my last post, I finished pulling and labeling all the pieces from the back, which is no easy task because paintings can be really huge and you are on a ladder and identifying paintings based on brush stroke and common themes, much like an art history test actually, so I thoroughly enjoyed that. We had new shipments of paintings come in and documented them, there was an install and a de-install where I bonded with a few of the artists that I deeply respect such as Elena Herzog who is so incredibly talented. I learned how to wrap and ship paintings, the proper ways to handle different kinds of art, and completely mastered the system in which we inventory our work, and update the website, which is the same software used by most galleries and museums nationwide!

Me installing an Elena Herzog piece for the Opening

While this might seam like a rather banal skill-set when it’s phrased like “how to wrap and ship a painting”, let me just tell you how many layers and how important it is to get them right. Little things like, if the bubbles of the bubble-wrap (which is the third layer) face inwards on the first layer of bubble wrap, they could indent the surface and you could end up with faint circular indents all over the surface of the painting. So, you must wrap bubble out, then bubble in. There are also very specific instructions for hanging, and the various power tools involved, and heights, and aesthetic choices made in hanging shows that I will carry with me for the rest of my career. All of these skills are SO incredibly important when entering the gallery or museum world post-graduation, which is closer for me than I would like to admit, and I can now put all of these on a resume, skills that I did not even know I needed to possess!

I’ve also realized that my courses at Brandeis prepared me for this internship. Had I not taken and thrived in all of the art history courses I have taken at Brandeis, identifying the artist who made the unlabeled paintings in storage would have been nearly impossible. I truly have so much to be thankful to Brandeis for.

Olivia Joy ’18

A month of ‘Avodah’

It has now been a month since I started working for Avodah and I am already thinking ahead about the ways in which I could help their cause even when I am done with the internship. I have already contacted friends and colleagues to let them know them about the Jewish Service Corps, which is a project unique in its scope and mission, as I have learned by working closely with Avodah’s alumni programming team.

(Source: avodah.net)

The first aspect of the Service Corps that distinguishes it from most social justice and youth activism opportunities is the fact that it allows members the freedom to design their own path. Whether they are interested in offering legal assistance to immigrants or volunteering in the healthcare system, Avodah provides them with a wide range of placements, i.e. partner organizations for which they will work for the duration of the year. Poverty alleviation is the nucleus of the organization, but the Jewish Service Corps recognizes that the roots and effects of this phenomenon run too wide and deep to be tackled unilaterally. The many ways in which Avodah’s undertaking can be addressed is reflected in the plethora of directions in which Corps Members can branch out. This serves another key goal of the program, namely encouraging leadership among young people who want to be active members their communities. The Jewish Service Corps lets its participants choose their own journeys, while making sure they are not alone.

(Source: avodah.net)

I think this is where the essence of the work, mission, and organizational culture in a nonprofit like Avodah truly lies. The Corps members become part of a cohort of like-minded young people, activists, volunteers, employees, and most importantly alumni of almost twenty years of programming. This is how the organization manages to impact more than just the current group of activists it trains. “Igniting social change”, the second part of Avodah’s motto, refers to this ‘family’ that bridges generational, geographic, social, and economic gaps. It refers to connecting a surgeon who enrolled as a healthcare enthusiast in the Service Corps fifteen years ago to a recent college graduate interested in refugees’ rights. Through this network, Community engagement, which is Avodah’s latest area of projects, ultimately amounts to community building.

Sonia Pavel ’20

Long Lasting Change

I have learned many things about social justice since my time here, but the one thing that has stuck with me has been to keep yourself and others aware of our impact domestically and globally. Change starts with knowledge and knowledge is power. If we as a community are staying up to date and aware of the problems we face, it becomes easier for us to stand up together and fight for the right causes to make positive, long lasting change. The advice I would give to someone in a comparable situation to me would be make the best of the time you have. Opportunities like these come and go so quickly that you don’t have much time to reflect on what you’ve learned or how valuable those lessons are.

Before coming to AJWS I wish I had known that individual actions are more substantial than you think. As cliché as it may sound, each person can leave a mark on something. I feel like I have already done that here at AJWS. People risk everything just to ensure others are prioritized and taken care of. For example, in an article publish recently by an LGBT newspaper, our very own Robert Bank was featured and speaks about the impact one man has had on his South African community, despite the brutality he faces regularly.

Words of motivation

Before my internship here at AJWS, I was hesitant about taking on the responsibility of another internship. In my previous experience, working as an intern was less than exciting and often it felt rather tedious and boring. While working and learning for free isn’t always going to be a joyous occasion, it is intended to be meaningful. Since my time here at AJWS is nearly over, I can confidently say that I would never pass up another internship opportunity, much less one centered around Jewish values. I feel this way simply because you never know what will come out of the time you spend with the organization, the connections you’ll make along the way and the skills you’ll acquire consciously or subconsciously. From the beginning, I have felt very fortunate not only to be considered for the position but to have been accepted and allowed the opportunity to do this. Every day when I am surrounded by people who strongly believe in the work they’re doing, it is motivation for me to continue to prioritize my academics and my future career. I am very much considering the possibility of working in a field that emphasizes and works to promote human rights globally. There are many job titles and positions in the corporate sector as well that hold the promotion of civil social responsibility to a great degree.

Donor Engagement Celebration of AJWS achievement

I will miss the time I have spent with my fellow intern peer Madeline, who has sat with me every day this summer and helps to keep me focused and on top of task. I will miss Aliza who started me here at AJWS and has taught me so much about the dedication and patience it takes to be successful. Without her guidance and insight, the projects I have had here at AJWS would not be carried out with such detail and poise which she has helped teach me. I will miss Neely who has believed in my abilities from the first time we met and knew I had the tools and resources to take matters into my own hands when necessary. She has been a constant source of light, a confidence and reassurance booster as well as my own personal concierge giving me tips and tricks about how to navigate NYC. I will miss Kaylan who made me laugh with something witty she said every time I saw her. I will miss Robert who is leading this organization beautifully and cares immensely about our mission. However, I will not miss the freezing cold A/C blasting from 9:00am to 5:00pm making the office feel like Antarctica. As my summer comes to a close, I look forward to being home with my family before heading back to school and beginning my journey as a young advocate and leader for human rights on campus.

I’ll miss this walk to work.

The Final Metamorphosis from Caterpillar to Butterfly

Jacksonville, North Carolina is home to more country music stations than all other radio stations combined, has the best fast food chain in the world, Waffle House, and is also known for its most beloved non-profit, Possumwood Acres. The two months that I spent there were filled with a million new experiences–I tasted grits for the first time, learned how to determine if a bird is dehydrated/emaciated, and saw a wild horse colony on an island. Now that my experience is quickly coming to a close I can say that I was really lucky to be exposed to the inner workings of a non-profit, the techniques necessary to take care of injured wildlife, and the “southern mentality.” It’s amazing what one person can do when they set their mind to it. Or when they get an unpaid internship and want to get as much out of the experience as they can. Either way you can’t go wrong.

Baby birds cuddle up really close to keep each other warm

Having completed a whopping 245 hours at Possumwood Acres, I am really proud to say that I learned beyond what I initially anticipated. I met all of the requirements for the “General Checklist” and went on to begin to complete the “Advanced Intern Checklist,” a fact of which I am very proud of. I am extremely satisfied with the experience I got interning at Possumwood Acres, and I can most certainly say that it helped me determine what I want to do with my future. Although I very much enjoyed my involvement in animal care (despite the stress associated with the job), I can honestly say that though I will not be continuing this specific avenue for a career, I am definitely invested in continuing my path in the environmental field. This internship has solidified my interest in protecting the environment in the many forms that that may come in. From this experience I learned that I am even more passionate about animals than I originally anticipated and that I am capable of learning a great deal in a short period of time.

A juvenile American Robin excitedly hops out of the incubator every time I open the door

For anyone interested in getting an internship, I would apply as early as possible. I managed to get this internship in early November. The earlier you start looking for internships, the more likely it is that you’ll actually get one. Employers will also be more likely to hire you for the job because the application pool is much smaller in early November and December. I would also try to narrow down your search to a specific type of internship, so you aren’t wasting your time applying for a position that you aren’t interested in. I knew that I absolutely wanted to work with animals so I bypassed anything that seemed like a glorified office worker position.

An osprey gets a physical examination by some of our experienced staff members

I think I am most proud of myself for doing something that was outside of my comfort zone because although I knew that the work would be tough, grueling, and hard at times, I also knew it would be extremely satisfying.

Sabrina Pond ’18

Moral Obligations

While I personally have been disconnected from my faith lately, I have been inspired to think more clearly and honestly about the ways I identify spiritually and the values that are important in my life. Firstly, during this period of reflection, I’ve come to find that the center of all things we base our work on here at AJWS is Jewish values and teachings, which drives our organization differently than other non-profits. AJWS finds that the emphasis on these teachings can inspire our donor community, and our global community by bearing in mind that the moral deeds we do are through the lens of biblical wisdom and thought. These lessons that influence our work are not unique to the Jewish faith or religion necessarily, but rather in practice they’re quite unifying and special to the Jewish people.

Global Impact

Every so often, our director of Jewish Engagement produces an article reflecting on how AJWS is engaging in our Judaism and the relevance of the corresponding Torah portion for the week. Most recently Joseph Gindi wrote a piece about our obligations to our neighbors and the people who are near and far in response to our global activism work. He writes, “[t]oday, however, our radius of concern has widened, due to advances in technology and trade.” As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains, “Traditionally, our sense of involvement with the fate of others has been in inverse proportion to the distance separating us and them. What has changed is that television and the internet have effectively abolished distance. They have brought images of suffering in far-off lands into our immediate experience.”

