My Shepherd internship experience was unorthodox from the beginning. Many students turn their internship for academic research, while others use it for job experience in a specific field. I worked at The Cabbage Patch Settlement House in Louisville, KY as their Youth Recreation Intern last summer because I love working with kids—that was it. I have already done a full semester of research on public housing policy, have plans to go to law school, and would eventually like to combine the two by running for elected office and rewriting local and state level low-income housing laws. Therefore, I expected my experience at The Patch to be a fun break from my academic routine, and it was. However, amidst the fun of working with kids, I learned so much more than I anticipated about how nonprofits operate and the impacts, both positive and negative, that they can have on a community. What I learned from The Patch has shaped how I view my future as an involved citizen, and I now understand that it is almost impossible not to learn from nonprofit work and the meaningful interactions one naturally has with families who need the services of these organizations.
I should start by saying that The Patch is not simply a community center that provides after-school educational enrichment and sports for kids in poverty. It is a community center intentionally invested in holistically developing families and giving impoverished children access to previously unattainable experiences. This emphasis on holistic care and family development sets The Patch apart from other organizations that may seek to meet a child’s immediate needs by only providing a gym and classrooms. Parents receive access to counseling services and case workers; High School students can get one-on-one ACT prep; the recreation staff coaches teams in city sports leagues; and a scholarship program called “Patch Scholars” provides an irrevocable scholarship and college access counseling to students who go to college.
These comprehensive programs run in sync alongside the after-school education and recreation programs during the school year and the summer day camps that I facilitated.
Within all The Patch’s programs, there is a unique emphasis on trust. My Shepherd counterpart, Christina Colón from Centre College, worked in education in the afternoons, while I ran the sports and fine arts camps in the mornings. Throughout all the activities, we allowed the kids to manage their own time. They could roam from education to the gym to the weight room to the computer lab in different time blocks to do activities that interested them each day. These rotations fostered holistic development, but also taught trust, responsibility, and respect. In accordance with this emphasis on trust, The Patch also takes an incredible number of field trips with small groups of kids every week: Tennis camp went to a country club to play on clay courts, music camp recorded a commercial at a radio station, cooking camp toured the kitchen of a 5-star restaurant, and outdoor explorers camp visited a national park. Some of the day camps were even based entirely on field trips and visited museums, parks, and cultural attractions all around the city every day. These trips are both dependent on trust and a part of The Patch’s larger commitment to provide new experiences. It is so committed to this goal that I had new experiences that would have been impossible for me all while trusting the kids to behave and promoting holistic development.
The lessons I learned at The Patch did not inspire me to go work on the front lines of fighting poverty in America’s inner cities. A limited number of people are called to fight poverty directly. However, the people at The Patch taught me that every effort to fight poverty successfully should promote holistic development, trust, and new experiences. They advocate for these pillars because they change lives. The Patch has successfully changed the lives of children in Louisville for more than 100 years because it realizes poverty is a multifaceted issue with more causes than symptoms. Therefore, The Patch fuses a foundation of trust and forgiveness with holistic family development and a commitment to providing new experiences to teach children and families how to be self-sufficient.
Not surprisingly, The Patch’s commitment to holistic development, trust, and providing new experiences is directly linked to its organizational structure. Its funding is entirely from private donations and grants, the full-time staff all have graduate degrees, and it has had the same Executive Director for more than 50 years. The Patch’s personality is methodical from the top down; nothing happens unintentionally. I do not want to suggest that the Patch is perfect. Far from it. However, this summer, it taught me how I can positively impact generational poverty in my own way. As someone who will likely give money to charity and nonprofits, I should support holistic approaches to poverty that address more than one cause. As someone who may have constituents in poverty, I should place emphasis on trusting everyone I meet, and challenge others to do the same. As a community leader who may sit on the board of a nonprofit, I should value providing new experiences that promote human dignity. The Patch exemplifies how anyone can fight poverty, even if indirectly. I know that I will have a role to play as a citizen and a leader in my community, and I will take that role seriously.