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.

“Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue”

In her wonderfully complex book (and ambitious journey) My Jewish Year, journalist Abigail Pogrebin joins a comprehensive review of the most important Jewish holidays with her personal experiences and anecdotes. She takes a year to find meaning in the celebrations and customs of Judaism as she immerses herself in very different contexts and communities to explore her own Jewish identity.

In one of the chapters, called Activist Shabbbat: Friday Night with the Kids, she enjoys the traditional dinner in the company of a highly untraditional group: a dozen recent college graduates who have taken a year away from their careers, routines, families, and homes in order to fight poverty. The “kids” are none other than the Jewish Service Corps of Avodah, working in four cities around the country in organizations specialized in a wide range of issues, from homelessness to domestic violence, legal representation, counseling, and education. Avodah is providing them with a living and learning space in which the Jewish texts they explore and the constant observance of holidays serve as inspiration for their social justice activities.

It becomes more than a living space when you consider the symbolism of this new community they are part of. These are young people (aged twenty-one to twenty-six) who uproot their regular lives in order to work on the flourishing of other people’s lives. They grow new roots in an environment in which altruism and selflessness replace the infertile soil of possessive individualism that characterizes many of our contemporary societies. It is impressive and inspiring that they choose to do so. A day in the life of a Corps Member looks nothing like a day in most of our predominantly self-centered and self-absorbed existence. The average person will perceive themselves as charitable if they take a few minutes to donate on an organization’s website. These young people are not only “donating” a year of their lives, but they are boarding on a journey in which a few fundamental changes occur.

(Source: avodah.net)

Through the commitment to give back to the less fortunate, they not only come to see that their contribution matters, but they realize how much it is needed. I think that a renewed awareness of how far-reaching and all-encompassing the pursuit of social justice needs to be is the most valuable perspective one can gain from such a program. It is hopefully a realization that can only make one dedicate their entire life to such a mission. Abigail Pogrebin quotes the mission of Avodah as stated by Cheryl Cook, the president of the organization – “Three Words in Deuteronomy, Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: Justice, Justice, Shall Your Pursue”. The Corps members choose to live by these words and I think the ultimate step of their mission would be making as many of us as possible ask ourselves why we choose not to.

Sonia Pavel ’20

Furthering Social Justice

Open Source Wellness officially began running their first event in October 2016 and their second event this past April. Considering it is an extremely young organization, the founders have many goals and milestones they want to achieve. Their main social justice goal is to reach more people in low-income communities.

The organization was founded by two psychologists, Liz and Ben, who came up with the idea behind Open Source Wellness while they worked in different health clinics in Boston. They continuously saw patients who were referred to them by doctors who told the patients that they needed to change their eating habits, exercise more, or reduce their stress to combat the chronic health conditions they were facing. Wealthier patients could hire a nutritionist, personal trainer, or join a meditation group. However, people who lived in low-income communities went back to their same lifestyle because they did not know how and did not have the means to change the way they ate or acted. Through these experiences, Ben and Liz decided to open a “behavioral pharmacy” to help people make major lifestyle changes at little or no cost. Their doctor could write a prescription to go to Open Source Wellness to get support in making lifestyle changes. Even though this is their mission, Ben and Liz have been struggling to reach this demographic.

Below are pictures of Liz and Ben:

 

To combat this issue, the other interns and myself have been reaching out to providers, including clinics, doctors’ offices, and community centers in low-income areas in an attempt to form a referral partnership with them. We have been giving them free spaces that are reserved for their patients in our month-long program upon their referral. By reserving certain spots for their patients, we are creating a scarcity of spaces that they can fill which will incentivize them to fill the spots. Hopefully, once they see how helpful the program is for their patients, they will start sending more people. Some of the clinics we have been speaking with seem extremely interested in our mission, so we started talking with them about running an event in their clinic. These would be solely for their patients or members and would happen in the clinics or centers. West Oakland Health Center and Project Open Hand are two of the groups that we have been meeting with.

If the clinics followed through with their pledge to get their patients to sign up for our July cohort, which starts on July 11th, that is what progress would look like. It would also include one or more of the new clinics or centers allocating money to OSW to begin an event in their building, exclusively for their patients.

Provider outreach has been my main long-term task as an intern at OSW. I have spent countless hours emailing, calling, and meeting with doctors and administrators to tell them about the program that OSW offers, and to speak with them about creating a referral partnership.