Peace

By exploring the ways in which we identify spiritually and how our impact is greater than ourselves, we can begin to understand how the value of our efforts are significant around the world.

After this week, I finally realized that my personal obligation is to continue to pursue knowledge and understanding. With knowledge comes power, and this is very relevant not only in building a skill set that is applicable for future career opportunities but in life as well. I believe that the skills I’ve acquired including creative thinking, intuition, communication and advocacy are all important in my future path. These skills are ones that I can take with me to Brandeis, to Albuquerque or wherever else I may end up. The importance of these skills is not only for personal benefit however. They demonstrate accountability and can be shared with others as I pursue future endeavors. That is why the teachings in this week’s portion are so precise. They clearly state that our abolished distance is only bringing us closer together. We must use our personal knowledge and skill sets to ban alongside one another and fight for the good of our world. I am surprised that in the four weeks I’ve been here, so many AJWS colleges have valued my presence, my skills I carried with me into this internship, and the ones they have taught me as well as the importance of the knowledge that I learn during my time here.

Hope

Round Tables and Tangent Topics

I have now been working for Avodah for three weeks, but I feel like I have been part of this environment for much longer. The main reason is that the entire staff and interns make it their mission to promote the same values and foster the same atmosphere in the workplace as in their social justice projects. Since both the Service Corps and the Fellowship–the two main programs run by the nonprofit–rely on networking and community building, it seems only natural that the organization will uphold the same level of cooperation internally. However, I did not expect it to be so embedded in their daily administrative and management tasks.

I have participated in two staff meetings so far, and they both have been relevant examples of this organizational culture. The staff members leading both of them started by introducing a topic only tangentially related to the ensuing discussion. For instance, the first time I was in a meeting, Avodah’s president Cheryl Cook started a talk about homes and homelands, roots and belonging, to then transition into a wider debate about Avodah’s mission and values as a community builder. We went around the table (which included colleagues connecting to our office in New York from Chicago, D.C., and New Orleans) and we each talked about our home – if we had one, where it is, what is is, and with whom – after having read the following piece.

Besides the work I have been doing for Avodah on the administrative side, which included learning how to use Salesforce, transferring survey results from one platform to another, and compiling reports about donor involvement and alumni, I believe that this is the most important skill I hope to gain from my experience. I would summarize it as an intersection of being dedicated and genuine. It is often the case that the internal administration of nonprofits is very much separated from their actual social justice mission, which I think affects both how employees relate to their work and how the organization is run. With business and profit-driven models populating more and more of the activist environment, I think it is important for organizations like Avodah to maintain such a standard of involvement and commitment to their mission and culture. Even if I am helping with the organization of our upcoming events or doing prospect research for potential donors, I am aware that the poverty alleviation mission of Avodah on the field is “at home” in our office.

An “Ethnography” of Social Justice

On the second day of my internship at Avodah, I helped organize the final event of the organization’s New York Fellowship Program. The main goal of this social justice initiative is to provide networking, mentorship, and learning opportunities to young professionals interested in giving back to their community through social work.

Ruth Messinger, Stosh Cotler, and Jill Jacobs were the three panelists invited to speak at the closing ceremony. They articulately addressed issues such as the contribution of the Jewish community to causes related to poverty alleviation, and the role of women in leadership positions, particularly in the world of activism. The panel was moderated by Avodah’s Executive Director Cheryl Cook. They also talked about sources of inspiration they found in their journeys, as well as the importance of making such social justice journeys visible to the rest of the community, in the hope of inspiring new ones.

(The panel of the Fellowship Closing event, organized in the innovative and unconventional location of JCC Harlem)

One of the reasons why I am so interested in the work of the above mentioned activists and the entire team at Avodah is that I have explored only the theoretical side of these issues through my classes at Brandeis. As an aspiring Anthropologist looking to specialize in cultural studies, with a focus on group dynamics and the identity of disadvantaged groups and minorities, I chose the Social Justice internship at Avodah knowing that it would be an invaluable experience. I have spent the past two semesters studying the politics of poverty, group exclusion of the cultural and socioeconomic ‘Other,’ and social identity theory through the works of Clifford Geertz, Henri Tajfel, Barbara Ehrenreich, Michel Foucault, Philippe Bourgois, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and my professor, Janet McIntosh. However, as an undergraduate student, I do not yet have access to the research opportunities of an actual anthropologist, which is why I chose to pursue the experiential learning process of this internship.

Unlike Philosophy or Political Theory, Cultural Anthropology is a descriptive discipline of human nature and culture, meaning that ethnographic fieldwork is essential. At Avodah I am able to observe the community living arrangements administered by the organization, meet with members and fellows of their Jewish Service Corps Training Program, who are learning practical ways in which to address the same issues I am theoretically interested in, and listen to the fascinating stories of activists such as the ones who took part in the above mentioned event.

Sonia Pavel ’20

My first weeks at the MCAD

“Why don’t you tell me why you are here?” This is the question I ask each person as they sit down in the intake room at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). As a neutral organization, the role of the commission is to investigate claims of discrimination and if need be, transfer them to a higher court for judgment.

For the past three weeks, I have been observing and training to be an Intake Specialist. As an Intake Specialist, my role is to interview each individual who enters our doors and determine if they have a legal basis for a discrimination claim. My most significant role as an Intake Specialist is to write up the formal legal complaint that becomes the basis upon which the Commission investigates each case. This requires strong interpersonal skills and an ability to concisely convey the alleged injustices of each individual.

This past week have finally been cleared to begin conducting the interviews on my own. What at first seemed like a daunting and somewhat scary task, has become the best part of my days. With each intake I conduct I gain more confidence and realize the extent to which I am truly making a difference in each interviewee’s life. Whether we take their claim or not, I provide a sympathetic and unbiased ear for them to express their anger, sadness and frustration.

Each intake I conduct is extremely different. The Commission has jurisdiction over education, housing and public accommodation cases. Therefore, each case I receive is unique and requires deep analysis and attention. It is safe to say that I am never bored at my job! A typical intake last about 2 hours, as it is my job to ensure that I receive all pertinent facts of the case. While the work is emotionally taxing, the relief I am able to provide is extremely rewarding. While I was expecting to learn about law and the ins and outs of government work, as an Intake Specialist I have become proficient at the important skill of successful customer service.

When I am not conducting intakes, I have been assigned certain cases to investigate. This is a tremendous responsibility and a unique opportunity to get first-hand experience working directly with other attorneys. My overall goals for the summer are to become a proficient Intake Specialist, as well as learn as much as I can about law and advocacy.

As a triple major in English Lit, Anthropology and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, I have always been unsure of my career track, as I have many paths to choose from. These past few weeks at MCAD has focused my interests and influenced me to consider a career in law and advocacy. Working alongside law students and attorneys, and viewing their passion and commitment to eradicate discrimination has been an extremely inspiring and eye-opening experience.

As the summer progresses, I am looking forward to taking on more responsibility at the Commission and continuing to contribute to their social justice fight against discrimination.  Through a combination of hands-on learning and educational training sessions and lectures, I am confident that I will leave this internship with an abundance of new knowledge and skills that I can add to my educational toolbox.

Learn more about MCAD their mission and history.

Jessica Spierer ‘18

Getting started at Encyclopedia of Life

Outside of the MCZ where EOL is located

This summer I am very excited to intern at Encyclopedia of Life’s Learning and Education Department in Cambridge, Massachusetts. EOL encourages discovering biodiversity on Earth and their mission is to generate an encyclopedia of all the living species on Earth. One of the great things about EOL is that it is an open platform that can be used by anyone. I enjoy looking up my favorite plants and animals on the EOL website and finding out some pretty cool facts and figures. The Learning and Education Department utilizes a lot of this data to develop tools and applications that support educators, citizen scientists, and students when using EOL.


For my internship, I am working on the City Nature Challenge for the Boston area, which is an annual competition between cities across the nation and around the world to find the most biodiversity in their area. This is a great way to get people outside and engaged in science as well as increase data on the different species. Last year was the first year Boston was involved and we observed over 740 different species over a period of 5 days! I am looking forward to seeing Boston as a top runner in next year’s challenge.

Open science and citizen science, both large aspect of EOL, are great ways to engage the public in science projects through data collection, education, and advocacy. I am interested in it because it has so much potential to raise awareness and educate people about environmental issues facing us today such as climate change and loss of biodiversity. By participating in projects, people can get hands on experiences that relate to these issues and the data collected can be used for scientific research or even impact governmental policy.

eol.org

My first day at my internship, I walked through Harvard Yard to get to the Museum of Comparative Zoology where EOL is located, and a huge turtle shell welcomed me into the building. Right away, I got into what I will be working on for the next couple of months and got familiar with EOL. Throughout the summer I will be reaching out to engage naturalists, educators, and environmental enthusiasts in EOL as well as map out the 2018 challenge for the Boston area. So far, I have contacted and met with a number of great organizations in the Boston area that work together to engage the public in science.

My goal for the summer is to develop and implement recruitment efforts for the 2018 challenge and help strategize ways to get EOL materials out on a national level. EOL’s goal is to have materials used by educators and students all throughout America during the city nature challenge as well as part of other community engagement efforts. Overall, I am very excited to see how the summer develops and what I am able to accomplish.

