Reports from our Class of 1969 Summer Interns

 

Ashley Funk '16

Environmental Studies

Summer 2016 Intern, Clarksdale Revitalization, Inc and Crossroads Cultural Arts Center

 

 

Making up the northwest section of the state of Mississippi, the Mississippi Delta is a

distinctive, predominantly rural region with a unique racial, cultural, and economic history. These

histories have led to the social and political exclusion of African-American residents, coupled by

decades of African-American resistance through Blues music and the Civil Rights Movement. In

Clarksdale, Mississippi, a town in the northwest Delta, nearly half of African-American residents

experience poverty, even though the town is a center for international tourism because it is

known as the birthplace of the Blues. Specifically in education, limited resources have been put

into improving the public school system--all of the schools are classified as “failing” based on

standardized test score ratings. In addition, nearly 100 percent of students in public schools

receive free or reduced lunch, which is indicative of the poverty students face. To address the

challenges faced by the residents in Clarksdale, local organizations are leading community

development efforts. Since Fall 2015, I have had the opportunity to work with local leaders on a

community development project through Olin College’s Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship

program. This summer, through the support of Wellesley’s Center for Work and Service, I had

the opportunity to return to Clarksdale to continue working with local organizations that are

catalyzing change in their community.

During my first day in Clarksdale, the rain brought along a rainbow, and I opened up the

curtains of my apartment to get a better view. It was then that I watched a man with a shopping

cart dash underneath the cover of a bank drive-through. Within minutes, he went into his

belongings and took out his toothbrush. He stuck it in the rain and started brushing his teeth.

Even though I had visited Clarksdale three times previously, I never truly noticed this

homelessness. Nearly every day, I would walk past the homeless men that spent their days at

the soup kitchen across the street. We would exchange hellos and sometimes get caught up in

conversation. It was experiences like these that were constantly putting my experience in

Clarksdale into perspective and motivating my work.

Through the course of the summer, I spent most of my time working with the local nonprofit

Clarksdale Revitalization, Inc (CRI). More specifically, I worked with my advisor Tim

Lampkin, who grew up in the community and is bringing about meaningful change to improve

Clarksdale. Because Tim has been involved with rural development work for the past decade,

he served as a meaningful mentor to me since I plan to pursue a career in that field.

Working with Tim, my primary responsibility was to organize the Downtown Clarksdale

Farmers market every week. More specifically, I worked to make the market more accessible for

all people in Clarksdale. Nearly 40 percent of people in Clarksdale receive SNAP benefits, so it

is imperative that the market accept those benefits via an EBT system. Over the summer, I

worked with USDA Department of Agriculture and the Mississippi Department of Health to get

the market approved as an EBT-certified market. While working to set up the EBT system, the

representative through the Mississippi Department of Health noted that the Downtown

Clarksdale Farmers Market is the only market that accepts EBT cards within a 60-70 mile radius

of town, meaning our efforts can have widespread impacts of the greater Mississippi Delta. In

the meantime, I helped to design and implement a supplement nutrition program that provided

over $1,000 in fresh food from the farmers market to local residents in need. Through these

initiatives, we made great strides in ensuring that the market truly served the entire Clarksdale

community - not just those who could afford it.

In addition to my work on with the market, I volunteered with organizations that serve

youth in Clarksdale. With Spring Initiative, I assisted with programming and helped provide

tutoring to students who needed to improve their ACT in order to attend college. With the

Carnegie Public Library, I helped lead feedback sessions for a play bridge to connect the

neighborhoods to downtown. With Clarksdale Cultural Arts Center, I coordinated a woodworking

class and helped local students put on the play “You Can’t Take It With You”, both of which

were sponsored by the organization Griot Arts. By working with all of these organizations, I was

able to get a sense of how all of these organizations can bring about change in Clarksdale,

especially when they are all working together. Repeatedly, community members and leaders

note that there is a lack of communication about the positive initiatives happening in the

community. However, I was able to serve as a link between multiple different organizations in

order to demonstrate how powerful their collective impact can be on their community.

Overall, my time in Clarksdale provided me with valuable insight into the process of

community development in a rural town, which will help shape my work in Clarksdale during this

upcoming semester and my future work in rural communities near my hometown. At the same

time, I will be able to draw upon the connections and relationships I built as I pursue my future

career in rural development.

 

 

Carey Cabrera '16

Recipient, Class of 1969 Wellesley Serves! Grant 

Summer 2015 Intern, International Instititute of Boston

 

     This past summer, I was a case management intern at International Institute of Boston (IIB) in Boston, Massachusetts. IIB is a government sanctioned refugee resettlement agency under the US Commission for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) umbrella organization. The organization itself does much more than refugee resettlement. They run citizenship classes, English classes, computer literacy programs, offer family reunification assistance, general resource clinics, and employment training programs. In addition to all of those programs, IIB resettles and case manages hundreds of refugees every year. The organization is responsible   for finding housing for new arrivals, taking new arrivals to apply for food stamps and social security, and finding first jobs for refugee clients. Staff working with refugee clients are split up into two departments: workforce development and case management. I split my time between these two departments during my  internship.

