The first several weeks of my internship at Boston’s St. Francis House have flown by, and in this short period of time I have learned volumes about homelessness and the criminal justice system. Going into the internship, I was hoping to connect classroom learning about social justice issues to a work setting. Now that I am several weeks into my internship, I feel that I have connected my past knowledge to a “real world” setting, but what I underestimated was the amount to which seeing issues play out in people’s lives would be a form of education for me. My background knowledge has simply been a jumping off point for me to continually explore how individuals experience homelessness and how their experiences are related to a variety of policies. The experiences at my internship have demonstrated the complexities of social justice issues in ways that classroom learning could not have fully conveyed; meeting with individuals who have experienced homelessness and, often times, incarceration and hearing their stories is endlessly informative regarding social policy questions.
This summer I hoped to gain greater direction in my own life in regards to career interests and understanding what skills I possess that could be useful for the workplace. While I am still unsure of what career path might be the best option for me, I have learned that I enjoy working with people and particularly hearing their stories. As a result, I might pursue a field such as counseling or social work, or at least find work that incorporates interaction with people in some capacity. While I enjoy working with people, I also have gained a deeper understanding of policy changes that could greatly impact individuals. Later in the summer I will have an opportunity to take action regarding specific policies through work with the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition, so this work should help me discover if activism surrounding policy change is the direction I wish to take in the future.
Conducting a great deal of research at my internship has honed my research skills and grant-seeking skills, which could be applicable to a wide range of non-profit work that I may pursue in the future. My interpersonal skills have also improved this summer; observing my supervisor and counselors interact with St. Francis House guests has enhanced my ability to communicate with and assist populations that I previously had no experience working with. I am proud of my ability to actively listen to others and affirm their experiences while also keeping in mind what guidance they might need. Many of the guests we serve simply need someone to talk to, and I feel that one of my most important roles this summer has been to be a source of support through listening and engaging with people. This could be invaluable experience for any kind of future work I might do, whether it be directly counseling people or simply communicating with others in the workplace.
I have also learned about what it takes to start and run a social enterprise. The bag-making business that I am assisting my supervisor with entails attention to a wide variety of details and logistics. The work takes brainstorming to come up with ideas, and then a great deal of networking, paperwork, meetings, and planning to execute the ins and outs of a business. I have never had exposure to the business world and what it takes to produce, market, and sell a product, so this experience has been eye-opening for me. Here is a photo of what our bag workshop looks like, a workshop that only came together after much planning.
In future weeks I imagine that I will expand upon the skills I am developing and gain more clarity on what careers might be of interest to me in the future. With several weeks left I look forward to working with people and working on policy change, as well as observing the various services and programs contained within St. Francis House.
– Sarah Schneider ’13