Since early June, senior history major Leah Schenkel has been working with blind and visually impaired children at A Brighter Path Foundation’s Summer Enrichment Experience camp as one of 16 interns in the Institute for Public Engagement’s 2013 Summer Nonprofit Immersion Program.
Not only is she teaching children daily living skills through pottery, crafts and play, she is also expanding her own academic and professional development and gaining a first-hand understanding of the inner workings of a nonprofit organization.
The combination of “Pro humanitate” service to the children and a behind-the-scenes look at the administrative side of the organization have strengthened Schenkel’s resolve to join the nonprofit sector after graduation. She wants to remain civically engaged and recognizes her need to connect her career goals with the needs of the broader community.
“I don’t know exactly what vocation I want to work towards,” says Schenkel, “but this experience has made me realize how much I can give back and get out of a career in nonprofit besides a paycheck.”
Schenkel has been involved in campus-based service activities as a member of the national co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and as procurement coordinator for the Wake Forest Campus Kitchen program, but she says her prior knowledge of nonprofit work just scratched the surface.
“What I knew about nonprofits was based mostly on my experiences as a volunteer,” she says. “Now that I’ve had the chance to really be a part of the program by working directly with these kids and coordinating volunteers, I have a much better sense of what a career in a nonprofit organization really involves.”
Norma-May Isakow, associate director of the Institute for Public Engagement (IPE), says that having real-world experience is critical to effective career exploration.
“The lessons our interns learn through these engagement opportunities help them determine their own occupational direction.” says Isakow. “It encourages them to think about where their true passions reside, whether that’s in nonprofit or elsewhere.”
Senior philosophy major Le’Ron Byrd says he has more clarity about his future vocation after working at Crisis Control Ministry Inc. as part of the program. “Engaging with people in serious need of life essentials is something that can’t be taught in the classroom.” Byrd plans to use what he’s learned during his nonprofit internship to continue his research on child hunger.
The Summer Nonprofit Immersion Program links a students’ passion for nonprofit careers with community needs, a mutual collaboration that community partners continue to reapply for each year.
Isakow says, “Our partners feel supported by the Wake Forest community by having energetic and dedicated students assisting in their respective missions. Nonprofit organizations tend to be understaffed, so they appreciate having a professional, on-site volunteer working there full time.”
The eight-week summer nonprofit internship experience is supplemented with seminars and weekly group meetings where students talk together about the rewards and challenges of nonprofit work, the needs of the Winston-Salem community and their own personal development.