Gerrianna Cohen ’18

Once Hopping Half-haphazardly, Now Hopping with Purpose

No matter what time of day, concerned citizens holding small, injured mammals make their way to our doorstep at Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary. The admissions are non-stop this time of the year, and the circumstances surrounding the entry oftentimes tragic: a bunny that was run over by a car; baby birds that fell from their nest; a juvenile pigeon that suffered a dog attack. Or even more concerning yet, a pet owner who became “bored” with their animal and doesn’t know what to do with their pet. Though I am frequently face-to-face with animals that are in dire need of care, I’ve come to a wonderful conclusion about human nature. Humans have an amazing capacity to take action when it comes to the welfare of others, especially animals. No matter how serious the case, or unlikely the recovery, we get animals that thereafter have a fighting chance. Now that’s something to be proud of. It also proves how necessary our services are to the public, and how our founder, Toni O’Neil, really did fill a need in the community when she founded the non-profit.

A baby bunny with its eyes still closed after a syringe feeding.

Having interned for a whopping four weeks at Possumwood Acres, I’ve gained a great many new skills: how to feed baby bunnies, why we “piddle” them once they’ve eaten, how to weigh Barred owls, how to tube feed pigeons and mourning doves, and the many reasons why we administer certain medications, as well as how to administer them. I’ve also become acquainted with a good number of interns and volunteers, and I’m always amazed at their know-how and desire to provide the best care.

Goats “maxing and relaxing” despite the overwhelming heat of summer in North Carolina.

Although it can be rather stressful in the animal care room as we struggle to make deadlines and provide good quality care, making sure to feed, clean, or administer medications to animals, there’s nothing better than the feeling of accomplishment. I’ve come a long way in four weeks—no longer am I constantly asking questions about how to do something or where things are located. I’ve never felt that kind of satisfaction from taking exams or attending classes.

Nika, Possumwood’s resident Mississippi Kite, patiently waits for her hand-fed dinner of delectable meal worms

If I’ve already come this far, I absolutely cannot wait to see where the pieces will fall at the end of this internship. The confidence and authority that wafts off the more experienced interns is inspiring; only a few weeks ago they were in the process of learning the ins-and-outs of the job. Now they know exactly what to do when someone admits an injured, juvenile mockingbird, or what medication to give an adult bunny that appears to have suffered brain damage. Now that’s something that I can aspire to.

Red, the Red-Headed Woodpecker, tries not to look suspicious as he plans his ultimate escape from Possumwood (how original–he’s going to use his beak!)

Sabrina Pond ’18

A Bird in Flight: My First Week at Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary

Having just studied abroad in Australia, I assumed that I wouldn’t see the interior of an airplane for a long while. Traveling back took approximately 24 hours, including layover time, so I grew weary of flying and the stress associated with traveling and jet lag. I couldn’t have been more wrong; only two weeks after making the trip back home, I found myself separated from my hometown once again. The location this time: Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Little did I know before coming that the U.S. Marines are stationed in Jacksonville, NC. Nor did I realize that the only reason this town exists is because of the Marines. I found myself going in and out of the military base, and every person I met was somehow involved in the Marines; either they were married to a Marine, had a family member in the Marines, or were themselves in the Marines. I was struck not by the incessant humidity and ungodly heat, both of which I anticipated, but more so by the immediate differences I noticed, as if there was a strict line between North and South. I encountered people who took serious pride in their right to carry arms, heard the beginnings of a southern accent, and realized that “southern hospitality” was not just a stereotype, but a real-world phenomenon. NC also turned red for the past election, so I started to have firsthand experiences with more conservative sentiments, something I couldn’t really say before.

The highlight of my excursion is that my internship at Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary challenged and excited me; I spent my first week learning about animal care in all the ways that were advertised. I walked through the main door to the animal care room and without a moment’s pause the volunteer coordinator, Ellie Althoff, said to me, “Okay then! Let’s get started.”

The view of the animal care room from the front door, and from that first moment onward I knew that there was a lot that had to be done.

My first day was busy and hectic as I exclusively worked with the birds. Because it is currently baby season, the animal care room is extremely packed and the phone rings off the hook; every day there’s another possum, bird, or duck that gets taken under our wing. As of now, that basically means that we have what feels like a trillion birds, almost all of which need to be fed every thirty minutes. I learned quickly how to feed these differently sized birds using syringes, including proper techniques, the different kinds of food they required, and how much to feed the different species.

House sparrows, chipping sparrows, and finches sit majestically next to each other on a branch, waiting semi-patiently for the next feeding.

Almost everything I was told ended with “and if you do this wrong, you’ll kill the [insert animal here].” Although those words did strike fear in my eyes, I was surprised how welcoming and understanding the volunteers were when I had questions. They never once made me feel terrible when I made a mistake. And mistakes I did make. My first day I accidentally let two birds out of their cage and almost killed a bird because it swallowed a syringe tip. I was lucky that another intern managed to get the bird to spit out the syringe. Despite my incompetence, the other volunteers’ gentle reassurance and constant support never ceased and even though I had fallbacks, my determination to learn more never wavered.

Baby turkeys relax under a feather duster having already made a mess of their cleaned cage.

Compared to Brandeis academics, it is immediately apparent that my internship is more demanding, requires hands-on experience, and will ultimately teach me more in a shorter period of time. I enjoy this kind of experiential learning because although knowledge is great for a foundation to understand a topic, doing something firsthand is the best way to become well-versed in a field. I expect that that’s why residencies exist. For this reason I believe that this internship is teaching me valuable skills that I can apply to an occupation in animal care.

Four juvenile barn swallows and one juvenile rough-tailed swallow gleefully look at the photographer (me).

One basic thing I learned this first week that I implicitly already knew but didn’t understand fully is just how rigorous animal care can really be. So many things need to be considered for the animal’s welfare, and for that reason it can sometimes be overwhelming to work in the animal care room. Even so, I have never felt so tired or so satisfied because of the work I completed. And that’s why I look forward to another week at the animal haven known as Possumwood Acres.

Sabrina Pond

The Fortune Society: A Summer Well Spent

My internship this summer with The Fortune Society is one that has really opened my eyes.  When people think of those involved in the criminal justice system, individuals with Master’s degrees or those fueled by intrinsic motivation typically don’t come to mind.  Why not? This is because unfortunately as a society we’re taught that these people are somehow less “human” than we are and that they don’t deserve the same place in our society. One of the many things that my internship with The Fortune Society has taught me that these people have often experienced trauma, are in need of support and resources and are good people who are still trying and still hoping.

 

Me and some of the other interns/volunteers at a rally we attended on behalf of The Fortune Society.
Fellow interns/volunteers and me at a rally we attended on behalf of The Fortune Society.

While this internship has not solidified exactly which social justice issue I want to fight for within the criminal justice system,  it has reassured me that this is the field in which I want to work.  As had been my goal, I also learned about the criminal justice system and how it affects and individuals and family systems. Having the chance to see the effects this type of work can have on people is truly a remarkable and humbling. One moment that immediately comes to mind was how thankful a group of veterans were after we held a focus group to help improve policies that create reentry barriers for them.  This moment was such a fulfilling one because I didn’t realize how much of a toll veterans can face coming out of the criminal justice system until I had a chance to sit and listen to folks and shaking their hands.

One thing I realized about myself this summer is how privileged I am, and how privilege operates.  The fact that I have a home,  access to food and the ability to pursue a higher education – and that I can afford basic luxuries such as having a phone and leasing a car – are now things that I have a renewed understanding of because I know that so many people do not and will never have these things.

The participants of Pro Bono Day, an event Fortune holds to educate attorneys on the programs they have and the advocacy work they do.
The participants of Pro Bono Day, an event Fortune holds to educate attorneys on the programs they have and the advocacy work they do.

If someone is getting an internship within the criminal justice system non-profit sector, I would advise keeping an open mind, because the stories you’ll hear about an individual will far surpass the rap sheet someone has to their name.  As the founder of The Fortune Society, David Rothenberg often says, “the crime is what people did, not who they are.”  If someone is fortunate enough (no pun intended) to secure an internship with The Fortune Society, I would recommend to voice your opinions and don’t just be a yes-man.  Your opinions will be appreciated!  If you want to learn more about my experience at Fortune or are interested in interning there, here is the link towards the Brandeis Internship Exchange, and this is my email.

One thing of which I am proud that I did this summer was helping to make a mere dent in reforming the criminal justice system.  Seeing and hearing first-hand how this unjust system can affect not only the individual but their family and even community, a whole other dimension of the justice system unveiled itself.  I think it’s a dimension that needs to be discovered through hearing someone’s story from their mouth, not reading it in a newspaper or even reading this blog.

Completion at Rosie’s Place

I can’t believe how fast my ten weeks at Rosie’s Place have flown by! I am so thankful for the opportunity I had interning there and for the amazing staff who helped and supported me through everything. All of my expectations about the internship have been exceeded and I am surprised how much I have personally grown because of the work I was doing.

All day at Rosie's Place with fellow interns
All day at Rosie’s Place with fellow interns.

At the start of my internship, my four internship goals were to gain a deeper understanding of poverty and oppression from the women who come to Rosie’s Place as well as the root cause of these conditions; to learn more about who are poor and homeless women in Boston and what circumstances brought them to Rosie’s Place; to develop a greater sense of responsibility and ability to work to bring about social chance and equality; and to better understand how a medium-sized non-profit operates. My two department goals were to learn how to communicate effectively with all the different people that I encounter and to learn to take more initiative as I get more comfortable with the front desk. I am happy to say I did meet my defined goals through my daily interactions with guests and attending direct service meetings, Social Justice Institute seminars, and weekly intern meetings.

