Summing Up My Internship Experience

The Americares building is located next to railroad tracks, so you can always hear the occasional train passing by!

It is funny to think about my internship experience at Americares as if it is in the past, but I know that I will be at the organization for another four or five weeks before it is truly time to say goodbye. As far as impact I’ve had on the organization, well, only time will tell. As of now, my finished projects or assignments have come in the form of presentations and the creation and implementation of intern activities. Although these activities have been useful and enjoyable, some of the larger impacts my work will have on the organization are still in the project stages. For example, one of my more major assignments is to work on an updated employee handbook. It is still in the works, but is definitely in progress. I am excited to see what the end result will look like, and hopefully I will have a chance to do so by the end of my internship.

When I started my internship, I wish I had known the level of independence I would be offered in this role as well as all the amazing people I would be meeting. I wouldn’t want either of these things to change, but I feel like knowing what I know now, I would have appreciated these offerings even more. What was most surprising to me is how open and available the CEO is to anything the interns may need. For example, several of us were working on a group project at an open work table where the CEO needed to be. Rather than make us move and find a new workspace, he generously offered up his office! Not only did he offer up his office, but he also said to feel free to poke around in there as he has a lot of interesting artifacts. He is incredibly responsive and open regarding his personal experiences and how they relate to the mission of Americares. Although the CEO is at the forefront of the organization, there were tons of other unique people that I have had the pleasure of meeting through this internship experience.

The other interns reaped the benefits of my interest in baking one night. I brought in these cupcakes for a Professional Development Series.

The advice I can offer for someone interested in pursuing human resources is to be diligent in looking for an internship or a job. Although human resources is a normal business function, it is harder to find open positions than marketing or finance, likely because you are handling confidential information. For someone pursuing an internship or career in nonprofits or health in general, I would say to be open to any experience and take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way! With regards to an organization like Americares, many of the departments offered do not align with a typical college major, such as marketing or economics. This means that in order to discover these departments and see if they might interest you, you have to express an interest or apply directly for a job or internship in that department. Even if you do have a position within the organization, always explore and be open to change because you never know what you might find.

Us and Them: We’re Not So Different

A painting of the founders of Americares you see when you walk in the front door each day.

Out of all of the classes I’ve taken at Brandeis, American Health Care was by far my favorite. The course stuck with me for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the class taught me about a system that I am a part of already and will become an even bigger part of once I turn twenty-six and must buy my own health insurance as stated in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The other major reason for my praise of this course is that it made me appreciate the complexities of our current health care system while also emphasizing that there is still so much to learn about how it functions.

When it comes to passing any type of major health care legislation, numerous stakeholders are involved in the process. These include the House and Senate to pass the legislation, but also the American Medical Association, the insurance industry, pharmaceutical companies, and the American citizens themselves. It is extremely difficult to pass any type of health care legislation with all of these parties involved. That is the biggest lesson I took away from my American Health Care course, helping to enhance my views of Americares as an organization and the tremendous work that they do.

Entering the office at Americares is like entering another world; every cubicle is decorated with unique, colorful artifacts that exemplify Americares work in those countries or health sectors.

The American Heath Care course taken at Brandeis also taught me about the issues many people, both domestically and internationally, face when it comes to having access to care. Many times, some of the problems faced in the United States are regarded as “first-world problems,” meaning that they are not relatable to developing countries who have other concerns plaguing their thoughts. Not having access to quality care remains a problem both for citizens in developed countries such as the United States and in developing countries such as Liberia. Strangely enough, although this is a dilemma that we’d like to see improved on in the form of increased access to needed care, it becomes a situation that people from all over the world can bond over.

This bond is something that informs my work at Americares. It promotes the understanding that even though we may live in different countries, our problems are not so different. We may have more resources to cope with disasters or disease epidemics, but without these resources, we would be in the same position, needing humanitarian aid and hoping that someone would come to our rescue. This type of thinking has made me work even harder on the employee handbook and all related materials geared towards enhancing employee experience because of the inspiring efforts made towards those in need. If our nation is in trouble, we would likely expect the same type of efforts to be made if possible. Keeping that in mind, my job this summer is to protect the wellbeing of the Americares staff so that they may continue these efforts that are so relatable and applicable to our everyday lives. After all, employees cannot do their job efficiently if they are concerned about company policies in outdated documents.

Americares: Expectations vs. Reality

After six weeks of being at Americares, I can easily see that my expectations for the internship initially were exceeded by the actual role I have in the organization. I expected the role to be somewhat similar to my previous internship. I thought I would be researching on the computer for ten weeks with some interaction with the other interns and few meetings. I was wrong, and I am so glad I was wrong. My role has included communicating information to the other interns as well as their intern managers, setting up several of the intern events, planning group bonding activities, leading a “Professional Development Series” for the interns, taking the lead on an updated employee handbook, and more. These aspects of my role have taught me how to create fun and informative presentations on sometimes dry topics, identifying key components of employee handbooks, research, and properly communicating to organization employees of all levels.

These are a couple of handmade bowls from an Americares Airlift Benefit from approximately 5 years ago. It’s unclear what country they are from, but they are believed to be from El Salvador.

Another skill I will take away from my experience at Americares is the newfound knowledge I have of the nonprofit world. Although I am definitely not an expert in nonprofits having only been exposed to one, I find that my perceptions of nonprofit organizations has both changed and been enhanced through working at Americares. For example, in the case of Americares, I did not know how important it is to be strategically focused in particular areas. We tend to think of nonprofits as focusing on a very broad topic, such as health, when in reality they must narrow down those focuses to be as effective and efficient as possible. An organization may work in the health sector with a focus on access to medicine because they don’t want to diminish the quality of care by having too wide of a scope of interest. This knowledge of how nonprofits function, acquired through my own experiences as well as research, will make me better equipped in future jobs to comprehend the situations and circumstances that employees I will be working with might have. For that, I have Americares to thank.

