True Reflections: Summer in The District
Coming off of a semester that I was less then satisfied with this past spring, I knew that I wanted to try to apply myself over my summer break as opposed to merely do some run-of-the-mill activity. Having burned out of the Camp Counselor game, I knew that I wanted to take on a new type of challenge; one that would not only be interesting to me, but would also help to define my career aspirations and really push me in the right direction for what I want to do with the remainder of my college experience. With little hesitation, I began to research a program that I had heard about during a L’Taken Seminar to Washington, D.C. in High School, known as Machon Kaplan.
Machon Kaplan is a unique program run by the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism that brings together Jewish, social-justice-oriented college students to the nation’s capital, provides with them an internship in a local organization whose focus is on public policy, and also offers two distinct upper-division level courses to be taken for credit. Having fallen in love with Washington DC during prior visits and having a passion for social-justice, the decision to apply was not that difficult. After a lengthy application, essay-writing frenzy, tracking down reference letters and going through the medical clearance process, I was one of twenty participants chosen to join the Machon Kaplan Summer Internship Program, and was soon deciding what issues I was most passionate about in order to be placed in my internship. For me, homelessness was something that had resonated with me since my first trips to Washington D.C., was something that I wanted to be able to stand up against, and I was soon thrown into a list of names to be interviewed at the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). After some frantic research about the organization and a couple of phone interviews, I was selected as the Administrative Operations Intern for my six-week stay in DC.
Never having worked in an office before, I was more then nervous coming in on my first day, not really having any clue as to what I was going to be thrown into. Every movie and T.V. show that I had ever watched made being an intern seem like something that would be an experience worse then the lowest depths of hell, and coming in that first day was something I will never forget. As I was escorted up to the sixth floor—where I had my own cubicle, computer, phone and business cards— I soon realized that I wasn’t at summer camp anymore. However, as soon as I sat down with my adviser, Bill Shields, Vice President of Operation for the NLIHC, my fears and worries disappeared. As we discussed what my role would be with the Coalition during my six weeks, I quickly became driven to put all of my effort towards executing each task to the best of my ability.
Exploring what my main role would be during the summer, I started to realize that as opposed to falling asleep through 9 AM calculus class, I was actually going to be learning and absorbing the day-to-day workings of a nonprofit organization and, looking back on my experience on the tail-end of my time in this office, I did just that. As opposed to some of my friends’ internships this summer, I felt like I was a part of a greater whole that is the National Low Income Housing Coalition, that I was making an impact at my own level, and that I had a hand in moving the organization forward.
Ranging from direct assistance and talking to people about their unique situations, to researching video-conferencing software, to assembling a manual for state partner organizations to utilize, to working on financial workbooks, I really had the opportunity to explore the different branches and outlets involved in the day-to-day happenings of a nonprofit organization, as well as work with most of the different departments and teams on staff. Thursday morning staff meetings with President and CEO and Vice President of Operations? Yep, did that weekly. Work on actual finances for the organization and see what it really takes to run an organization? Definitely did that a couple of times. Make new connections with staff members and other interns, and even hang out after hours with the staff? Absolutely, you bet. Work one-on-one with the State Partner Project Director to create a manual for all the NLIHC’s partner organizations to use? Spent a good chunk of time on it.
Every day that I worked with the NLIHC brought me some sort of new challenge and pushed me to think critically in a way that I hadn’t all semester; for the first time in my adult life, I felt like I was doing something substantial on a large-scale level, and that although I once felt like I couldn’t do something to legitimately stand up for what I believed in, I was able to trump that feeling this summer.
What this summer really comes down to for me is the fact that I could have some sort of impact, that I can be a part of something bigger that can truly impact the lives of people throughout the nation, and that every role can be an instrumental one.
Michael Sarna is a participant in the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship Program. He is interning at the National Low Income Housing Coalition.