My summer internship presented me with several important goals: to get familiarized with the work of a non-profit organization, and to get involved with community organizing while developing better communication and decision-making skills. During my internship, I worked on various projects with each full-time staff member at the office. My assigned duties included sending out fundraising mailings, updating resources, supervising the housing clinic, participating in staff meetings, organizing and leading a tenant action meeting, and providing English tutoring to the Spanish speaking community. These projects allowed me to gain a wider perspective on the overall workings of the organization. One of the more successful projects this summer was the Tenant Action Group meeting, which had a great turnover of participants. During this meeting, we were able to interact with the community here in Waltham on a much more personal level and gain a deeper understanding of their personal struggles and concerns with regards to housing. It is important to remember that the organization was created for the community, and as such, should continuously strive to understand the exact needs of the community.
As a continuation of my summer experience, I am taking an internship class that will allow me to reflect on my summer internship and understand what types of things interest and engage me, and what kind of working environment could best fit me. This fall, I am also continuing volunteer work as the Housing Clinic’s supervisor. Finally, I will be working at WATCH on various projects such as their 25th anniversary gala, WATCH publicity and marketing, “Barnraisings,” and English tutoring.
Seeing a more personal side of the community and working at a small non-profit gave me a unique insight on poverty, immigration, and discrimination as viewed through the lens of housing law and tenant’s rights. In the future, I am interested in getting a different perspective on these issues – perhaps from the point of view of the legal profession or politics regarding the policy-making side of the issue. After meeting with numerous people affected by the housing law and making use of available government programs (such as Food Stamps, Section 8 Vouchers, SSDI, and RAFT) I can now understand the Waltham community’s perspective on policy making and law enactment.
To students who are interested in this type of work, I would suggest the following: first, familiarize yourself with the resources and laws around the niche of your non-profit. Additionally, work with the full-time staff to enhance your knowledge. Learning an ample amount of completely new material might be hard and takes a long time to achieve, so patience is crucial at the start of the internship. Also, in a lot of instances, I had to work independently on my own projects, setting my own goals and schedule. Being open minded and able to work independently is therefore important. Lastly, advocates that assist people should develop great communication skills and patience when dealing with real-life cases. Eventually, our entire work depends on a better-informed, organized, and assisted community, so the advocates’ job is crucial in conferring the information and aiding in difficult situations.
As an intern at WATCH, my social justice views were challenged daily. At each case, I had to recognize and evaluate whether the person who I am trying to help actually has a bad landlord (or actually suffers from poverty). In a number of instances, I noticed that people were not one hundred percent genuine; nevertheless, it is key to try to help everyone without judging them. On the other hand, I have seen very difficult cases of social injustice, discrimination, unsanitary housing conditions, harassment, and/or structural violence. I believe that the social justice value and perspective are correct and should be implemented widely – I have seen firsthand how people that manage to get help are able to improve their situation and live a better life; however, non-profit workers, advocates, lawyers, and politicians should bear in mind that every story has two sides, and keep a critical mind while trying to determine their response and course of action. Keeping the right perspective is what it takes to be an effective “change agent.”
I want to thank all the staff at WATCH, and especially Daria, WATCH executive director, for a fun and fulfilling summer!
– Shimon Mazor ‘16