This internship has really helped me understand and see what it is like working at a non-profit and in direct service. Before the internship, I did not know that advocacy was a potential career option, but I have also learned that direct service is not the only path in social justice work. The success of a non-profit like Rosie’s Place is how multiple different departments work together toward finding solutions to poverty and homelessness on a small and a large scale. This summer in the workplace, one of the biggest lessons I have learned is how to find my voice to be more assertive. I also learned more about my levels of comfort as an introvert working such an extroverted job and how to set boundaries for myself.

My advice to a student interested in an internship at Rosie’s Place is it is completely okay to feel overwhelmed at first but you will always be supported by a great staff. The front desk staff members were there whenever I had questions and always had my back. My advice for a student interested in this field is the importance of self-care, understanding that the work is difficult and may lead to burn out if you do not set boundaries or if you bring your work into your personal home life. Volunteering is a great way to start getting involved.

This summer I am most proud of the personal interactions and connections I was able to make with guests, staff, and interns at Rosie’s Place. I very much felt included in the community and was able to share my ideas and contribute to projects that will exist even after I have left. The act of being present every single day made a difference in helping and talking to the guests because we are not just providing services for poor and homeless, we really care about our guests and finding solutions to end poverty and homelessness.

Final Reflections: A Summer at United for a Fair Economy

My internship at United for a Fair Economy (UFE) provided me with so much more than I expected. I went into this internship with the goal of gaining a better understanding of how a nonprofit organization actually operates. Interning at UFE helped me gain a more comprehensive understanding about the processes involved in successfully and efficiently running an organization.

UFE gave me the opportunity to work in many departments which gave me a holistic understanding of a nonprofit. When a staff member went away for a couple months I took over all donation processing; I worked on data analysis and graphic design projects; I helped the Finance department prepare for an audit by reconciling all online donations; and I was given the chance to sit in on program meetings and phone calls.

Throughout this process, I met my goal of determining if nonprofit work is actually something I could see myself doing. Getting behind-the-scenes exposure to processes made me more excited about possibly pursuing this field of work. More specifically, I really enjoyed and felt that I excelled at working in the development/communications departments at UFE, and I am now brainstorming ways to continue doing this type of work in the future.

My workspace at UFE!

Beyond meeting the goal I set for myself this summer, my internship provided me with so many unexpected lessons. For example, I learned that there is a lot more to social justice work than one can learn about in a classroom or newspaper. The work these organizations do impacts real people, with real stories, making it complicated, frustrating, and also incredibly important.

One thing that I learned about myself during this internship is how much I enjoy work that I genuinely care about. I have always prided myself on my work ethic, but I realized when I am passionate about a topic it does not feel like work.

UFE taught me how important it is to stay grounded while doing this type of work. It is really easy to distance yourself from it and see it as a chore, but it is so important to always remember what you are working for and who you are serving. Whenever there was a grounding moment – whether it was a tragic event in the news or a heartbreaking story told by someone in one of our workshops – I felt my energy, and the energy among the staff at UFE, increase drastically, which was a really interesting and beneficial environment to be in.

One of the biggest challenges I faced during my internship was not feeling like I had the authority to speak my opinions and ideas. Because I was new to the organization and the nonprofit world in general, I felt inhibited telling someone who had been working at UFE for 20 years how they should implement a program or what the best process might be to solve a conflict within the organization.

Thankfully, in a small nonprofit like UFE all opinions and ideas were valued. In fact, they were welcomed. As someone who was learning the processes for the first time, I was able to notice small details and bring a set of fresh eyes to the organization. Thus, a piece of advice I would have for someone pursuing an internship at UFE or another similar organization is that your ideas and opinions are just as valuable as those of someone who has been at the organization for a long time. In fact, one of the things I am most proud of is how my confidence rose along with my level of comfort by the end of my internship.

On one of the last days of my internship, I was given the opportunity to facilitate UFE’s biweekly staff meeting which meant creating an agenda, leading the actual meeting, and having the confidence to assert my authority to keep the staff on track or to interject my opinions about how I believed they should handle certain situations. At the beginning of my internship, I would have never believed that I could successfully lead a meeting for staff members who I felt had so much authority over me, but with the guidance, acceptance, and trust that UFE provided me, I was able to do it and I am very proud of and grateful for the opportunity.

I am incredibly grateful to everyone at UFE for providing me with such an enriching and educational summer, especially my supervisor who always gave me projects that fit my needs and interests while also allowing me to be helpful to the organization. Please check out their Facebook page and blog (as well as the rest of their website) for more information!

 

Leading a staff meeting on one of the last days of my internship! It was so fun to be given this challenge and use what UFE has taught me to successfully facilitate this meeting.eeds and interests while also allowing me to be helpful to the organization. Please check out their Facebook page and blog (as well as the rest of their website) for more information!

A Fulfilling Summer in the Office of Water

I can’t believe my internship with the EPA just wrapped up! My internship at the EPA Office of Water (OW) immersed me in water policy, and I now know so much more about water quality valuation, water scarcity, environmental justice, and public health. My office had a diversity of professionals, and I enjoyed learning about the overlap of water policy with economics, tribal affairs, climate change, and more. My internship offered me the opportunity to attend seminars throughout Washington D.C. and the EPA, learn more about the economics work at the EPA, and delve into meaningful research for the agency.

My office at the EPA was in the center of DC. I was sad to say goodbye, though I a may be back some day soon!
My office at the EPA was in the center of DC. I was sad to say goodbye to my co-workers, though maybe I will be back some day.

My 25-page report about water indicators to add to EJSCREEN, the agency’s environmental justice screening and mapping tool, was my largest contribution to the Office of Water. I proposed and researched ten water indicators related to environmental justice: water scarcity, flooding vulnerability, sea level rise, storm surge, safe drinking water, lead contaminated drinking water, nitrate contaminated drinking water, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFOs) waste discharge sites, access to water recreation, and water infrastructure quality. I assessed the public health ramifications of each indicator, disparities in the indicator’s burden on the population, and the data quality of existing datasets for these indicators. Each of these water indicators could provide important information for communities and lead to community and agency action to mitigate these risks.

At the end of my internship, I had the opportunity to present my ideas to the EJSCREEN Steering Committee. I spoke to a group of representatives from different EPA offices and regions and highlighted the importance of considering water scarcity, flood vulnerability, and sea level rise as indicators in EJSCREEN. The presentation offered an excellent opportunity to practice my public speaking skills, and I feel confident that the committee will focus efforts on the water indicators related to climate change. Maybe the next version of EJSCREEN will feature these indicators!

I also compiled a report comparing EJSCREEN with another agency community screening tool called C-FERST, and I passed this report along to both the EJSCREEN and C-FERST teams. I wrote two policy memos for the Water Policy Staff after I attended two different seminars in D.C., and I was able to help a co-worker with an Office of Water Tribal Sharepoint. A few of these assignments stemmed from conversations with co-workers in the office, and this emphasized the importance of speaking up, asking questions, and taking initiative.

Special OW intern seminars were one of the highlights of my summer. All six interns met professionals throughout the Office of Water and had the opportunity to learn about OW work ranging from climate ready water utilities to drinking water in Flint, Michigan. We met the Deputy Assistant Administrator in OW, heard the EPA’s Deputy Administrator speak, and learned about how to apply for federal jobs through USAJOBS. Just these seminars alone were an incredible learning experience!

EPA Internship Certificate

Interning with the Office of Water was also an eye-opening experience into the workings of the EPA. On a water policy level, I learned how society often undervalues water. The EPA has an important role to communicate the expensive and intricate process of protecting valuable watersheds and treating and distributing our drinking water. On an agency level, I saw how natural science and economics work together to help protect the environment, as science must be translated into meaningful policy. My experiences illuminated the interdisciplinary nature of the environmental field and the need for our nation to better address water management and disparities in environmental burdens related to water. Overall, my internship was a fantastic learning experience, and I am thankful for the WOW Fellowship and my supervisor at the EPA for their support.

 

Passing the Halfway Mark with the ICM Program

Having just passed the halfway point of my internship, my outlook of the Integrated Chemistry Management (ICM) Program has changed. Initially, I was outraged at the blatant waste of resources spent on chemicals. Some schools had so many chemicals that they didn’t need to purchase any for another ten years. Outrage became acceptance, then resignation. The current school system enables a lack of accountability, knowledge and guidance with respect to chemical management, safety, disposal and protocol.

One school that stood out was Billerica High School. There a chemistry teacher explained that when she first came to the school there were many unknown and spent chemicals, which would be stored in a separate storage area. When teachers don’t know what to do with a chemical, they keep it. This trend carries on due to lack of accountability and oversight leading to an accumulation of RCRA hazardous waste and nonhazardous waste. She further shared that a new facility is being built in three years and that funding was allocated to ensure that the new chemistry labs and storage spaces meet current standards. Timing wise, it was best that Billerica reorganize their chemistry labs before moving to the new facility to avoid transporting old, banned and spent chemicals there.

The school may be the oldest I’ve visited so far this summer. The chemistry laboratories were quite grimy and there was an excess of everything from chemicals to glassware to over the counter products, materials and apparatus. It had lots of RCRA hazardous waste and banned apparatus including 60 mercury thermometers. Consolidating compounds and separating waste from remaining chemicals allowed me to make a number of observations and think about the work I’ve been doing this summer. I noticed that some of the most dangerous chemicals are the prettiest. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) lists a number of transition and heavy metals (metalloids), concentrated acids and bases, and alcohols as hazardous. They fall under the categories of corrosive, ignitable, toxic and reactive. All nitrate salts are considered RCRA hazardous waste because they are oxidizing agents. Chromium nitrate is an oxidizer and toxic. Other hazardous but colorful chemicals include copper sulfate (blue), cobalt chloride (pink), iron oxide (orange), potassium dichromate (orange), potassium chromate (yellow) and so on.

