Saying Goodbye to AJWS

It’s hard to believe that my time at AJWS has already come to a close. I am sad to be leaving such an incredible organization with inspiring and dedicated people, but I am excited about the insights I have gained this summer.  I feel that I have come closer to meeting my learning goals than I ever could have imagined. In part, this is because working at the organization was a very well rounded learning experience. What I am taking away from this summer at AJWS is more than just the ability to complete tasks, or improved research and database skills. I learned something extremely valuable about the culture of an effective organization.

At the beginning of the summer, my main goal was to learn about the operations of a nonprofit; the diverse roles played by individuals and teams and the strategy behind methods of social change. While no individual task or accomplishment could teach me this, I was lucky to have the opportunity to work with two different teams: Donor Engagement and Major Gifts..  This gave me insight into what the two divisions needed on a basic level to do their work. My research provided background information on where to host events, who to contact, which organizations to potentially partner with, and what kinds of events other organizations are hosting.  In completing these assignments, I learned about the strategy behind event planning and fundraising, as well as the kinds of information needed to make these decisions.

Another one of my learning goals was to be able to talk about AJWS’s work in a persuasive way. My work in Development and Alumni Relations at Brandeis (through Phonathon) has provided me with the opportunity to discuss my college experience with diverse alumni, and to hear their stories as well. Part of what excited me about working in development at AJWS was that I could learn the vocabulary to discuss the organization’s work in a similarly persuasive way. A few of my tasks and accomplishments helped me to do this. First, I read through countless publications to organize issue packets for donors. This familiarized me with the language used to talk about different issues and the work being done in various countries. I also worked to draft a publication on disaster relief, which allowed to employ some of the language I’d learned, using the style guide and AJWS branding to guide my writing. I also wrote blurbs about the Study Tour program for the AJWS website, which provided me a similar opportunity. All of these experiences gave me the tools to sound credible and educated about AJWS’s mission and work, which culminated in the opportunity to make thank you calls to donors! This was nerve wracking and exciting, and I felt confident that I met my goal.

I am excited to build on this experience back at Brandeis. My work at Phonathon is a different kind of development, but listening to people at AJWS talk about their relationships with donors, fundraising strategies and experiences will stay with me and lead a better understanding and purpose in my work.  Additionally, this new outlook will stay with me in my job search this coming year. I know that I will definitely be in touch with AJWS in some capacity- I have truly fallen in love with their mission and work, and would be honored to volunteer, travel, or work for them again in my future. The advice I would give to a student interested in interning at AJWS is to take advantage of the connections available to them. It is so important to make the most of every day working there. The staff is well educated, diverse, and passionate about any number of different things, and they are so willing to impart wisdom onto young people. I am truly thankful for the meetings I’ve had with people I didn’t even work with, because it provided me with important perspective on career choices, educational choices, and even life choices. Another piece of advice that certainly goes for AJWS, but is also relevant for other nonprofits is to try to go above and beyond. It might be hard as an intern, but I found that it was stimulating and exciting for me to do more than was asked of me. It was not necessary for me to draft a publication this summer, but I really wanted to try it out. Whenever I felt that my work was going slowly or dragging on, I asked for more. These are easy ways to get the most out of your time at an organization and really enjoy the experience.

As I mentioned in my mid-way blog post, my work in Development at AJWS has ignited my interest in communications. My next step is to look into the ways that social justice and nonprofit work intertwine with the communications field. I understand development as a certain type of communication, with a very specific purpose. I am excited about the prospect of learning about new kinds of communication that can raise awareness about important issues, raise money, and frame discussions to be productive. In my job search, I will certainly be looking into firms and organizations for positions that combine these interests. My summer in development has provided me a window into what it means to communicate effectively, and I’d love to develop that even further.

Above all, my time at AJWS has educated me even more about why my ideals of social justice hold true. I deeply believe in equality, human rights, and a moral obligation to help those less fortunate. AJWS voices these concerns with a grounding in Jewish texts, but also with common sense. The culture of the organization has reinforced my idea of making change from the ground up, respecting communities and the knowledge they have about their circumstances, and using that as a catalyst for change. Because of my experiences at AJWS, I am a better listener, a more efficient worker, a more dedicated citizen, and most importantly, a more passionate and inspired change agent. If nothing else, that will stay with me.

Tweeting for Social Change: My First Weeks at American Jewish World Service

I remember first hearing about American Jewish World Service (AJWS) when I was fourteen years old and participating in a philanthropy project at my local Jewish Community Center. The organization’s mission and the way it uses Jewish values to inspire Jewish communities to help marginalized people across the globe deeply resonated with me. As I aged and discovered my passion for human rights work and international development, I never forgot about one of the first organizations to inspire me. Therefore, I truly see it as a privilege to be an intern in American Jewish World Service’s communications department this summer.

AJWS’s mission is: “Inspired by Judaism’s commitment to justice, American Jewish World Service works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.”  Through service projects, educational programs, advocacy, and grants to grassroots partners in the developing world, AJWS works to empower marginalized peoples across the globe and pursue justice.

On the opening day of the Rio +20 conference, 300 indigenous people occupied the dam to spell “Pare Belo Monte,” meaning “Stop Belo Monte”. The Belo Monte Dam, which will be the third biggest in the world, will flood their homelands and destroy wildlife. By posting this on Facebook, I help share their work.

I am fortunate to not only be a WOW intern but to have gotten my internship directly through Hiatt. AJWS partners with Brandeis every year to offer placement for one WOW intern. This year, it was me! I wanted to apply for an internship with AJWS for a while and was thrilled to learn that there was an expedited process for Brandeis students. It’s an amazing opportunity!

AJWS has fourteen total interns this summer. I am the lone intern in the communications department. My responsibilities include content development for the blog, social media work, media monitoring, and video making. Although I am not directly furthering AJWS’ mission, I hope that through the writing and social media work I do this summer I can leave even a small contribution to an incredible cause.

These sunflower seeds were delivered to Capitol Hill and the White House to represent the 18,000 people who signed the Jewish Petition for a Just Farm Bill. During the delivery, I shared our success through social media.

I see this internship as a unique opportunity to combine my academic passions – global human rights and peace-building – with the writing and social media skills I gained through my extracurricular work. I hope to improve my writing skills, and particularly want to learn how to craft my tone for different audiences. In addition, I am eager to learn about effective outreach and audience retention. I also hope to see how the different components of nonprofit work interact in order to help a larger cause. I am most nervous about working from nine to five and sitting behind a desk all day.  I am excited to experience working in a nonprofit, particularly since it will allow me to discover if this is a good route for me when I graduate Brandeis next spring.

After my first two weeks, I still am growing into my role in the communications department and establishing a routine. I spend the bulk of my day managing the Facebook page, generating content, and researching articles on current events related to AJWS’ work. Unlike other college students, when on Facebook or Twitter, I am not procrastinating, but doing my job! The most meaningful project I have worked on so far was interviewing and recording an event with a leader of one of AJWS’ partners in India. His stories were incredibly moving and displayed the profound struggles, beauty, and potential in India.

Often times, when I am compiling spreadsheets and writing Facebook statues or tweets, it is hard to remember the “why” behind my daily tasks and feel motivated by my work. However, after hearing from about our partner in India’s work firsthand and realizing that I can use my voice to share his stories, I remembered why what I do is of value and how it contributes to the bigger picture. As my internship continues, I aspire to remember to always work with intention and complete awareness of my global partners in the universal struggle for justice.

– Erica Shaps ’13