Bringing Brandeis Knowledge to Oakland

During the spring semester at Brandeis, I took the course Narcopolitics with Professor Brian Fried. Through this course, I learned about the correlation between drug use and incarceration rates. A recurring issue that we discussed throughout the course was the elevated rates at which children of formerly incarcerated persons are likely to be incarcerated when compared to children whose parents have not experienced incarceration. This comparison shocked me at the time. Currently, I am witnessing the reality of this fact and it is extremely unsettling.

Here is a link to an article that explains the cycle of intergenerational incarceration.

Many of the individuals I work with at Alameda Point Collaborative, a low-income housing community, were previously incarcerated or homeless. The people who attend events through Open Source Wellness are mainly in their fifties and sixties, and many of them have older children who have also been incarcerated. One of the women who regularly attends our events explained her experience with incarceration. She described her long struggle to move past this difficult time in her life because of the legal, social, and emotional restrictions she experienced. Now, her son faces a long prison sentence. She spoke about her inner struggle about the best way to support him, and if she chooses to support him at all. She does not know if she can deal with the responsibility of trying to get him released early or if she is willing to support him when he is released because she feels she put a lot of effort into trying to break the cycle of incarceration. She said she understands that it is more likely for her children to be sent to prison, because she did, but she hoped her children would break the statistic.

Above are pictures of the community garden and kitchen where the residents of APC grow and cook the food that they serve at our events.

Many of these individuals have been incarcerated for drug offenses. There are strong genetic links and environmental factors that influence drug use. The children of parents who have drug or alcohol addictions often begin their lives with a hereditary vulnerability in addition to the impact of their parent’s drug addiction. Additionally, the loss of parental role models for long periods of time during a parent’s absence due to imprisonment negatively impacts breaking the cycle of incarceration. I recently read an article about recent research that proposes that 40%-70% of people in the prison system have Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) which the researchers contest has a strong genetic link, further adding to the cycle of incarceration.

In Professor Fried’s course I learned about the unfairness of U.S. drug laws and the impact they have on the cycle of incarceration. With this knowledge, I am more informed about the challenges facing individuals who were incarcerated, especially the difficulties encountered in breaking the cycle of incarceration. My role at the Open Source Wellness program, is to help run the weekly event by facilitating a group discussion in a weekly women’s circle. I feel as though my increased understanding of incarceration in the U.S. is helping me support these women in a way that is meaningful and helpful to them.

Starting at Umby

I am spending this summer in Chicago at a startup called Umby, which is a peer-to-peer microinsurance platform. Microinsurance is just like regular insurance, except that it targets at individuals living in poverty internationally, mostly making less than $4 USD a day. To address their needs, the premiums and coverage for this type of insurance are relatively low, but it provides an important safety net for families trying to escape the poverty cycle. Umby works by selling umbrellas to consumers, with the money then going to insure one family (of the consumer’s choice) for a full year.

The main social injustice that Umby is redressing is global poverty. In developing countries around the world, individuals are especially vulnerable to the financial hardships which affect all of us at one point or another: health problems, property damage, and the like. However, for someone who is making barely enough money to get by, these hardships can be absolutely devastating. Studies have shown that individuals facing these hardships will do things like selling off their assets, dipping into (quite small) savings accounts, and reducing their food consumption. The problem is that these short-term solutions actually reinforce poverty in the long run: without money-making assets like livestock, it can be difficult to pay for the next hardship; without building up savings, it can be impossible to do economically advantageous but expensive activities such as sending children to school; reducing food consumption to the point of malnourishment or undernourishment can result in long-term health problems that will cost more money later. This is where insurance comes in. If a family has the ability to use insurance to pay for these hardships, they no longer have to deplete their assets or savings, ultimately helping to break the poverty cycle in the best cases.

Further, according to the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate change is affecting the poorest countries in the world the most. Many forms of microinsurance help protect against the power of global climate change, including catastrophe insurance and many forms of livestock or crop insurance. This is another social justice issue: the wealthiest people in the wealthiest countries have the ability to ignore the effects of climate change, but those living in poor regions around the world do not have the infrastructure or the funds to recover from natural disasters.

I am specifically in charge of marketing for Umby. Umby will be officially launching at the end of the summer, so I am developing blog posts and social media strategies to ensure that people will hear of it and will be interested in donating or buying an umbrella themselves. Without the effective marketing efforts, we may not be able to provide microinsurance at all.