Chromium nitrate
Chromium nitrate crystals
Cobalt Chloride crystals
Cobalt Chloride crystals

The responsibility of disposing RCRA hazardous waste lies with the manufacturer. However, some chemicals are so old that companies have merged or were bought over the years. For instance Welch Chemical Company became Seargent Welch, and eventually their packaging transitioned from glass to mainly plastic. In order for Billerica to dispose of their unwanted chemicals they will have to bring in a hazardous waste company. I hope our efforts will help chemistry teachers there to reduce or halt their spending on chemicals for a number of years, and increase safety within the classrooms.

To learn more about RCRA visit: https://www.epa.gov/rcra/resource-conservation-and-recovery-act-rcra-overview and the ICM program visit: http://www.umassk12.net/maillist/msg00362.html

A Humbling Experience: Seeing the World From A Different View

Just in my time with The Fortune Society thus far, my experiences have already far surpassed any and all expectations I held for my internship before it began. The people I work for and with are some of the most genuine and driven individuals I’ve ever encountered; their unremitting desire to help others, despite the constant uphill battle, is a truly remarkable trait that makes this organization one-of-a-kind. In my contact with clients and staff thus far, one thing has become abundantly clear: a lot of people take a lot of things for granted. The fact that people can drive, gain employment with no clear discrimination, or even obtain individual housing or food, is now something I consider to be privileges rather than rights. To contextualize this idea, about a month ago I took a client to the Human Resources Administration to receive his food stamps benefits but was told he did not qualify due to his citizenship status (despite being in the country legally and even showing the staff proof of his legal status).

Another humbling event, or rather sequence of events, was a New York State Assembly hearing I attended in which the president of Fortune, JoAnne Page, testified along with others concerning housing barriers encountered by those with criminal justice system involvement. Within a couple weeks of the hearing, I attended a rally outside New York Governor Cuomo’s office to protest his reneging on a promise to construct 20,000 new supportive housing units over the next fifteen years with 6,000 of those coming in the next five. This was an issue that was explicitly mentioned by every individual who testified in front of the Assembly members.More information on his original promise is available here.

Rally outside Gov. Cuomo's office in New York City surrounding suppotive housing issues.
Rally outside Gov. Cuomo’s office in New York City surrounding supportive housing issues.

This summer, disregarding the obvious differences from my academic work, has contrasted from my experience at Brandeis because I’m able to observe concepts I’ve learned as theoretical, abstract ideas as real issues that impact real people. One particular course I took this past semester has really affected the way I perceive my experience with Fortune so far. As a seminar-styled course, we explored the ideas of justice and punishment in various fashions, including through historical context, literature, and even from a philosophical point-of-view. I find that I’m able to apply the concepts I’ve learned from this course to further delve into the intricate issues regarding the criminal justice system.

This is from an initiative Fortune held to inform their clients of their voting rights.
This is from an initiative Fortune held to inform their clients of their voting rights.

I’ve gained many things from my internship so far, but one of the most applicable to my future, whatever it may hold, is learning how to advocate for those who can’t do so for themselves.  In attending numerous events that included a call for action, the speakers have often taken personal experiences and applied them to others’ issues and subsequently systemic issues.  I find this to be a particularly effective because it takes an issue and makes it real, and one you can’t ignore.  I’ve also learned how to organize events to conduct studies.  Currently, along with others in the policy department, I’m coordinating a focus group to explore the unique needs of veterans with criminal justice involvement.  You can find out more about this project here.

My experience with The Fortune Society, even though I still have a bit to go, is undoubtedly an unforgettable experience that I will be able to apply to my life in the years to come.  I’m excited to see what’s in store for me for the rest of the summer!

Midpoint at Rosie’s Place

I can’t believe how quickly time has passed that I’ve now reached past the midpoint of my internship! I think a true mark of my time at Rosie’s Place so far is that it has felt like I’ve been working there for much longer than just five weeks. By now I am familiar with many of the names and faces of the guests and a number of them know my name too. I can walk through the doors at 9 AM already expecting what tasks I will need to do but never fully knowing what the day will bring.

Daily calendar of events

One impression about my new environment in the workplace is that no two days are ever the same. It is always busy, but some days the sign up list for the computers may be very long and other days the computers may not be as high in demand. There are also days when I get to step away from the front desk. For example, I have attended two trainings for the Social Justice Institute, a summer volunteer program for high school students. Generally it can be stressful and tiring working in such a fast-paced environment because I am trying my best to help as many people as possible. It can also be emotionally taxing when I encounter situations I can not help, and so I need to take care and not bring such feelings home with me.

The World of Work has shown me how much time I have in my university life in comparison to working 35 hours a week. While I still juggle classes, work-study, and clubs, I often have small breaks between everything to help me recharge. I have also noticed what it is like working in just one building rather than walking up and down campus to get to class, and how really important it is that I get the chance to outside for lunch and fresh air. The World of Work has made me aware of my age as well. I am so used to interacting with others around my age that I forget I am a still budding young professional who may not be as taken as seriously.

Home at the front desk

I am, however, building many skills as a result of my internship. I am learning how to better communicate with all people from different backgrounds, especially when answering the phone. I no longer hesitate as I used to when I had to answer the phone because I understand that it is okay to put someone on hold if I do not have all the answers right away. In anything I encounter whether is be academics or on/off campus involvement, I will know there is nothing wrong with asking questions. Certainly in my future career plans, I need not to put pressure on myself and stress myself out about getting everything right, no matter how good of a first impression I want to make when I start, It is only with time that I will learn and become more comfortable in my position.

Tina Nguyen ’17

A Summer of Learning

Every day at the EPA brings a new and exciting learning opportunity. My supervisor has encouraged me to attend seminars throughout the EPA and Washington, D.C. and to write memos for the Office of Water. In the end of June, I attended a seminar about federal coal leasing at Resources for the Future, an environmental economics think tank, and heard Jason Furman, the Chief Economic Advisor for President Obama, give recommendations about reforming the federal coal leasing program.

As a student studying environmental economics, the discussion was intellectually stimulating and offered a new perspective on energy policy. In the following week, I attended a town hall meeting led by EPA Deputy Administrator Gina McCarthy, and I learned about EPA’s amazing accomplishments in the past few weeks—the Toxic Substance Control Act reform and the Volkswagen settlement. The talk was energizing, and I felt proud to be part of such an impactful agency.

Panelists at the DC-Israel Water Summit discuss transboundary and off-grid water
Panelists at the DC-Israel Water Summit discuss transboundary and off-grid water management.

The DC-Israel Water Summit, a conference about Israeli solutions to its water scarcity crisis and its applicability to U.S. water policy, was the highlight of my summer so far. This summit was absolutely amazing, as it brought together both my love for Israel and my passion for the environment. The summit was also relatively small, so I had a chance to meet water professionals from around DC and meet the author of Let There Be Water, a book about Israel’s approach to its water crisis. I heard from panelists who were from USAID, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Israeli research institutions, Coca-Cola, the Israeli embassy, the Brookings Institution, and more.

 

Seth Siegel's book about Israeli water innovation
Seth Siegel’s book about Israeli water innovation

The summit was both personally and professionally fulfilling. The Israeli response to its water crisis was incredibly inspiring and gives me hope for other countries to overcome their own resource scarcities: Israel recycles 85% of their wastewater, decoupled water usage from economic and population growth, and now has a water surplus and exports water to Jordan and the Palestinian authority. We have a lot to learn from Israel! After learning all of this from the summit, I had the chance to write a memo for the Water Policy staff to share these findings and offer recommendations. For myself, I may consider a career in the water field— water management will be a growing focus in the U.S. and has potential for great reform and modernization.

I also started working on two reports for the Water Policy Staff. First, I am comparing two similar environmental screening tools—an environmental justice tool called EJSCREEN and the Community Focused Exposure and Risk Screening tool (C-FERST). Two different committees worked on these tools, and I am tasked with comparing any overlap between the two tools and providing my thoughts and recommendation to both the C-FERST and EJSCREEN committee.

Additionally, I am in the midst of writing a recommendation of water indicators to add to EJSCREEN. This requires doing a literature review of different environmental justice topics related to water and climate change, assessing available data sets to find high-resolution data, and making an argument for adding these new indicators. So far, I feel most passionate about my water scarcity indicator, especially after attending the DC-Israel Water Summit. I know the EJSCREEN committee is most open to adding climate change related indicators, so perhaps they will add this indicator. At the end of the July, I will pitch my ideas to the EJSCREEN Steering committee. I have my fingers crossed!

My First Week with the ICM Program

This summer I am working with the Integrated Chemistry Management (ICM) Schools Program, which is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. The program entails visiting various middle and high schools across Massachusetts and Rhode Island to organize their chemical storage spaces and laboratories in such a manner that those chemicals do not pose a hazard to students, teachers and the surrounding communities. The program further educates staff about waste management, safety practices and the use of a real time inventory.

My first week went something like this:

Monday: Visited Pioneer Charter School of Science in Everett. The team was greeted by a zealous STEM coordinator who escorted us to the chemistry lab and checked in periodically throughout the day. The school is rather small with limited funding, which was reflected by the number of chemicals in their storage facilities. The coordinator was very eager to continue the next step of the program, which is to have the teachers trained in chemical safety in August.

