(3) The Value of Experience

There is no better teacher than experience. Being an intern allows you to gain work experience and helps you to understand the inner workings of a field. Even when the internship doesn’t live up to your expectations, it still provides a valuable learning opportunity. While interning at Someone Cares Atlanta, I learned many important lessons, although they were not necessarily the lessons that I wanted to learn when I started my internship this summer. 

When I applied to intern, I was interested in doing outreach work with people who have been exposed to or have contracted HIV. Unfortunately, I was not able to do this during my time at Someone Cares. Instead, I worked primarily with clients participating in the Intensive Outpatient Substance Abuse program (IOP). This provided me the opportunity to learn about how intensive outpatient programs were run and operated. I was able to look into the lives of people recovering from substances and understand them better. I also learned about the link between substance abuse and mental health and how mental illness can be a co-morbidity for addiction. Many people turn to substance abuse due to untreated mental illness. This emphasized to me the importance of making sure everyone has access to mental health services.

During my time at Someone Cares, I also learned the importance of clear communication. Unfortunately, my internship was sometimes hampered by the failure to communicate important information and general disorganization. For example, I arranged for the first day of my internship to be June 6; however, when I arrived they were unsure of who I was or what to do with me for almost an hour. Problems like this persisted throughout my internship experience, many of which could have been avoided through communication from management. I believe one solution would have been allowing me to have access to general communication channels for my department so I could stay in the loop.

Despite some of the setbacks, I believe I was able to have a positive impact during my internship. I assisted with the intensive outpatient program group and provided consistency for clients since I was the only person who was in the office every day. I also helped to lessen the load placed on case managers by doing administrative tasks and data entry. Overall, I was able to improve the quality of life for both employees and clients.

One thing I wish I understood back when I started my internship is the importance of knowing what you want to get out of an internship and being able to advocate for it. This is especially important when you’re not participating in an established internship program. If there is a particular experience that you are looking forward to getting during your internship, you should let your supervisor know. Being an intern is about gaining experience and opportunities for growth. It is important to take an active role in your internship experience.

For someone looking to find an internship, I would recommend interning with an organization with an established program or an organization that is willing to work with and support you as an intern. If you’re not participating in a program, I would meet beforehand to establish an itinerary for the internship. Overall, I believe it’s beneficial for someone interested in social justice to do an internship. The work is not easy and the world of nonprofits can be a little disorganized, but the opportunity to have an impact on even one person’s life is why I came to Brandeis.

(2) The Importance of Understanding

One of the most important things I’ve learned at Brandeis is understanding. Understanding is the ability to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. It’s the ability to put aside superficial differences and see another point of view. At Brandeis, I interact with many people from different walks of life. To succeed, you have to be able to communicate with diverse groups of people and be able to see the world from their perspective to gain a better understanding of where they are coming from. When someone disagrees with you or shuts down, it can be easy to respond with anger or become frustrated, but sometimes it’s best to step back and reorient yourself by looking at the situation from the other person’s perspective. By doing that, it is possible to find common ground and move towards agreement.

In order to move toward a caring and harmonious society, we have to be able to understand one another and practice kindness and compassion. This is why understanding is something that I always have in mind when approaching my work with Someone Cares. As a case management intern, I interact with clients from many different walks of life. Most clients I work with come from backgrounds that are very different than mine. Often they come from extreme poverty, have debilitating mental health issues, or were introduced to street drugs at a very young age. I have to be able to understand them to help them reach the goals they set for themselves regarding their recovery. 

Someone Cares Atlanta is built on empathy and understanding. It was created to serve populations who have trouble accessing essential resources, including clients who are queer, trans, HIV positive, homeless, sex workers, and/or struggle with substance abuse issues. Many of these population groups have stigmas attached, which can make it hard for them to receive the services and help they need in a compassionate and understanding environment. Someone Cares staff members take time to understand how their client’s background affects them, while also recognizing their individuality. Working and learning in this environment has enabled me to use the patience and understanding that I developed as a Brandeis student. 

Many clients I interact with are in substance abuse therapy and sometimes need assistance with tasks that seem simple to me. For example, many clients struggle with technology literacy and need help with signing into their Gmail or figuring out how to make video calls. This requires me to be patient and understand that not everyone has the same level of familiarity as I do with technology. This also applies to important things like helping them access food or housing. Some clients just need to be assisted in looking for resources and are self-sufficient once pointed in the right direction, while others need you to sit with them and walk through the whole process. My experience at Someone Cares has made me better equipped to recognize and respect the differences in people.

(1) Getting back on track with Someone Cares Atlanta

This summer I am working as a case management intern at Someone Cares Atlanta. Someone Cares is a nonprofit that works primarily with people who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community and heterosexual people who are a part of high-risk groups for HIV. Someone Cares offers a variety of different services including HIV/STD testing, primary care services, and behavioral health treatment. The majority are clients are HIV positive, sex workers, and/or houseless. These populations often have trouble accessing health care and other important services. Someone Cares provides these kinds of services to help people get back on their feet and to look out for people who have nowhere else to turn.

As a case management intern, my job is to listen to clients and assist them in connecting with the different services. Many of the clients I interact with struggle with substance abuse and are low-income or no income. They often need assistance finding housing, healthcare, and employment. Depending on the client, this could just mean providing them with the phone number and address of the resource they would like to get connected with. Other times, you have to be on the phone with them or help them complete an application because they might have trouble using technology. Many of our clients do not have a readily available source of transportation, so sometimes it is also necessary for a case manager to set up transportation for them through Someone Cares or by providing them with a MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) card so they get there themselves.

The Someone Cares table at Atlanta Metropolitan State College

One of the other responsibilities of a case management intern is shadowing the IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) group that meets three days a week. This group is for clients dealing with substance abuse issues who need more support to develop positive mental coping mechanisms and substance abuse recovery skills. The session is run by a therapist or therapy intern. Clients often have questions about primary care and other services, which is why it is necessary to have a case management intern. We also occasionally do outreach events in the community to help promote our different services. For example, we went to Atlanta Metropolitan State College to do a tabled event along with other organizations. 

The mission of Someone Cares is to help people who are HIV positive, houseless, or struggling with substance abuse access resources and services necessary to their survival; my role in achieving this mission is to help where I am needed. Every individual I assist in accessing food, housing, and/or healthcare puts Someone Cares one step closer to fulfilling its mission. Success can be seeing how far the clients have come since they started the program. Often clients come in houseless without any identification, access to food, or employment. Being able to see clients obtain these things during the duration of the program is the most noticeable measure of progress. This also helps complete Someone Cares’s secondary objective of creating a welcoming and caring environment for people who may have nowhere else to turn.