We are working inside of 1871, which is an incubator in downtown Chicago for startups, most of which are related to tech. This is a really cool environment to work in, as there are a ton of other young people working on a variety of new ideas, many of which are related to social justice. Most of 1871 is taken up by a huge, open workspace, where dozens of people sit on their laptops or talking to one another. It is a very artistic environment, with one side of the room taken up by this huge sculpture of downtown Chicago. There are also murals on the walls of the building done by local artists. It is definitely way cooler than your average office.

The sculpture at the front of 1871
Mark Mulhern’s “Anger/Fear of Retaliation” in the halls of 1871

By the end of the summer, the major event that will be happening is the official launching of the company. I hope by then I will have raised awareness on social media and provided some helpful blog posts that spark interest in the mission and work of Umby, and are entertaining and fun to read.

Lily Elderkin

Giving Flight to Hopes and Dreams

The WINGS logo and motto (which I handily borrowed for my blog title).

For the past month, after a rigorous 40-hour training session, I have been interning at WINGS, a not-for-profit domestic violence housing agency that provides critical relief to those who are victims of domestic violence. While WINGS primarily offers housing services, anyone can call the emergency hotline that WINGS offers 24/7 in conjunction with the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline. Over the phone WINGS volunteers, interns, and staff provide callers with emotional support, help develop a safety plan, give advice, offer appropriate referrals to other programs, and, if possible, complete a shelter intake. A shelter intake occurs if the three following criteria are met: one of the shelters has space, there was a recent inciting event that led to the victim fleeing the abuser, and the guest does not pose a major safety concern.

WINGS runs two emergency shelters: the Safe House in the Northwest suburbs of Cook County; and another in downtown Chicago known as WINGS Metro. These emergency shelters offer temporary housing for victims and their children. WINGS also offers transitional housing that survivors can qualify for where they are able to live in a shared home for up to two years, additional access to counseling services, and case management. Permanent housing is the final stage of housing support that WINGS offers, and provides survivors suffering from disabilities including PTSD with permanent housing. In conjunction with all the housing programs, WINGS offers community based services and extended services such as: back to school items, doctor visits, legal services, and a plethora of additional services.

As an intern at WINGS, my primary job is organizing and running a 3-day/week summer camp for children residing in the Safe House. A conscious approach is required when interacting with the children and parents. Every day the children begin the day discussing their feelings in conjunction with the Feelings Chart,

We use a similar but more comprehensive chart with the campers in order to discuss how we are all feeling and our expectations for the day.

and we take time to learn and apply various coping mechanisms and stress relief practices. At the end of each day interaction notes are written for each child in which their overall attitude and emotional state are cataloged for record-keeping.

The primary purpose of the summer camp is to provide children with a fun, welcoming, and loving environment (a concept that is foreign to many of them), while also providing parents with a respite that allows them to work on reaching their goals (finding a job, going to referred programs, applying for transitional housing, etc.) Providing these children with a safe environment is critical as it removes them from the cycle of violence which shows many domestic violence abusers have been abused themselves. In collaboration with the summer camp, children’s advocates work with the children to develop a safety plan, offer counseling, therapy, and other services. By the end of summer, I hope to have been able to impact these children in a positive manner by providing them with a safe, fun escape. As aforementioned, this internship requires a trauma-specific approach, and I hope to further develop my experience working with children using this specific approach.

Statistics, facts, and additional information about domestic violence can be found at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website.

 

Nakeita Henry, 19

 

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

Lessons Learned

Wow, it’s been over three weeks and I am still having difficulty processing this incredible summer. Throughout the 10 weeks of interning at Roots, I have met the most inspiring people, learned tremendously, and contributed to an organization I believe is making real strides towards peace in the land. I have increased my knowledge, humility, faith, hope, and passion.

One of my many goals for this summer was to determine if non-profit work in a peace-building organization in the region was something that I might like to pursue as an eventual career. While I still have not decided in which direction I would like to head professionally, I am still strongly considering the non-profit world, perhaps even more than I was before. What is definite is that this experience strengthened my resolve to work toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians through dialogue, activity, and action, in order to improve lives on both sides. I believe that this grassroots work can only truly take hold on a local level, so my desire to move to Israel after graduation has been strengthened as a result of this experience.

In this blog post, we were asked to talk about what we are proud of accomplishing this summer. I am most proud of not being afraid to go to new places, often thought of as “dangerous” by various communities, and to talk to people with backgrounds and opinions very different from my own. I am proud of myself for having an open mind, for asking questions, and for seeking to learn as much as I could. I am glad that I took risks and jumped into unknown situations – including the internship itself!