IMG_1395-3
The completed chemical storage cupboard for the Pioneer School. The chemicals are arranged according to the type of chemical, then alphabetical order and size. Solids and liquids are placed on separate shelves.

Tuesday & Wednesday: We visited Dracut High School. The number of chemicals in their lab was ridiculous – ten 500 mL of sodium acetate solution, 17 500 mL sodium phosphate solution, 62 hydroxide solutions, 34 carbonates, 88 chlorides and 27 hydrochloric acid solutions of varying concentrations. I won’t go on. This occurred mainly because many of the chemicals were purchased as kits and so many were unopened and covered with dust. It must have been difficult to know what chemicals are available when they are stacked and as a result more of the same chemicals were ordered before using the ones present.

Thursday: We visited Swampscott High School. The building was very new but the chemicals stored in it were very old – some older than me. Here we encountered more hazardous chemicals such as a few mercury compounds, several yellowed labels making it difficult to identify the chemicals and a few fluoride chemicals to name a few. What made this school interesting is that the chemicals were mainly arranged in alphabetical order, which meant that a number of incompatible chemicals were stored together.

 

IMG_1441
A storage cabinet containing all chemicals including hazardous waste that will be disposed by a contractor within the upcoming school year. Many of the chemicals are very old or are oxidizers.

 

Several chemicals such as bisulfate, phthalate and thiosulfate salts and numerous organic acids seemed more suitable for chemistry research labs than in a high school teaching setting. Some chemicals I encountered had amusing names such as Onion’s Fusible Alloy and super duper polymer gel. On the other hand I was horrified when I ran into Thorium Nitrate, which is radioactive and mercury thermometers. I hope that the ICM program will help teachers make informed decisions about the types and quantities of chemicals that they order and store in the future.

To learn more about this program and their progress over the years you can visit:

http://www.maine.gov/mema/prepare/conference/2013_conference/24_icm_detailed_general_2013.pdf and http://www.umassk12.net/maillist/msg00362.html for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Budding at Roots

Roots (also known as שורשים or جدور) is a joint Israeli-Palestinian initiative aimed at building a grassroots movement of understanding, nonviolence, and transformation among Palestinians and Israelis through projects such as dialogue groups, photography workshops, interfaith exchanges, and children’s activities. Roots is based in the Gush Etzion/Bethlehem region, in the West Bank, on a plot of land that is owned by the Abu Awwad family and lovingly referred to as “the field.” Instead of a formal office space, the administrators of the organization, along with a network of volunteer activists, mostly work from their homes, while holding meetings and events at “the field.” This plot of land includes a room lined with beds, a small kitchen, an outdoor area with couches and plastic chairs, a greenhouse, and a freshly planted field with a small playground.

Rootsfield
Chairs set up for a dialogue group at Roots

Roots was founded on the basis of “dignity, trust and a mutual recognition and respect for both people’s historic belonging to the entire Land.” Their mission is to build a grassroots model for co-existence through non-violent means, believing that this can affect larger change in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This young organization has managed to reach nearly 13,000 people in their productive two years of existence.

The intern position at Roots is an informal role, so my schedule and tasks vary tremendously. As someone who is passionate about the work Roots is doing, but is not yet a member of either community, I see myself as a helping hand, assisting whomever I can however I can. For example, my first major task was to navigate Israeli bureaucracy in order to get twenty cameras out of customs for a women’s photography workshop Roots is running in a few weeks. While this was not a task I was expecting to undertake, it was definitely a learning experience nonetheless.

Aside from the cameras, I have been tasked with setting up a Facebook page for Roots’ international supporters, learning how to use Salesforce and enter donations data, organizing a meeting between an Israeli and a Palestinian who are each interested in running interfaith gatherings through Roots, helping with shopping for an interfaith iftar (break-fast during Ramadan), and other miscellaneous responsibilities.

rootsimage

One of my goals for this summer is to gain insight into an Israeli/Palestinian non-profit, observing how grassroots peace organizations are built from the bottom-up. In the short time I have spent with the organization, I have already learned a great deal about the details and discussions that go on behind-the-scenes. Through my attendance at meetings of the leadership and the volunteer activists, I have already seen how much deliberation goes on about every decision – both regarding logistics and ideology.

Another goal that I have already begun to work on is my language skills. During meetings and events and just sitting around the field schmoozing, there is almost always a mix of English, Hebrew, and Arabic. I have sat through entire meetings in Hebrew, and while I don’t understand everything 100%, I am sure that my Hebrew is improving already. Additionally, I have begun to talk to Palestinians in Arabic and attempt to adjust to their dialect. While my Arabic is barely conversational, I have already received appreciation for trying to talk to others in their mother tongue.

I look forward to learning more, to doing more, and to becoming more inspired by these selfless individuals who care so much about their work every day.

Rivka (Rebecca) Cohen ’17

Inside the EPA: My First Week in the Office of Water

This summer, I have the privilege of interning with the Office of Water at the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C. I am an Environmental Studies and Economics double major, and I am working with an economist on water quality policy. The internship is a perfect fit as I get to apply my economics coursework, help impact our nation’s water bodies, and learn about the incredible work of the EPA. I appreciate the OW’s warm welcome for me, and I am fortunate to work with so many talented environmental professionals this summer.

IMG_2066
My cubicle for the summer

My first week has been a whirlwind of getting my cubicle set up, meeting lots of new people, weaving my way through the labyrinth of the EPA headquarters’ building, and getting a taste of the economics work in the EPA Water Policy office. For the first few days, I shadowed my supervisor and read environmental economics academic papers pertaining to water quality. I sat in on engaging meetings, ranging from discussions about the water quality index to planning for a stated preference study (a survey given to people asking how much they would pay for improvement in water quality for a water body near them). I enjoyed learning about economist’s role in the EPA and seeing coursework theory applied in the meetings.

The welcoming and friendly vibe of the EPA has been one of the highlights of my internship. The EPA feels like a community, as everyone is passionate about the environment and effecting change. My co-workers have gone out of their way to introduce themselves and make me feel part of the office. The Water Policy Staff has an interesting variety of professionals in the office—staff that focus on climate change and water, tribal affairs, water scarcity, ecosystem services, water quality economics and more. Throughout the summer, I will try to get to know more of my co-workers to learn more about their career path and their current work in the office. I am sure that I have a lot to learn from them!

This week I also started my first intern tasks. I started brainstorming water indicators for EJSCREEN, an environmental justice mapping tool that maps proximity of at-risk populations to environmental hazards. There are few water indicators on the tool, so I began to brainstorm new indicators, such as water scarcity, access/proximity to water resources, and drinking water violations. It is a lot of work to collect the data, create a methodology, and pitch my idea to the EJSCREEN committee! I am happy to be making a difference, and I hope the additions in the tool can be used to flag environmental hazards, like Flint Michigan, and to help the EPA implement policy.

ID
My ID badge

In addition to my intern tasks, my supervisor is encouraging me to attend water-related EPA and NGO seminars throughout the summer and to write summaries for the office. Today I attended a talk about urban ecosystems, and tomorrow I am going to a seminar at Resources for the Future to learn about the federal coal leasing program. I cannot wait to delve in to my internship, and I am very thankful for this learning experience.

 

-Allison Marill

First Week at Rosie’s Place

The front doors of Rosie’s Place located at 889 Harrison Ave in Boston.

This summer I am working at Rosie’s Place located in Boston’s South End. Rosie’s Place is a sanctuary for poor and homeless women founded in 1974 by Kip Tiernan as the first women’s shelter in the United States, with the mission to provide a safe and nurturing environment that helps guests maintain their dignity, seek opportunity, and find security in their lives. Rosie’s Place provides a wide range of services and support for women including meals, emergency overnight shelter, education, advocacy, and many more found in the directory of programs and services.

One of the first things I learned about Rosie’s Place during my phone interview and reiterated during my first day was Rosie’s prides itself on being a sanctuary – not just a shelter – for women and being there to help with the needs of the guests who walk through the doors. Rosie’s is committed not only to help guests and their needs on the day to day basis but also working in public policy to change laws to bring social change in issues relating to poverty and homelessness.

My first week at Rosie’s as one of the eight summer interns (including Ari Keigan ’18) was overwhelming but very rewarding. I am in the Direct Service department and am on the front lines helping guests at the front desk.

As the first point of contact for guests, I work to create a warm, friendly, welcoming, and supportive environment and learn about the needs of the guests and direct them to how Rosie’s can help. I have covered the front desk before at my job at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, but I had not expected how busy and demanding it would be. It truly requires me to be flexible and be able to multitask.

The bulletin board with bios of the summer interns posted for the community to see.

For example, some of the tasks I am responsible for include answering questions in person and over the phone sorting, organizing and checking mail for the guests, and helping guests sign up for showers, laundry, phones or computers. During my first week I have already experienced having to answer the phone while organizing mail and politely asking a guest to wait before I can help them all at the same time. At first I was quite intimidated working at the front desk because I was afraid of giving out the wrong information but with the help of my supervisors, I was encouraged to ask questions and assured that it was okay if I put people on hold because I was not required to know all the answers right away.

I am grateful as part of my internship, all summer interns participate in a series of seminars that explore social justice issues on Friday afternoons. During our first meeting, we got the chance to listen and discuss how the week went in our individual departments. Two points we had discussed were checking our own privilege and wanting to help as much as we can but learning how to say no. We also discussed the four main goals of the internship and our two individual department goals.

