Mobilizing America's Youth
Dear Mr. Fitzgerald:
This semester that I spent in Washington, D.C. as part of The Washington Center (TWC) program has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I learned so much by immersing myself in everything that D.C. has to offer. In addition to the great opportunity I had interning at Women for Women International, I also became involved with different cultural, civic, and educational activities in and around DC. I have seen the Dalai Lama and President George W. Bush speak, I have traveled throughout the city and visited our capitol’s many historic landmarks, I have been involved with helping the homeless in my community, and I have made friends from all over the world. I feel this experience has left me much more knowledgeable, well-rounded, and confident in myself and my skills.
During the first few weeks of my time here in DC, I was required to write a learning objectives statement which included all of my academic, personal, civic, and professional goals for the semester. I believe that I successfully completed the majority of what I wanted to as well as some things that I hadn’t planned on.
Since part of the requirement of this program is to attend a weekly class, I decided to sign up for a class that would both tie into the mission of the organization I was interning for as well as something that I was simply interested in learning more about. I decided to take Peaceful Solutions: an Alternative to Violence taught by Colman McCarthy. Since peace issues courses aren’t regularly taught in most American schools, I thought this opportunity would be a convenient way for me to broaden my ideas on nonviolence and break away from conventional thinking. This class has solidified in me my own opinions on such issues as capital punishment, domestic violence, animal rights, and the War in Iraq by giving me the knowledge, tolerance, and skepticism it requires to listen to all sides of a debate and construct a rational, individual decision.
The academic goals I stated in my LOS were to become more informed about peaceful solutions and alternatives to violence as well as become more engaged in classroom discussions. I believe I successfully reached these goals and not only did I learn more about the topic but I also learned more about myself in the process. For this course we were required to write two papers concerning our own experiences with violence or nonviolence and how we essentially dealt with these conflicts. While I felt these assignments were rather personal in nature I came to realize some of the specific instances in my life which have shaped my values and interests and in essence have led me to D.C. to pursue these interests. Never has writing something so personal and unconventional been such an awakening experience for me.
Another aspect of The Washington Center program is that we are required to do some sort of civic engagement project during our time in D.C. One of the first things I noticed about the city when I arrived was the amount of homeless people on the streets. Learning that in many cases there are certain uncontrollable circumstances that lead one to a life of homelessness, a sense of empathy came over me and I knew I wanted to help. While I have always been aware of the social injustices plaguing our nation, it has only been since I arrived in DC and experienced it to such a degree that I have felt motivated to do something for my community. This is why I decided that I would dedicate a portion of my time in DC volunteering at the Carpenter’s Shelter for the homeless, Northern Virginia’s largest homeless shelter.
One of the first things I did to help was to prepare and serve a meal to around 60 residents. It was the first experience which really allowed me to interact with the homeless, and it was also the first experience which made me realize how these people are actually quite deserving; especially of compassion and respect. In addition to those duties, I also volunteered with the shelter’s yearly hypothermia program, which provides those who are not residents of the shelter a warm place to stay when the weather drops. This program is essentially a ‘tough love’ program with strict rules to follow, but since its inception not one person has died due to hypothermia - which is a great achievement.
Even though my contributions may have been fairly simple, I know I still made an impact on them. Almost every single person told me thank you and I know they really meant it. When the directors tell me stories of previously homeless men coming back to the shelter as newly successful businessmen, wanting to donate to the organization that helped them get back on their feet it makes me feel like we really are making a difference. And knowing even the smallest contribution can mean the world to someone else is a great feeling, and one which has made me proud to go above and beyond my civic goals for the semester.
The majority of my semester I spent working on my professional goals through my internship and getting to know what it’s really like to have a legitimate nine to five career. My professional goals for the semester included learning how a large nonprofit organization works and improving my communication skills within an international office setting. I feel I thoroughly accomplished these goals and I came away from this internship with a greater appreciation of nonprofits and of my developing proficiency within this sector.
Through interning for Women for Women International I have had many responsibilities, primarily of which were coordinating the preparation of WFW’s outreach and communication materials, ensuring their donor acknowledgement process went smoothly, and updating and maintaining database records. I also provided support during the country directors’ visit, many fundraising events, and WFW’s annual gala. All of these different experiences allowed me to meet people from all over the world and immerse myself in different cultures while learning how to communicate effectively in these various situations. I feel I have accomplished so much while interning at this organization and I am so glad I had this great opportunity to do so.
This combination of professional, civic, and leadership learning that I have undergone during my semester in D.C. has no doubt benefited me and better prepared me for my future endeavors and career. I have made great friends with common goals and ambitions, I have seen some great leaders speak during TWC lectures; I have networked by meeting many influential people and completing an informational interview, and I have had the opportunity to see and do things that many may never get in a lifetime. I thank the University of Iowa, The Washington Center and you, Mr. Fitzgerald, for allowing me to become involved with this great internship opportunity. There is no way I could have gotten this same experience by simply attending a semester of classes. I feel I have experienced a different kind of learning – one which has left me not just with knowledge, but also with the experience, leadership development, and confidence that will allow me to make great strides in the real world. With this in consideration I sincerely hope you will grant me full academic credit for my semester in Washington, D.C. It was a semester that I will always remember fondly and no doubt credit to the development of my abilities and future achievements. Once again, thank you for the terrific opportunity.