If I were to give advice to someone thinking about going into this field or interning for this organization, I would give them the same advice I received: be proactive and make the most of your time. Be flexible and ready for anything. Most of all, don’t be afraid to put yourself in new situations, talk to people, ask questions, and share your own ideas. Being the only intern can be very lonely, but you also have the opportunity to have a real impact on a small young organization – and that is priceless.13721269_660056010811577_1805919981_n

I realized that I join organizations like Roots and bVIEW (Brandeis Visions for Israel in and Evolving World), which have no specific political agenda, because I myself do not have a specific political solution in mind for this conflict. What I do believe, however, is that no political solution can achieve peace while we are all arguing with each other. Dialogue, mutual action, and a transformation of perceptions of the other must precede, coincide with, and continue after a political solution is enacted. At Roots, I sat with a group of Palestinians and Israelis (settlers, no less!), of different ages and backgrounds, as we went around the circle, articulating which political visions we support. With unbelievable calm and respect, every individual gave a different answer – almost half of them including the words “I don’t know.” This was quite a departure from the usual Israel/Palestine conversation on campus, wherein individuals enter conversations with set opinions and perceived facts. I learned from this summer how important it is to be okay with not knowing all the answers, to be open to discussion and changing perceptions, and to working with people you disagree with to resolve conflict. If Israelis and Palestinians living in the Gush Etzion area and from Bethlehem to Hebron can do it, surely we students at Brandeis can too.

Rebecca (Rivka) Cohen ’17

Gratitude and Reflection

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This is me holding my present from AJWS, a framed photo of AJWS grantees.

I have completed my internship at American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and I could not have asked for a better experience. My overall goal was to learn about the inner workings of an international human rights nonprofit organization, but I have gained more much than that. I was behind the scenes as AJWS navigated a transition in leadership, Robert Bank, the vice president, become the new president and CEO, and Ruth Messinger, the former president, became the Global Ambassador. I helped with a private AJWS event featuring Frank Bruni, the first openly gay New York Times op-ed columnist. I attended Fundraising Day in New York, the largest one-day conference in the world on philanthropic topics. I participated in AJWS’s global retreat, where I had the opportunity to meet almost all of AJWS’s in-country staff from 19 different countries, who first hand witness the challenging, but rewarding work on the ground.

I am so grateful to have had an incredible supervisor who was attentive and provided me with challenging and engaging work. Without her, this experience would not have been the same. She created a collaborative and supportive environment, but also trusted me to work independently. I worked hard and showed my deep level of commitment to each project I was given. One of the projects I worked on this summer was creating an event planning toolkit for AJWS’s website. Supporters will use the event planning toolkit to plan their own events and educate and engage their family, friends and community members about the work of AJWS. This will result in more recognition of the organization and will be used as a fundraising tool to garner more support.

I am proud of myself for grasping this opportunity and squeezing all I could out of it. I took the initiative to meet with staff members to discuss their professional life and aspects of AJWS that I thought were interesting. For instance, I was interested in the representation of oppression and poverty in published materials of nonprofits and whether guidelines for selecting images and written materials to share with supporters exist to ensure ethicality. I met with the creative director and the director of publications and editorial services, and I was happy to learn that AJWS does have some guidelines in place. I also met with staff members working in Development and Programs. These one-on-one meetings were informative and they opened my eyes to different career possibilities, but also were networking opportunities as I shared who I am and my future plans. I began realizing that my hard work and my passion for learning and improvement were noticed and appreciated when my supervisor and staff members pointed out how helpful I was being. They jokingly would ask me to quit school so they could hire me. Also, at the end of my internship, multiple people offered to be a reference for me anytime I needed. These comments are what every intern wants to hear and they made me feel like I made a valuable contribution.

My supervisor, Neely, and I.
My supervisor, Neely, and me.

One of the challenging moments of working at AJWS turned out to be a positive in the end. When the interns met with Robert Bank, I discussed with him the organization’s silence concerning the many brown and black lives lost due to police brutality. Later, when I spoke with Robert one-on-one, I was happy to hear that he appreciated my tough questions because he said they challenged him. In his opening speech at AJWS’s global retreat, Robert began by acknowledging some of the tragedies the world has seen recently and included Baton Rouge, where the brutal murder of Alton Sterling took place. This was a step in the right direction. I was so impressed by Robert Bank’s openness to hearing constructive criticism and quickly implementing change. This experience has taught me that it is okay to respectfully challenge those in leadership in order to push for improvement. I believe that analyzing and thinking critically rather than accepting how things are is a significant aspect of social justice work.