The four internship goals are to gain a deeper understanding of poverty and oppression from the women who come to Rosie’s Place as well as the root cause of these conditions; to learn more about who are poor and homeless women in Boston and what circumstances brought them to Rosie’s Place; to develop a greater sense of responsibility and ability to work to bring about social chance and equality; and to better understand how a medium-sized non-profit operates. My two department goals are to learn how to communicate effectively with all the different people that I encounter and to learn to take more initiative as I get more comfortable with the front desk.

The work that I am doing is difficult but it is work that needs to be done, and I am excited for what is more to come.

Tina Nguyen ’17

Gaining New Perspectives: My First Week at The Fortune Society

This summer I am lucky enough to have an internship at The Fortune Society in New York City.  This is a non-profit organization that provides a wide variety of services to formerly incarcerated or at-risk individuals, such as housing, counseling, and employment services to name only a few.  The mission of Fortune is “to support successful reentry from prison and promote alternatives to incarceration, thus strengthening the fabric of our communities.”  This is accomplished primarily by believing in an individual’s ability to change with the right guidance.  This site is good because it elaborates on some of the most popular of services provided by the agency.  During my time at Fortune, I will be working in the housing department as well as the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP), where one of the bigger projects I will help with is to conduct a study related to the effect of criminal background questions in New York State.  This effort is called Ban-the-Box, and can be more closely reviewed here.  This week, I spent most of my time at the housing center and orientation for the DRCPP starts next week where I will look forward to meeting the rest of the interns.  

Fortune's Harlem site, known as Castle Gardens. (photo: fortunesociety.org)
Fortune’s Harlem site, known as Castle Gardens. (photo: fortunesociety.org)

During my time at the housing center thus far, I have worked with numerous people with varying roles in the organization so I can learn about the efforts of the Center in a holistic manner. I look forward to understanding more about how to create a successful and supportive transitional housing building which is occupied by formerly incarcerated individuals.  Every client utilizing the housing services at Fortune is immediately assigned a case manager upon entry to the program who remains in close contact with the client during their time at Fortune.  

Case managers typically talk to their clients at least every other week, and through my experience so far, there seems to be an amicable relationship between the two individuals, which creates a more comfortable environment for the client.  I had the opportunity to work closely with one case manager in particular; he walked me through conducting room inspections for clients, compiling reports into the computer, and then filing the reports.  Next week I will start having one-on-one conversations with clients to discuss their progress in the program including strategizing employment opportunities, overcoming substance abuse, and addressing other issues relevant to their successful re-entry from prison.

My desk at Castle Gardens.
My desk at Castle Gardens.

Earlier in the week I also worked closely with the supervisor of residential aides; in addition to him showing me the conveniently stocked break room, which was a plus, he guided my through documenting incidents concerning clients. From what I documented, incidents can range from an ambulance being called for a client to a client’s unfortunate re-incarceration to a physical brawl between clients.  Perhaps the most shocking and dare I say uncomfortable thing I’ve done so far was administer a urine toxicology test, where I had to watch a client urinate into a plastic cup and proceed to test it for a variety of drugs.  Luckily for both me and the client, all of the results were negative.

I’m really looking forward to the rest of the summer—I really feel like I have the ability to both directly and indirectly help people.

Ely Schudrich ‘19

My First Week at Verité

This summer I will be a research intern at an organization called Verité, which is located in Amherst, Massachusetts. Verité is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that promotes fair, safe and legal labor practices around the world. In particular, they address forced labor/slavery, child labor, systemic gender inequalities and discrimination within the workplace, and dangerous working conditions. They provide four major services including assessment, research, training and consultation in order to help companies identify any problems or violations within their labor supply chains. Verité facilitates working relationships with local NGOs, governments, and international institutions in order to increase accountability among corporations and to expand the capacity of local NGOs.

The entrance to the lower floor of Verité, where the interns work
The entrance to the lower floor of Verité, where the interns work

The community at Verité is warm and welcoming, and the interns are made to feel like a part of that community. On my first day, my fellow interns and I congregated around an oval table in a small conference room where we were introduced to our supervisors, and were given a presentation outlining our responsibilities. The presentation contained staple resources which we will use in our research, such as the US Department of State Trafficking in Persons reports, and the International Labour Organization’s website.

Throughout the summer, I will be assigned to help out with various projects. My first project is to update a few annual reports assessing production labor practices in specific countries; at the moment, I am working on the Taiwan report. A large American pension fund uses these updated reports to guide their investments.  Highlighting changes in each country’s labor practices report, whether the new information is positive or negative, will allow the pension fund to make more socially responsible investments, thus supporting countries with fair labor practices.

Because there is a no naming-and-shaming policy at Verité, much of the information I am given to research, as well as the standing of certain organizations, must remain confidential. However, the research I do will be used to establish statistics that will eventually be presented to the public.

Much of the Verité’s work revolves around combating forced labor. In this TEDx talk, Dan Viederman, the former CEO of Verité, gives an in-depth explanation on modern-day slavery in labor supply chains.

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My desk space and research materials

At Brandeis, I hope to create an independent interdisciplinary major (IIM) in human rights. I believe that this internship will be a highly valuable experience that will contribute to how I shape and focus my major. I hope to expand my researching skills, in order to positively contribute to Verité, as well as to learn new information for myself. Being immersed in an organization that focuses solely on human rights is an incredible opportunity, as I will be able to communicate with and learn from people who have varying roles in the world of human rights, which will allow me to explore the abundance of careers available in that field.

Verité's beautiful backyard/lunch break destination
Verité’s beautiful backyard/lunch break destination

Georgia Nichols, ’18

 

Blog Post #3 – NARAL

One of the main goals I had for my summer internship experience was to enhance my communication skills. I was able to achieve this goal while evolving as a professional in ways that I could not anticipate before my internship began. When I originally set this goal, I assumed I would meet it by engaging with folks one on one to discuss NARAL’s work. I absolutely did communicate with people in this way, especially at events where NARAL hosted a table, such as the Boston Pride Parade and Suffolk University’s Menstrual Health Conference. Overtime, I did become more confident in representing the organization and its mission by talking to people individually and in smaller groups. However, another way in which I was able to bolster my communications skills was through my work as a member of the NARAL staff and intern team.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, my supervisor left the organization a few weeks after my internship started, which proved to be a difficult transition for my fellow interns and me.  I expressed concern about the transition to my interim supervisor and engaged in an honest dialogue about the environment that resulted from my initial supervisor’s departure. This conversation was a turning point for me, in both a professional and personal way, as I embraced the opportunity to advocate for myself and express my honest sentiments in a constructive manner.

In the past, I have had difficulty expressing or advocating for my needs, as it is more my nature to please others and shy away from disrupting the flow. However, I realized that if I did not advocate for myself in this situation, my internship experience would suffer. I had a positive dialogue with my temporary supervisor during our initial conversation, which resulted in her understanding and action.  My temporary supervisor enacted immediate changes and was sure to check-in with me periodically to keep the communication lines open and honest. This entire experience proved to be extremely rewarding since I stepped out of my comfort zone and went out on a limb to advocate for myself. I found my voice in a way that I did not know existed. Despite the brief period of disruption, this experience was valuable to my personal and professional growth.

For any students interested in interning with NARAL or another organization in the field of health care advocacy, I would advise them to ask as many questions as possible. The realm of politics and health care policy is filled with nuances and an overwhelming amount of information. The best way to become familiar with all of this information is by continuing to learn and ask questions. The staff members at NARAL have always happily answered my questions and have taken the time to thoroughly explain policies to me. The staff’s openness to inquiries contributes to the positive atmosphere of the office, which is something that I really appreciated about this internship.

(NARAL is currently looking to hire a graphic design intern, and put this image out!) Keep Calm

Overall, this was a fantastic summer, and I am so grateful to the WOW program for allowing me to have this experience.

Here is a picture of another NARAL intern dropping off petitions at the State House. Nate petition

 

For more on recent legislative hearings that included NARAL bills, check out this article!

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/08/13/legislation-aims-protect-privacy-health-insurance-forms/HGvYA5Xip9SLXOK9IGRhzH/story.html

For more on the Joint Committee that heard our NARAL bill, look at this government site:

https://malegislature.gov/Committees/Joint/J11

 

Saying Goodbye to Lawyers For Children (For Now)

I can’t believe my summer at Lawyers For Children has come to an end! Working with foster care youth in New York City has been an eye-opening experience. Before I started the internship, I aspired to learn more about the interaction between law and social work and what sort of balance between the two produces the best results when working with underprivileged populations. Working at LFC taught me how important it is for Foster Care attorneys and social workers to work collaboratively with one another.

After attending several meetings for clients with several different agencies and organizations present, I noticed that LFC provides a comforting presence in every child’s life that other governmental agencies and nonprofits do not. This is because the fundamental element of LFC’s philosophy is that each child has an attorney and a social worker that work together as their advocates.

Although other organizations and agencies work hard to provide youth with the services they need, they often do not develop as in-depth relationships with the youth because they only see the child’s situation from one perspective. Other nonprofits serving foster care youth assign a social worker to as little as 15% of their cases. LFC recognizes that every child, regardless of the ‘severity’ of their situation, needs a social worker because social workers have different skills than attorneys and can provide a unique perspective on their case and how to best serve the child.
IMG_5031My career goal was to gain experience in a legal/social work setting that advocates for human rights and social policy. I gained more ‘social work’ than ‘legal’ experience at LFC after working alongside a social worker all summer, but I did get to observe clients’ cases in court which gave me insight and a diverse perspective on how the legal side works.

This internship has definitely solidified my desire to work as an advocate in the public interest field, but I am unsure as whether I’d like to fulfill that role as an attorney or social worker. I did learn that I enjoy being out in the field more than I do sitting at a desk which directs me toward the field of social work.