     My internship involved both working with refugee clients one on one and taking care of administrative tasks. Within the workforce development arena, I worked with folks on job applications and interview skills. In case management, I accompanied clients to various social service appointments. These appointments included applications for MassHealth (Medicaid), SNAP (food stamps), social security cards, and other health appointments. My administrative tasks included filing paperwork, calling clients to remind them of  appointments, changes in their case management or follow up about applications, calling various social services to check up on applications, creating client tracker spreadsheets, and many other duties. For two weeks, I worked with IIB's Central American Migrant Affidavit of Relationship program (CAM-AOR) . Through (CAM-AOR) Honduran, Salvadorian and Guatemalan migrants can apply for their children to come to the United States as refugees. I assisted clients with filling out these applications.

Through this internship, I learned a lot about the refugee resettlement process and immigration policies. Taking part in these programs allowed me to think critically about the role of refugee resettlement agencies in a refugee's life, especially through the ways in which organizations deal with refugee employment. Refugees are required to take the first job offer that they are offered, and are put in "non-compliance" if they do not. This can lead to losing their place in the program and their cash assistance. Jobs that employment specialists apply for on behalf of refugees are usually in the areas of hospitality, dishwashing, and manufacturing, which require little English proficiency. These jobs are often at least an hour and a half away via public transportation since most of our clients live in Lynn on the north shore.

     Many refugees come to the US with years upon years of job experience but are unable to utilize that experience here in the US because of their lack of English skills, perception of drawbacks of their nationality, lack of recognition of overseas job experience, and university degrees that are not recognized in the US. As a student of sociology, I realized and struggled with the fact that a non-profit was part of recreating a racialized structure of labor in which refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia kept getting put on the bottom of the labor access chain. I also struggled with some of the other aspects of refugee resettlement. Refugees are given $428 each month in Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA). Because of this incredibly low income, refugees are forced to live in overcrowded apartments. The rule of thumb is three single men to a one bedroom apartment, and six to a two bedroom apartment. Their RCA income barely covers the cost of rent and utilities.

     All in all, most refugees are simultaneously happy and unhappy to be in Boston. Clients whom I spoke with are very happy to not be where they were, but are still not happy to be living in the Boston area. Boston is often a jumping off point for most Somali refugees as they go to other places in the country with stronger Somali communities such as  Minnesota and Nebraska.  However, their movement, support agency, and ability to make their own decisions are often constrained by resettlement  agency policies.

Despite all of these qualms, I do recognize the importance that these agencies play in the lives of recent arrivals. Refugees often arrive with limited English skills and need  someone to show them how to navigate the new nation in which they have arrived, whether that be through taking them to apply for social services or explaining how the T works.Employment specialists have also cultivated strong relationships with employers and can set refugee clients up with jobs rather quickly.

     I also learned a lot about workplace politics. IIB does most of its hands-on work with clients through interns and has very few full time staff members. As I mentioned  above, I   also performed many administrative tasks. When I arrived at IIB, I was under the assumption that I would be doing mostly hands-on work with refugee clients. However, I came to realize that I was only to be working with clients two and a half days out of the week. The rest of my time was spent doing administrative work. At first, I was unhappy with this, and brought  it  up with my supervisor. Eventually, however, I began to realize just how important  administrative work is for a non-profit to run and function successfully. While it may not be work I really enjoyed, it was very important work.

     Coming into this internship, I had plans to become a social worker or work in social services after graduation. I still plan on following that path, but feel as though I will be much more cautious about taking on the work I will do. Often, social work and non-profits only serve to put a ''band-aid" over an issue without really getting to the root of the problem. I want to be able to both provide necessary services to people who have been marginalized by our nations' classist and racist policies, but also work to change those policies at the same time through community organizing. I do not want to contribute to reproducing a system I feel is immoral. In addition, it's clear that the majority of the best work is done through the communities which our clients came from. People find each other jobs and housing, help each other with food stamps, and so on. I think it 's incredibly important to recognize the power that communities have instead of enforcing the rules of an organization. I really hope to explore these possibilities more in my classes this last year at Wellesley.

     This past summer, I got to work with incredible people who have been through more hardship and transition than I could ever imagine: translators who had their families threatened, people who had to leave their homes due to violence, people who were beaten  and tortured in prison. These folks have been through so much, and still manage, while it is very difficult, to keep going in a country that is strange to them. I admire them daily, and respect their ability to do so much without the "help" of a non-profit.