My advice for someone who wants to pursue an internship at AJWS or at another human rights nonprofit is to think about what aspect of the work you are most passionate about and find a position within that department. There are many different opportunities within one nonprofit organization. Also, be open to working on various types of projects and reach out to staff members in different departments to learn more about their work. This will not only allow you to learn more about the different roles within a large nonprofit, but it can also open your eyes to different career possibilities within the nonprofit world. Finally, do not be afraid to respectfully challenge existing practices or the lack of certain practices that you feel are important and make suggestions for improvements.  

Thank you to the World of Work Fellowship program for this incredible experience!

Marian Gardner ’18

Pain of Silence and the Beauty of Dialogue

I love this vibrant city. Everyone is on a mission to accomplish something big. I have enjoyed being among people who thrive in this fast-paced environment. Traveling through the subway in the early morning among men and women in suits makes me feel important. I am seeing a glimpse of what my professional life after college could be like, which is both scary and exciting. The city is also very expensive, which is a constant reminder for me of how privileged I am to have parents who are able to supplement my WOW stipend. There are many students whose financial standing would not allow them to do a summer internship, which is why the existence of the WOW fellowship program is so critical.

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Ruth Messinger, former president and now Global Ambassador of AJWS

In my work environment, there are a lot more opportunities at work to collaborate with different groups of people. AJWS has many different departments, but they are interdependent. For instance, the Program Division selects which grassroots organizations AJWS funds, but the grants that are given to these organization would not be possible without the work of the Development Division which is responsible for fundraising. The Communications Department creates the materials that describe our work that are essential to Development Division which utilizes them to engage donors. I have been learning about the importance, but also the challenges of collaborative work. It requires a lot of open discussions and compromises, which I see happening here everyday. These are important lessons that will be useful for any of my future career plans. I have been meeting with individuals in different departments to learn more about their professional experiences and their work at AJWS. These meetings have been very insightful for me. Before this internship, I did not know so many different career options existed within the nonprofit world. I can see myself working in the Programs Division because I am so passionate about grassroots movements, and I can also see myself working as a fundraiser in the Development Division. As for skills, I have been working a lot more with Raiser’s Edge database which is a great skill to have as I continue in the nonprofit sector.

The staff has been extremely welcoming and friendly. However, coming into work this past week has been difficult. The media coverage of all the black lives lost due to police brutality has been tough to digest. As a person of color, I find the constant dehumanization of black and brown bodies in this country to be extremely infuriating and I wish all of America felt the same way. I felt isolated, but I remember feeling grateful that I work at a human rights organization. I thought my work environment would provide me with a space to engage in dialogue and be among colleagues who would be equally outraged. However, I came into work and I was disappointed to see that there was silence. Everyone was proceeding as if it was a normal day at work. I attempted to start a conversation with some people, but the responses ranged from blank faces to statements like “I know it is so sad.”

Our new president, Robert Bank, sent a heartfelt email to the staff during the Orlando shooting in which he offered support and acknowledged the different ways each staff was mourning. The organization as whole released a statement standing in solidarity with the families of the victims and calling for justice. Therefore, I repeatedly refreshed my email imbox hoping to see a similar email and statement about standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and an acknowledgement of all the lives lost, but no such email was sent and no statement was released.

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Robert Bank, new president of AJWS

When the interns this week met with the Robert, I had an opportunity to ask him about this silence. My question opened up a dialogue about how difficult it is for AJWS to decide which domestic human rights issues it should respond to. Robert discussed how AJWS, as a non political organization, wants to maintain focus on the social movements they we support in the 19 developing countries in which we work. Additionally, when international organizations begin taking a stance regarding many different domestic issues their mission becomes confusing to their supporters. AJWS responded to the Orlando shooting because we fund many organizations abroad that are working for LGBT rights. However, AJWS also funds organizations that are working to protect the lives of blacks and people of color. For instance, AJWS has spoken out against and funds social movement organizations in the Dominican Republic that use the courts and media advocacy to defend equal rights for Dominicans of Haitian descent. The horrid discrimination of Dominicans of Haitian descent is entirely an issue of racism. In other words, while I understand that different factors complicate the decision of whether to take a stance or not,  the brutalization of black and brown bodies is a global human rights issue and no one should remain silent. While I praise and admire the work of AJWS, I will continue to ask these challenging questions and start a dialogue because there is always room for growth and improvement, and I feel lucky to be at an organization that is open to hearing constructive criticism and constantly looks to improve.

