By Jennie Pollard.
Ms Pollard is Project Director, Office of Violence Against Women STEP Grant, Berea College Partners for Education. She earned her MSW from University of Michigan School of Social Work, Ann Arbor, 2012, and her BA in Child and Family Studies with a Minor in Sociology from Berea College in 2010.
I grew up in the small town of Berea, Kentucky (population approximately 14,500) in the foothills of Appalachia. I graduated high school with 79 other students. Needless to say, I was comfortable in this environment and decided to apply for Berea College; I knew the campus, I knew the people, I was a ‘townie’ and I could go home and do my laundry on weekends.
“There are so many factors besides income that determine the depth and nature of poverty and those may be different depending on place,” writes Pollard, Berea 2010. She interned at N Street Village.
Going into college, I knew I wanted to do something to help others and work with families. I did not have a clear vision for what that meant or looked like for me. The clearest road towards that seemed to be the Child and Family Studies Department with a concentration in Family Studies. After declaring my major, I received a new advisor who also happened to be the Chairperson for the Shepherd Internship Program. When she approached me with this opportunity I was apprehensive. I looked through the list of sites available to choose from and found a program I thought I would like in Appalachia, a Virginia town I was familiar with and a population I thought I would feel comfortable serving. This is not where I ended up and for that, I am grateful.
My advisor strongly suggested N Street Village, a community that provides services for homeless and low-income women in Washington D.C. I began the process of applying to the internship at N Street Village with excitement and anxiety; I visited Washington D.C. one time in middle school and had no idea what to expect.
As an intern for The Bethany Women’s Center at N Street Village, I was responsible for the daily functions in the center such as serving breakfast and lunch to 80-120 women each day, assisting the women with supplies in the center, visiting and talking with the women who come into the center and attending meetings with staff. I also planned and hosted a talent show for the women who came to the center. This was an exciting project and allowed me to further get to know the women who regularly visited the center.
My stay in D.C. taught me how astonishingly different urban and rural poverty and homelessness seem on the surface. My family is from Eastern Kentucky and I was no stranger to poverty growing up. As a child I did not realize that you may be considered homeless if you need to live with family because you are in transition between residences or if a child needs to live with her friends for months at a time because her parents are in jail. Poverty is poverty regardless of geography. At the same time there are so many factors besides income that determine the depth and nature of poverty and those may be different depending on place.
This internship opened my eyes to different worlds, people, and ways of life that I did not know existed. My experience was humbling and eye opening. The opportunity to listen to the stories these women told was invaluable. Personally and professionally, I learned to be open-minded to people and places. I learned to question the values I was brought up believing, and this experience sparked the growth of my own values. I also learned to question my comfort zone. I learned to push myself outside that line where I do not feel pressure and anxiety. An entry from my journal towards the end of that summer reads, “My internship was my first step towards something bigger.”
My internship and family studies and sociology courses propelled me to enroll in a Masters in Social Work at University of Michigan. After that program I returned to Berea to work in a department at Berea College called Partners for Education. This department utilizes a place based, student-focused approach to improve educational outcomes in Appalachian Kentucky and serve Berea College’s 8th Great Commitment “To serve the Appalachian region primarily through education but also by other appropriate services.” I became a Program Associate for the first rural Promise Neighborhood grant modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone. This led me to the work as a Recovery Coach in the Promise Neighborhood service area working with adults in Family Court with substance use cases. I now oversee the Recovery Coach project along with a grant that provides education to 6th-12th grade students in our area that addresses healthy relationships and teen dating violence prevention. My education—the internship at N Street Village in particular—was necessary for moving beyond my comfort zone in order to return to my home and effectively expand opportunities for local families and children.