Hometown: Madison, Virginia
Why did you apply for this particular internship? I have taken several poverty-based courses at W&L, and a major focus of each course seems to be the question of how to eradicate or diminish poverty. I have always answered that question by saying good foundational education and childhood enrichment would put children on the track to succeed beyond the inherited obstacles of their parents, which would eventually weaken the cycle of poverty. I decided to apply to intern at the Harlem Children's Zone TRUCE program and apply my hypothesis. I wanted to see how effective an arts-based youth development program was at motivating teenagers and building their self-confidence. When I was in high school, I gained a lot of confidence from writing creatively and acting, so I initially found the notion of an arts-based youth development program very attractive.
How did your work apply to your studies at W&L? I'm not sure if there is a cut-and-dry way to describe how my internship applied to my studies at W&L. As far as obtaining the best liberal arts education possible, I think my internship enriched my education unlike anything I could have experienced in a classroom. My focus as an English major is interpreting and analyzing literature, so I think immersing myself in a different culture with different types of people broadened the scope by which I view the world.
What was the most unexpected aspect of your Shepherd Alliance experience? The most unexpected aspect of my Shepherd experience was how close I became to the people with whom I worked. I expected to get along with the other TRUCE employees, but I didn't anticipate forming strong bonds and friendships. I genuinely enjoyed going to work each day because I looked forward to seeing my coworkers.
Post Graduation Plans: Right now, my plan is to apply to and hopefully attend law school. I'm very interested in public policy, so at some point in my career, I'd like to pursue that.
Favorite W&L moment: I have so many favorite W&L moments, but one in particular sticks out in my mind. During Christmas Weekend my first year, I was having dinner at my date's fraternity house. The house was decorated with greenery and there was a fire in the fireplace, and at one point during dinner, it started snowing. It was such a beautiful scene to punctuate a great weekend.
Nestled between 117th and 118th streets on the west side of Harlem, a stamp of concrete hosts a flourish of green. Vines climb molding bricks. Leaves poke through spaces of a chain link fence. Neighboring the green is the St. Thomas Church of the Apostle, home to the Harlem Children's Zone's TRUCE program, where I have been working for the past eight weeks.
The Harlem Children's Zone is a youth development program offering services to parents of newborns and infants, preschool-aged children, elementary- and middle school-aged children, and high school students. Children must live within certain "zones" of New York City to be eligible to participate, which include Harlem as well as areas of Brooklyn and the Bronx. The Renaissance University for Community Education, otherwise known as "TRUCE," hosts two different programs on the west side of Harlem: a fitness program for elementary- and middle school-aged children and an arts and media-based program for high school students.
I worked as a Teaching Artist for TRUCE Media. Working with a rowdy group of high school students tested my patience from the very first day they arrived in unit to my last day at work. Many of the students misbehaved by breaking rules and speaking disrespectfully. Physical fights and incidents of theft were not uncommon. Aside from a select few students who were truly interested in their projects, a majority of students needed consistent guidance in order to stay engaged. My first instinct in difficult situations was to grow frustrated and establish my dominance as an adult, but I quickly learned this reaction was ineffective. Mutual respect creates an atmosphere of trust, and I really wanted students to trust me. I began introducing myself to them slowly, by sitting down with a group of three or four kids and asking them about themselves and in turn, telling them a little bit about me. I found that students were even more motivated when the adults around them encouraged them rather than reprimanded them, and they were less likely to misbehave when they felt like there was an atmosphere of mutual respect.
I also learned the importance of losing myself in my environment. I was working in a very close-knit community, and I knew my only options were to shy away completely or immerse myself fully. I let myself get attached. I forgot that I was only going to be working at TRUCE for eight weeks and got to know everyone and everything personally. I made phone calls to parents, established relationships with students, worked a little late on occasion, and even shed a few tears. My coworkers were fully devoted to their students and their work, and I knew the only way I could actually be of service to TRUCE was if I did the same.
My learning experience was not limited to my work at my organization, however. I am from Madison County, a rural Virginia town located twenty-five miles north of Charlottesville. I had never experienced New York beyond the few hours I'd spent hovered around Times Square over Christmas break. I found that the only way to learn how to navigate the City is to explore and understand I would probably get lost, especially because my experience in urban environments was limited. I found that as long as I stayed in populated areas in daylight, getting lost was usually okay. I got lost on my first day of work, which resulted in my knowing my surroundings quite well. The area of Harlem where I worked was a relatively safe commercial area, but I never did venture much further uptown towards the East side of Harlem because I knew it had a reputation of being dangerous.
In all honesty, my Shepherd experience was a completely positive one. I worked in an organization I absolutely loved with wonderful people. I will never forget my summer at TRUCE, and I will continue to be inspired by what I learned there for the rest of my life.