Marian Gardner ’18

Midpoint at Verité

As I reach the halfway point in my internship, things are beginning to pick up at Verité.  Deadlines are rapidly approaching for some projects, while other projects are just being started.  My fellow interns and I have finally become fully comfortable with our roles and responsibilities at Verité, and have learned how to manage our time surrounding those responsibilities.

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Entrance of Verité

I have lived in Amherst, MA, for the majority of my life, so I did not expect to experience it differently throughout the course of my internship.  However, the research I have done this summer has altered how I view the world, including how I see my small hometown. After being at Verité, I have become more inclined to take into account the nature and extent of each individual’s rights, specifically labor rights, whether I am buying produce from a local family farm or am buying food at a mega supermarket chain.

My emotions at the office are more dichotomous.  On the one hand, I spend my time at work researching abhorrent topics such as child labor and human trafficking in an attempt to eventually contribute to the eradication of those human rights abuses. Read the 2016 Trafficking Report here

On the other hand, the people who surround me at Verité are not simply co-workers; rather, they are a community of people who provide one another with support—whether it is career-based or emotional.  I am incredibly thankful to be surrounded by such genuinely good and caring people, who not only push me to learn new skills and information, but who also take the time to sit down with me and hash out any questions I may have.

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The Main Conference Room

I have found both similarities and differences in the world of work in comparison to university and academic life. The main similarity is that research plays a major part in both settings. However, in a university setting, the research goes into some kind of project or paper, which is demonstrative of my academic capabilities and displays what I have learned. In the world of work, my research is for other people. Rather than hoping to get a good grade, I am instead striving to help others. The effects of this research are more immediately impactful. When at school, if I lose focus or procrastinate, it is generally only myself who is affected by it. If I poorly managed my time at my internship, I would be guilty of negatively affecting many. At Verité, each individual comes together to form a community. We work together on projects and ideas, so losing focus is not an option if one wants to keep up. (Check out Verité’s monthly newsletter!)

My time at Verité has allowed me to expand my skillset. This internship has been my first office job, so spending all my time at a computer has been an adjustment. Prior to Verité, I often had trouble managing multiple projects and tasks, and would become overwhelmed. However working in an office has taught me effective ways to organize myself and manage my time. While working in an office is not necessarily what I want to do in the future, it has been an important and valuable experience.

Georgia Nichols, ’18

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.

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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.

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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

A Brandeisian Takes on AJWS

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This is me on my first day!

I have just completed my first week at American World Jewish Service (AJWS) in NYC, and I am overcome with excitement for the rest of my time at this incredible organization. Thanks to WOW, I have the opportunity to intern at AJWS as a Donor Engagement Intern in the development division. AJWS is the only Jewish organization dedicated solely to ending poverty and promoting human rights in the developing world. Highlights of AJWS’ work includes campaigning to stop the Darfur genocide, fighting global hunger, responding to the Ebola epidemic in Liberia and the earthquake in Nepal, and working to end violence against women, girls, and LGBT people worldwide. Here is a link to the organization’s website for more information. Feel free to browse around!

Highlights from my week:

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Stephen McGill and me!

 

Walking in on my first day, I was nervous but excited and up for any tasks. However, I was happy to discover that at AJWS interns are not asked to get coffee and do photocopying. Currently, there are only two people working in Donor Engagement, so I was right away thrust into real work. I have been responsible for finalizing details for an upcoming Study Tour Trip to Guatemala, and beginning the prep work for another Study Tour Trip to Uganda. Study Tours are designed to provide major donors a first-hand look at the impact their dollars are making. When I first heard about Study Tours, I had a lot of critical thoughts and hoped that AJWS is not taking their wealthy donors to intrude into impoverished and oppressed communities in order to evoke more sympathy for the purpose of receiving larger donations. To my relief, I learned that donors visit AJWS’ grantees, local organizations which are funded by AJWS. Therefore, study tours are an important initiative to inspire donors to continue to give to AJWS causes.

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to help my supervisor prepare for an event where AJWS’ incoming president, Robert Bank was in conversation with Frank Bruni, the New York Times first openly gay op-ed columnist. It was great to hear Bruni speak about his journey. Here is a link to AJWS’ facebook page for pictures from the event.