A personal goal for this summer was to gain a better understanding of the social issues the foster-care population in large cities like New York City faces. Sadly, these issues were much more prevalent than I could have imagined. The greatest issue that caused me the most frustration is the stigmas foster care youth face, whether in school, the community or among agency workers whose job it is to help them.

I highly recommend Lawyers For Children as an internship destination, whether it be the legal or social work side. The internship gives interns the opportunity to see the various tasks each side is responsible for which can help solidify a future career path. I would also advise anyone interested in social work and human rights to consider an internship at Lawyers For Children because it exposes interns to the dire human rights issues that often go unnoticed in their own communities.

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intern workroom

This summer I am most proud of helping clients realize their potential when it comes to applying for jobs or brainstorming future academic goals. Unfortunately many foster care youth are not viewed as capable of achieving the kind of goals the rest of us may have and they themselves start to believe that stigma. I learned that consistent support and affirmation goes a long way.

Lawyers For Children’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LawyersForChildren

About interning at Lawyers For Children: http://www.lawyersforchildren.org/internships

Internship at Lawyers For Children in NYC: Midpoint post

I just finished up my sixth week interning at Lawyers For Children in NYC! Where has the time gone? I knew this internship would be incredibly eye opening and enriching, but I never expected it to be this much so this quickly. I have learned so much in so little time that I am left eager to acquire even more knowledge in the time I have left in New York City.

Here is a recent article from the Wall Street Journal touching on few of the many issues with New York’s Foster Care system today:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-citys-foster-care-system-is-mismanaged-lawsuit-alleges-1436373462

First off, living in New York City is an adventure in itself. There’s always so much going on and so much to see. Traveling by subway is an adventure in itself; I never get bored of the slam poetry performances, magic tricks and soul singers! My workplace is situated in the heart of Chinatown and I am also just a short walk from Broadway (which is full of shops and restaurants) and Little Italy! I am living in midtown Manhattan right near Penn Station, which is also a very bustling area. My apartment is very close to the Hudson River Parkway, which is where I complete most of my morning runs! I’ve been able to explore Central Park and West Manhattan while on longer runs over the weekend, which has been a nice break after the long workweek!central park photo

(a picture I took in central park during an evening run)

   I’ve been incredibly busy at Lawyers For Children. Working everyday from 9:30-5 is quite an adjustment from the college where there are often long breaks throughout the day in between classes. Everyday is different as a forensic social work intern at LFC, which keeps things exciting. I have traveled to all five boroughs in New York City (Manhattan, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island) visiting clients and participating in meetings. I’m so fortunate to have an internship that allows me to get to know the city I’m living in while at work!

As I mentioned, I’ve learned so much at Lawyers For Children already despite only having been there six weeks. Before beginning this internship, I knew that the foster care system does not always provide children with the love, support, and resources that they need and that as a result many children in foster care endure many more hardships than those living in loving families, but I never imagined the extent of those hardships could be as profound as what I’ve seen thus far. Through my work at Lawyers For Children, I’ve learned to view every situation with a fresh set of eyes because the context of these children’s histories can impact their lives in so many ways. It’s important not to make assumptions about a child based on their behavior or by who they are ‘on paper,’ (as they say) because there is always a reason they act and feel the way they do. Before assuming anything at all, it is important to listen.

This is also true in the classroom. When engaging in social, political, economic or any sort of debate, it is important to understand why the person feels a certain way instead of judging them for feeling differently on an issue than you. Sometimes understanding why can even change your point of view!

LFC logoAbove is LFC’s logo/slogan. Taken from lawyersforchildren.org

Here is a link to a few videos of LFC clients describing some of their experiences in foster care and how LFC has helped them.

http://www.lawyersforchildren.org/lfc-difference

This is also a very important skill to possess as a social worker or attorney. To develop a relationship with your client, you must understand where they are coming from and why they have certain goals instead of trying to impose your own ideas on them; otherwise it is nearly impossible to develop a constructive, successful relationship from which both parties can benefit! I’m hopeful that I will obtain many more skills as this internship progresses and I am eager to share those with you all at the end of the summer!

-Lydia

 

 

 

 

Halfway through my internship at Tip Comunicación

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“Floralis Genérica” is only a couple of blocks away from Tip. It opens when the sun comes out, and closes when it sets

It has now been a little over a month since I started working at Tip Comunicación, a small PR agency in Buenos Aires. I have had such a good time so far, and I am excited to share a little about my experience with you. This past month has been an amazing learning experience.

First, I assisted at a fashion show for Sweet Victorian, Argentina’s leading swimwear and underwear brand, for the launch of their swimsuit collection. It was so fun! I got to greet some amazing journalists at the door and guide them towards where the other press representatives where gathered, help my boss and coworkers throughout the event, and also watch the show alongside a few Argentinian celebrities.

I also have had the opportunity to ghost-write a few articles to promote our brands and write more press releases. My writing skills have gotten a lot better this past month! I know this will help me so much after college, when I hope to be working full time either in PR or advertising. Another thing I’ve been doing a lot of this past month has been preparing product kits to send out to journalists. We have a new client at Tip called Successo. They produce alfajores: traditional Argentinian candy that consists of two cookies put together by dulce de leche (milk caramel) and usually covered in chocolate. Successo also makes cookies and other types of candy, but alfajores are their specialty. I had to make 93 packages, so by the time I was done I had seen more alfajores than I ever need to, but it was actually quite a relaxing experience. I have been working on my organization skills through this task, which I know will be very useful after my work at Tip is over. Whether I end up in advertising or PR, I will most certainly need to be organized.

Writing for brands has also helped me get out of my “writing comfort zone” and speak in a way that represents the brand I’m trying to promote rather than myself. I know that if I’m writing for an educational institution I must use a somewhat friendly yet mostly serious tone, while if I’m writing for a teen swimwear company I have to take on a younger, bubblier personality. Different vocabulary is also used for the different brands and it is very important to always keep that in mind. Writing a press release or an article in the name of a certain brand is very different from writing my own blog, or posting something on my social media accounts. This internship has provided me with the tools to identify each brand’s personality, target, and “dialect.” My boss is very strict about this and it has made me very aware of the use of each word.

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Just a few of the many, many Successo packages I put together

Being at work is so different from being at school for many reasons. First, there are no grades involved, which means my goals are only to learn as much as possible and to meet my boss’ expectations. Second, there’s a lot more “figuring out” to do on my own. I am told what needs to get done and a few tips on how to do it. I’m always allowed –and expected– to ask questions and get help when necessary, but I am also expected to get things done as well and fast as possible, which sometimes means I have to make my own decisions. I am so lucky to have an amazing boss that gives me the space and tools to work things out on my own and make some mistakes that will help me learn. Of course, she is always there to step in and save the day in case I actually do something wrong, but so far it’s been working out just fine!

Overall it’s been a really exciting month. I’m so glad I have this opportunity this summer and I’m excited for the rest of my internship.

Mijal Tenenbaum, ’16

Dominican Republic and the Preservation of the Afro-Dominican and Dominico-Haitiano Cultures

The Fundacion Cultural Cofradia, is a non-profit organization that promotes and preserves the Afro-Dominican and Dominico-Haitiano traditions in the Dominican Republic. Cofradia is located in Santo Domingo, the capital, but their mission extends throughout different regions of the country. They work closely with the portadores de cultura, which are the people in the community in charge of keeping these traditions, in order to provide support in the areas most needed. This support comes in different forms, such as the creation of schools, workshops and festivals centered on these traditions.

People dancing perico ripiao in Yamasá

I contribute to their mission in two different ways, the office and field work. As part of the office work I file documents, communicate with el Ministerio de Cultura, (the government office in charge of approving the projects and providing the monetary support) and follow up in the updates of previous projects. During the fieldwork, the Cofradia team and I travel to diverse parts of the country and visit the communities that most need our support. Here, I interviewed the portadores de cultura on their traditions and how they function in the communities. I also document events by photography and videos which are later used as documentation to create new projects.
Last summer I traveled to the Dominican Republic to visit some family members. As part of my visit I wanted to learn more about the Afro-Dominican traditions. When I expressed this to my aunt she put me in contact with the Director of Cofradia, Roldán Marmol.  Director Mármol invited me to a fiesta de palo, a religious practice that mixes African and Taino religious beliefs with Catholicism. Later I expressed my interested in learning more about these traditions and religions. He told me about his organization and we discussed the possibility of an internship.

Gagá group
Gagá group

 

During my first week of work I met the entire team of my co-workers and learned about the projects they been working on.  I was provided with books and articles that talked about the diverse traditions of the Dominican Republic. That week we participated in the celebration of San Antonio sponsored by the Brothers Guillen in Yamasa. There I photographed the event and first experienced Gaga, a tradition born out of the sharing of cultures between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. For me, it was the first time, since I arrived to the island, that I have witnessed such a harmonious and unifying manifestation of the two countries traditions living as one.

The more I work with Cofradia the more I realize the importance of providing visibility to the Afro-Dominican and Dominico-Haitiano traditions. One cannot set apart these traditions with their communities, which means that if the traditions remain invisible and unappreciated the community suffers the same condition. These traditions are rich in knowledge, dance, music, art and history. I want to learn how to work with both the communities and the government to create projects that support the preservation and changes, that come naturally with time and new generations, of these traditions.

Me documenting the inauguration of La Escuela de Gagá in the Romana.

Me documenting the inauguration of La Escuela de Gagá in the Romana