Diary of an Unpaid Intern: Day 1

I come from a village in New Hampshire where the sidewalks roll up on Sundays, where my father comes from too and, in many ways, I am still just a small town kid, one who built her understanding of urban communities in the image of Emerald City. When I learned that my internship site was situated in “downtown Providence,” I conjured a fantasy of gourmet coffee houses, student art galleries, bookstores, hip boutiques, and all the rest. Yet, after two wrong turns and one inquiry for directions, I didn’t end up on College Hill.

I recognized 386 by its sea foam green exterior, a desert ocean among crumbling brick, boarded windows, and vacant commercial properties. I had never seen this side of Providence; actually, I had never seen more than I wanted to see of Providence: Brown, RISD, and H&M. The Rhode Island Statehouse looms magnificently over the southern end of Smith Street and, in first charting my course, I mistakenly followed its shadow, but my destination was, as I might have anticipated, down the road less traveled. Two minutes walking north brought me face-to-face with the reality that, even in a city housing an Ivy League university, some citizens struggle to satisfy their most basic needs.

On 386 Smith Street, there is a drop-in center for women experiencing intimate partner violence, a three-story duplex no more intimidating or conspicuous than its neighbors.  The Smith Street location serves as the main office for Sojourner House, a non-profit agency committed to ending violence against women. The women who live in this neighborhood do not need another reason to be afraid, they do not need an institution — a hospital, a police station, a courthouse — they need a home, a home that welcomes them with open arms and without judgment. I admire Sojourner House for creating a nonjudgmental space where women can speak openly and connect through shared experiences. One of the primary reasons I was initially interested in interning with the agency are the many services offered for emotional recovery; individuals in traumatic situations need someone to talk to who is removed from their situation, especially someone who can say “you’re not alone, I’ve been there too.” My personal experience with depression, anxiety, eating concerns and verbal abuse, among other maladies, has convinced me that suffering in silence, though it may seem somehow noble or indicative of personal strength, will do more harm than good. Though I was initially resistant to seek help, I have come to appreciate the benefits of counseling and group therapy, and welcome the opportunity to facilitate others’ paths to recovery.

As a summer intern, my experience will be immersive; I expect to wear multiple hats during my time at the agency, providing administrative support one day and facilitating group activities the next, so that I may leave with a full portrait of the duties necessary to keep a successful non-profit organization afloat. I hope to acquire professional knowledge and skills through an introduction to writing and applying for grants, as well as an understanding of the legal and social services available to women in abusive relationships. More importantly, though, I hope to meet and connect with strong, inspirational women, and expand my knowledge of maintaining healthy relationships, both with others and with myself. I look forward to listening and learning from others’ stories, in addition to sharing my own.

Through my past volunteer experiences with Grand Aspirations and Rhode Island NOW, I have worked both behind-the-scenes, as a legislative research intern for an advocacy organization, and out in the field, more literally than figuratively, as a project leader/ farm hand in Summer of Solutions. Sojourner House straddles the line between public and private, dividing its efforts between directly serving those impacted by intimate partner violence and reaching out to the local community as advocates for healthy relationships, sexual health, violence prevention and women’s empowerment. While it is important for hiring committees to be selective in choosing interns, it is equally important for interns to be selective in choosing a position. I have chosen this work environment because it will best serve my needs, offering me a comprehensive introduction to the non-profit world and supportive, knowledgeable mentors who will strengthen my passion for public service and social work.

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