Lastly, on Friday I had the opportunity to meet and hear Stephen McGill speak. McGill is the director of Stop AIDS in Liberia (SAIL), an AJWS partner organization. McGill is in New York this week to join United Nations delegates and civil society representatives from around the world for the 2016 United Nations High-Level Meeting to End AIDS. He along with many others is fighting to end the systemic exclusion of marginalized communities including transgender people, sex workers, gay and bisexual men, drug users, migrants and prisoners from this conversation and movement.

Looking Forward:

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This is my cubicle!

I am very excited to continue with organizing Study Tours, helping with a marathon fundraising event, and continuing to learn how to use Raiser’s Edge, which is a database widely used by nonprofits for compiling lists of donors and their information. My other projects will include creating an organized system that will, for example, have information about different venues and caterers that the Donor Engagement department can utilize to efficiently plan different types of fundraising events. In addition, I will be working with the communications department to brainstorm a template and write newsletters on the Study Tours.

My goal is to soak up all aspects of this organization’s work. I want to leave with a comprehensive understanding of the inner workings of a nonprofit organization. This includes learning both the positives and the negatives. I want to look into the difficulties that each department and the organization as a whole faces. I believe I joined the organization at an interesting time because the vice president of AJWS, Robert Bank, will be stepping into the role of president on July 1st. I am excited to observe and learn a lot from this transitional period. Attending and participating in meetings has already given me a perspective on the constant need for compromise when each department has a different vision and opinion of how something should be done. I plan to meet with members of the different departments that I am interested in to gain their perspectives on the organization, their contributions, and their journey. I am especially interested in meeting with members of the communication and media department because I am intrigued by how nonprofit organizations present issues and discuss the narratives of impoverished individuals. I want to investigate more empowering ways rather than dehumanizing or exploitative, to present these types of narratives.

Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for my second post!

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

 

Concluding at the New England Innocence Project

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        Suffolk University Law School             Our New Home is on the top floor!

After almost exactly seven months, Thursday, August 13rd concluded my tenure as intake intern and case assistant at the New England Innocence Project. The end of my internship signified a new chapter in not only my life, but in the history of the New England Innocence Project, as the organization moved into its new home at Suffolk University Law School. While leaving NEIP was difficult to say the least, I left having knowing that my experience with the organization was nothing short of life changing. I started as an intern back in January hoping to gain a greater appreciation of the law, while achieving a better understanding of what life is like working for a non-profit. What I received from NEIP was extensive knowledge of the legal profession, invaluable experience communicating with attorneys and clients, and a new direction for my future endeavors.

My lovely coworkers: Nick, Jamie, Angela, Catherine, and Eric.
My lovely coworkers: Nick, Jamie, Angela, Catherine, and Eric.

Entering my summer with NEIP, my goals were three pronged: 1) gain a more robust understanding of the criminal justice system; 2) acquire some of the required skills of an attorney; and 3) positively impact those who have witnessed the pain of wrongful convictions. By and large, I can honestly say that I have achieved my goals.

In an academic sense, I have learned a significant deal about the criminal justice system on the local, and national level primarily through the reading of trial transcripts, and working with trial and appellate attorneys on the state and federal level.

In a professional sense, while my goal of learning the necessary skills to be an effective attorney was lofty, I do believe I made progress towards that goal. Through NEIP, I learned how to more effective communicator by discussing legal matters with clients, co-workers, and attorneys on a daily basis. Additionally, I was given the chance to engage in legal writing, working on “Post-CRC” Memos that concisely summarize an applicant’s case in order for the organization to determine whether NEIP should choose to represent them. While I would’ve liked to receive further experience in legal writing, the nature of the NEIP organizational structure primarily delegated that task to the legal interns. Nonetheless, I can confidently say that as an intake intern, I received a unique opportunity to learn and grow from a legal environment that few others get the chance to be immersed in at such an early stage in my professional career.

Lastly, in a personal sense, I have provided support and consolation to those who have witnessed immense pain at the hands of wrongful convictions. I have worked with inmates and their families to guide them through our case process and ensure them that as an organization we are there for them. The gratitude that I have received from inmates –many of whom have wrongfully spent decades behind bars—has brought me satisfaction that has been thus far unparalleled in my life, and in turn, I am incredibly proud of the work I have done at NEIP.