-- Carey Cabrera '16

 

 

Jennie Ling '16

Biological Sciences (major), Education Studies (minor) 

Recipient, Class of 1969 Wellesley Serves! Grant

Intern, Phillips Brooks House Association's  Summer Urban Program

 

     The Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) is a student-run nonprofit public service organization at Harvard University. All of PBHA's 80+ programs are student-led and supported by professional staff. Of these programs, one of PBHA's largest programs is the Summer Urban Program (SUP), which is comprised of nine community-based day camps for youth ages 6-13 and one ESL night class for recent immigrant high school students in Boston  and Cambridge. All the SUP programs are directed and staffed by college students. In short, each  senior counselor  (SC) works with a junior  counselor  (JC), a high school student from  the community, to lead a classroom of ten campers. Mornings typically consist of academics that are developmentally appropriate, engaging, and often project-based, while afternoons are spent going on field trips throughout the greater Boston area. Directors oversee their own program's administration, which includes hiring SCs and JCs, fundraising and managing a budget of at least $40,000, recruiting campers, ensuring that camp meets all licensing guidelines, and managing general camp administration.

     In my three summers with SUP as a senior counselor, a director, and this past summer as SUP Programming Group Officer (PGO), I have been able to learn so much about the urban non-profit supported communities in Boston and myself as a leader. But throughout this wonderful learning journey, the most valuable things I have gained are invaluable relationships with my eleven rising eighth graders in 2013, with my fellow directors and my 70 campers and staff in 2014, and with this past summer's team of directors, SCs, JCs, and even some campers. These relationships have taught me the importance of dedication and trust. Campers and families depend on SCs and directors to return for multiple summers in order to provide continuity. SCs and directors choose to return for many reasons, one of them being that they want to push the program to improve so that every camper can have an even better summer than those in the past.

     Dedication and trust were particularly important this summer in my role as SUP PGO. The motto of SUP is "the hardest summer you'll ever love." Every summer, I told myself that this was true. As an SC, managing a classroom of eleven rising eighth graders presented challenges when my campers struggled to find their voices, lost confidence in their abilities,   and were discovering their own identities. As if that was not difficult enough, holding my    staff counselors accountable for their curriculum, providing them with adequate observation  and feedback, managing everyday camp logistics, and maintaining camper and family relationships  made my summer as a director very difficult.

     Despite a very challenging summer in 2014, and internal debate over returning as an SC for a third summer, I chose to run for the position of SUP PGO. If I ever thought being an SC or director was difficult, I had no idea how hard it really was. . Overseeing ten programs with over 850 participants, 90 junior counselors, 100 senior counselors, and 32 directors is definitely a more difficult task.

     I spent my spring semester planning for and facilitating weekly two-hour Friday meetings and two weekend retreats for my upcoming summer directors. These meetings provided them with information and resources in order for them to plan and lead quality summer programs. With ten returning directors, I had to think very intentionally about how   to keep them engaged in every meeting because most of the content could not change. In addition, some of the content has been presented in a boring way so I had to think about new ways to do so.

     These Friday meetings made me realize that setting the tone and communicating expectations early and often was crucial in management. Planning the Friday meetings took a lot more time than I had anticipated. Not only was I commuting to Cambridge between 3-6 times during the week and spending several hours there, I also worked on-campus and was taking a full course load. To be honest, I was constantly sleep-deprived and stressed that I would not be able to finish all the work I had to do. But I knew how important it was that the relationships I had built with campers, families, and staff members over the past two years would not go to waste once the summer actually began.

     There is no way I can concisely describe how chaotic supervising 10 summer programs for youth is. During the summer two other people and I comprised the Full-Time SUPport. As the name suggests, our job was to be on-call all the time to support camps in whatever they needed. We also each had our own delegations/tasks to manage, such as transportation, Midsummer celebration, evaluations, training, etc. One of my goals was to be able to spend adequate time at every camp during the summer. Based on each camp's field trip and camping schedules, I would make plans to go to a certain camp the next day. But in overseeing so many people, I found that something is bound to happen. I would often end up at a different camp than I had originally planned in order to be supportive because an SC could not make it, or lunches did not get delivered. But because of this, every day was exciting, and there was always something new that came up. I loved being able to support my directors in whatever they needed. And I learned I needed to trust that my other full-time members would complete their tasks and delegations but also to step up and take responsibility for other things as well.  It was upsetting when, on one occasion, I lost that trust.  But I learned to recalibrate my focus on the work at SUP and its goal:  to impact youth in Boston and Cambridge through fun academics, mentoring, and positive support, a skill I know I can apply when I enter the workplace after graduation.

     As I mentioned previously, there is no way I can capture all the moments of joy, accomplishment, frustration, and anger that I felt as SUP PGO. While it is so much easier to let the negative moments fester, there were so many moments when I thought to myself, "Wow, I have really grown." I am so grateful for the experience I have had with SUP for the past three summers, and this summer definitely would not have been possible without the support of Wellesley.

-- Jennie Ling '16

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