Lexington, Virginia • July 14, 2009
Although the Shepherd Alliance summer internship program has 30 Washington and Lee University undergraduates and four law students working across the country this summer, the two students interning in Lexington are not among them.
Isis Rose, a rising sophomore at Spelman College, and Chacina Stephens, a rising junior at Berea College, have spent the past few weeks living and working in Lexington as part of their internships coordinated through the Shepherd Alliance.
The Shepherd Alliance, a branch of the Shepherd Poverty program, works to provide internships that offer help to those living in impoverished areas and also offers different opportunities of growth for students, the program’s coordinator of co-curricular education, Francine Elrod said.
While W&L is the lead school for the internships, students from partner schools such as Spelman and Berea, as well as from institutions that belong to the Bonner Scholars program, are participating.
Placing students from outside Lexington and W&L into these local internships was intentional.
“One of the basic goals of the Shepherd Alliance internships is to place students in communities that they are not familiar with,” Elrod said.
While the new experience is an important aspect, the alliance hopes to provide students with internships that will be valuable to them, Elrod said, taking into account their professional and academic long-term goals.
A child and family studies major at Berea, Stephens has been shadowing workers at the Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services as they visit homes in the county. The department focuses mainly on families and relations in the home, Stephens said, but it also provides services to individuals, such as bringing a government-supplied phone to an elderly woman living without electricity in the county.
Before starting her internship, Stephens believed she wanted to be a social worker after graduation. But after her first few weeks she is starting to rethink her choice. She discovered quickly that social work is not exactly what the media makes it out to be.
“It is a lot more detailed than I originally thought,” Stephens said. “Some cases may go on for years and the outcome is rarely satisfactory, such as Child Protective Services cases.”
Berea College is unique among institutions of higher education as it accepts academically promising students from economically limiting backgrounds, primarily in Appalachia, and charges no tuition; Rather, students work at least 10 hours a week on campus.
Transitioning to Lexington did not make Stephens uncomfortable, nor was she surprised by the poverty in situations presented by her internship, she said, as Berea College focuses on students with poverty-stricken backgrounds. She is startled, though, by the age of those asking for assistance, some as young as herself, which she did not expect.
Meanwhile, Rose, a sociology major at Spelman, an all-women’s historically black college in Atlanta, is interning for the Campus Kitchens Project, providing the help for the summer that the student leadership team from W&L provides during the year.
The project acts as a “mobile soup kitchen,” Campus Kitchens coordinator Jenny Sproul said, providing donated food to both individual and group clients, or congregates, who experience food security issues.
Workers also provide friendship to those they serve — a rewarding part for Sproul — as they become engaged in their lives.
One goal of the Shepherd Alliance program is to immerse students in situations they would not usually experience, which can be both frightening and exciting for them, Elrod said.
“The largest challenge for students is consistently taking risks outside of their comfort zones,” Elrod explained.
Like Stephens, Rose did not find her transition to Lexington to be a culture shock. But she said that she has learned exactly where her comfort zones lie.
As an example, Rose pointed to one trip to the Magnolia Center, a day program for adults with developmental disabilities, when Sproul, who usually made the environment more light and easygoing, could not attend. Although Rose had visited the center before, it was as if she was seeing their disabilities for the first time, which she found overwhelming.
“It was hard to deal with the environment without Jenny there,” she said.
Working with a national non-profit organization such as Campus Kitchens Project complements Rose’s plans to complete graduate studies in non-profit management.
“I don’t know exactly what I want to do with my life yet, but I think I want to work in the non-profit sector,” she said.
Rose has already contacted people at the Campus Kitchens’ national level this summer in hopes of spreading the program to Spelman, as she knows there are people it could help in Atlanta.
The Shepherd Alliance internships are meant to help students view and understand the dynamics of rural or urban communities as well as grasp how access to transportation can deeply affect a person’s work and personal life, Elrod said.
“It’s a great program,” Stephens said. “Especially for people not from poverty backgrounds, so they can see the other side of the social ladder.”