As I turn towards the future, NEIP has undoubtedly solidified my interest in the law. While I entered this summer certain of a passion for legal advocacy, and a potential career in public interest law, NEIP has directed me towards an interest in criminal law, in particular, defending individuals without the means to appoint sufficient legal representation. Witnessing the plight of low-income individuals that often culminates in legal troubles has instilled within me a passion for aiding those of less fortunate means. While I may be uncertain as to where I may turn with the legal profession, I am now convinced that law is the proper path for me.

For any student looking to understand the dynamics of the criminal justice system, NEIP would make a great internship for you. At NEIP, interns get the opportunity to form connections with inmates, attorneys, and police departments, working in conjunction to remediate the inadequacies of the criminal justice system. At NEIP, real progress is not an abstract goal, but a tangible thing that can be measured. For those passionate about assisting the least fortunate members of our society, while ensuring that every individual is treated fairly under the law, NEIP would be an incredible organization to work for.

 

Daniel Jacobson ’16

Completion of Internship at AIDS Action Committee

During my eight weeks at AIDS Action Committee (AAC), I was able to learn and grow immensely from my interactions with coworkers and our clients. I am proud to say that at AAC I was able to meet all of my learning goals that I defined at the beginning of my internship. An academic goal that I had was to be able to use information that I had learned in my public health classes to further examine the health disparities that clients at AAC faced. Through the “Getting to Zero” training series that AAC facilitated, I was able to learn more about the root causes of HIV/AIDS not only through a scientific model, but also through a public health lens that focused on social, psychological, political, and economical perspectives of the disease.

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Artwork in AAC’s entrance lobby

A personal goal I had was to learn more about real estate and the housing market. Learning the housing search terminology and the procedures for obtaining property information was the most challenging, but also the most rewarding part of my internship. Towards the end of my internship, I worked on a draft for a “Housing Search Guide” that would be able to help guide future interns and employees in AAC’s housing program. Creating this guide was a rewarding experience because I had the chance to collaborate with my coworkers to create something that would benefit future AAC employees: people who all share the common goal of being social justice advocates for those living with HIV/AIDS. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to work in the housing department, as I was able to see first-hand how large the need is for access to safe and affordable housing and how acquiring this housing can drastically improve quality of life, especially for those who are sick.

Additionally, a career goal I had was to learn how to best educate and advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses. Attending the “Getting to Zero” training and helping to facilitate housing search groups provided insight on some of the most pertinent needs of AAC’s clients. One video that I watched during the training was HIV: The Goal of Undetectable, which highlighted the mechanism of how HIV acts in the body and helped me better understand how HIV treatment works. The videos and brochures presented to us during trainings were informative, engaging, and simplified enough for people of various educational backgrounds to understand. For additional information on HIV/AIDS that I used as part of my trainings, click here.

Brochure from one of the "Getting to Zero" trainings on Young Adults and HIV/AIDS.
Brochure from one of the “Getting to Zero” trainings on Young Adults and HIV/AIDS.

Working at AAC helped me to clarify my career goals, as I was able to see a wide range of services that AAC provides. Though I worked at AAC’s Boston site, I had the chance to visit Youth on Fire, which is AAC’s program in Cambridge that helps homeless youth, and I also worked at AAC’s Cambridge site in Central Square, where I got to visit the Needle Exchange Program that focuses on harm reduction for intravenous drug users. By seeing such a wide range of services and being able to engage and relate to such diverse groups of people, I relieved that my interests in public health are indeed very broad. The one commonality between my experiences is that I learned that advocacy is a field that I am definitely interested in gaining more work experience in, and that I want to pursue further opportunities in HIV/AIDS and public health.

 

One bit of advice I would give to a student interested in interning at AAC is to take advantage of the wide range of services provided here and try to experience different parts of the organization even if they are outside of the department that you are working in. This was crucial for me, and as a result, I was able to network with a wider range of people who still shared so many common interests with me. Another piece of advice would be to keep an open mind. I had a few misconceptions about HIV/AIDS and harm reduction at the start of my internship and some of the educational outlets that AAC provided me with were able to shift my understanding of different concepts and allowed me to view topics such as HIV/AIDS treatment, sexuality and contraception, drug use, and other harm reduction topics in a new light. I encourage students interested in learning more about HIV/AIDS to use internships as an educational tool by and taking advantage of hands-on opportunities to learn from diverse groups of people.

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Picture in AIDS Action Committee hallway.

 

Ngobitak Ndiwane, ’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