I am just about halfway done with my internship and it has definitely been a whirlwind. Some days are slow and I spend my time updating the database, researching housing resources, stuffing donation letters and other basic office activities. Other days I am very busy meeting with clients who come in to ask questions, look for housing or fill out applications. My learning goals for this summer were quite basic: I wanted to learn about the functions of a community based non-profit and develop organizing skills that allow me to serve the needs of community. On a level more applicable to my every day duties at my internship, my goal was to research and learn enough about Massachusetts housing law and the community needs of the people of Waltham in order to serve and assists clients as best as I possibly can. What I have learned and accomplished in those terms can be displayed by a variety of small indicators; like how now when a client who was served a Notice To Quit comes in with questions I can confidently explain the process to them without having to look up the eviction timeline in our resources. Or how it no longer takes me an hour to pre-read a Section 8 application before I feel okay starting to fill it out for a client. I have been viewing each client who walks through the door as a new challenge. Each one poses a challenge for me to help alleviate their housing issues at least a little. So the summer has truly been filled with challenges.
I have kept a tally sheet next to my desk and have tried to keep track of the number of clients who have come into or contacted the clinic for assistance. The numbers read 24 walk-ins, 12 phone calls and 2 emails.
Some of those are clients who dropped by with a quick question or were looking for a local resource, and others are clients who have come in repeatedly. That is a pretty good number of clients I’ve worked with. What I am even more proud of, however, are the communication skills I’ve gained through working with so many people. Many clients who come in speak little English, but their needs are every bit as large. Sometimes, I have an interpreter with me, but other times it’s just me and my minimal Spanish skills there to communicate and help solve some of their housing issues. On an anecdotal note, I’ve had one older, disabled man named ****** come in two or three times to get help filling out a variety of housing applications due to his limited English ability. He has spent probably a total of 4 hours working with me in my office and we have filled out five different applications and chatted a great deal. After the second time he came in and spent about an hour and a half going over the applications with me, a fellow intern who works in the office next door came in to my office and noted how ****** was here for about 2 hours and she did not understand a word he said to me the entire time, and yet I continued to respond without any hesitation or question. I hadn’t really noticed until she pointed it out, but between his broken English and my sad excuse of Spanish, we had created a vocabulary in order to communicate and form a dialogue. And, somehow we understood each other perfectly. It is overcoming language barriers such as this that I am most proud of during my internship experience, and I think it is these skills that will resonate most as I continue my career at Brandeis and forge into my future career, whatever that may be.
– Molly Lortie ’13