These flags were old marketing materials from Americares, now out of date after Americares updated their logo in 2012. Our cubicle has more of these flags placed everywhere!

Most importantly, my role at Americares has allowed me to learn a lot about myself in the workplace. In the initial stages of working on the employee handbook, I found myself analyzing policies from the old handbook and trying to come up with solutions or ways to better approach a given workplace situation. I had a desire and a drive to come up with something new and innovative for the organization, to propel them forward and create a lasting impact. Americares has given me the opportunity to learn more about my problem-solving nature and my desire to create something new and fun, out of the ordinary. Although my suggestions have yet to stick or have turned out to be more complicated than anticipated, I know that someday soon, an idea will stick and my workplace and I will be the beneficiary.

Progress: Spreading the Wealth

Whenever I head upstairs, I pass this quote on the wall and am constantly reminded of why I’m there and what my purpose is.

Every day when I head upstairs to the human resources area of Americares, I am greeted by a saying on the wall stated by the organization’s founder, Bob Macauley: “The fact that you can’t help everybody doesn’t mean that you can’t help somebody. So do whatever little you can—or as much as you can.” To the founder, performing any small good deed is considered helpful, a sign of progress. Bob Macauley may no longer be alive, but his ideals live within the company and are always prominent. Based on this standard, progress could be defined as simply doing a good deed for another, or encouraging others to pay it forward and perform a good deed for someone else. Although the goals of the organization have evolved under the care of Michael Nyenhuis, the CEO of Americares, the ideals of just helping one person better their community and those around them still exists today.

When most people think of Americares and the work it does, they tend to only recognize the organization’s biggest and most well-known program, gift-in-kind donations. The term “gift-in-kind” is a fancy way of describing a gift of anything other than money. However, Americares has broader strategic focuses, including emergency programs, access to medicine, clinical services, and community health.

In the context of these core focuses, progress comes in the form of increased impact. Specifically, this means providing aid to more people, whether it be through utilizing the services provided by the Americares Free Clinics (AFC), responding to humanitarian crises quickly and efficiently, or rebuilding and expanding local health facilities in order to strengthen the health care of the community. An organization like Americares would always like to see the number of people it helps or the number of humanitarian crises they are able to respond to increase, but those who work at the organization know that they have done their job if they were able to make a difference for at least one person.

One view of the medication storeroom from the Americares Free Clinic in Stamford. On the wall, you can just start to see all of the donated medications procured for patients in need.

In order to make Americares programs successful, donations are imperative. Donations are the building block that allow Americares to fund its free clinics or any other programs it decides to initiate. Most specifically, the donors themselves are the keys to success in any of the Americares programs. Through their contributions, the organization is not only able to maintain the success of its current programs but also expand those successes to encompass more people from more geographic locations previously untouched.

Although progress can be initially achieved with increases in donors and donor contributions, it would be impossible without having the strategic focuses previously mentioned. Americares would love to be able to help every person that ever got hurt, injured, or in need of aid, but realizes that the quality of the work performed might be diminished with too wide of a scope of care. Therefore, what makes Americares a great organization is its ability to make progress and successes attainable for anyone lending a hand while also recognizing that quality is just as, if not more important than, quantity.

Disregarding the Red Tape: Americares in Action

A company operating solely to help others in need in the quickest and most efficient way possible is rare. Americares is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and improving the health of people both domestically and internationally. This is primarily done by providing free clinics to those uninsured in Connecticut, setting up mobile health clinics in India and El Salvador, and responding to disasters abroad.

The conference room prior to an all-staff meeting

I am a human resources intern at the Americares headquarters in Stamford, CT. Although I am not on the front lines of reducing disparities, my job is to ensure that fair work policies are in place to aid the employees in their efforts to reduce healthcare inequalities and inequities. Specifically, my tasks include updating their employee handbook, presenting to my fellow interns on topics such as resumes and obstacles in the workplace through the Professional Development Series, and providing support to the Human Resources department. This may entail filing payroll forms and training certifications, providing feedback on the cloud data systems used in the office and how to make them more user-friendly, and communicating to the other interns about networking activities coming soon.

The mission of Americares is to save lives and improve health outcomes for people affected by poverty or disaster so they can reach their full potential. My work directly impacts this mission by providing policies that benefit employees and make their lives easier. For example, it can be very complicated to book flights for Americares employees looking to travel to a foreign country in need of support. If I can help to make traveling as well as other internal corporate affairs easier on the employees, policies will be better understood and employees may be more willing to be a part of the emergency response team. Understanding the employees at Americares and what policies would represent their best interests in the handbook also has the potential to make their work life easier while also increasing motivation, collaboration, and productivity. Therefore, the work I am doing directly impacts the mission of Americares by providing its employees with a positive yet firm structure at home so they can help others abroad.

By the summer’s end, I hope to get an in-depth look at the human resources department and its various functions. Prior to starting this internship, I also had an interest in healthcare and was not sure how to apply it, whether it was by pursuing a career in the field, getting a certification, or using my knowledge of health care for my own personal consumption. I am hoping that, through learning more about the different departments of the organization as well as talking to key stakeholders in the company, I learn more about possible health sectors I could be interested in. Most importantly, by summer’s end, I hope that the work I have contributed to Americares has made a difference in the lives of the employees and the good they are able to do.

Sadie-Rose Apfel