Becca Dean, W&L
I spent my summer as a Shepherd Intern in Baltimore, Maryland, at the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s PACT Therapeutic Nursery. PACT serves Baltimore’s homeless families with developmentally delayed infants and toddlers. To say my experience in my eight weeks as an intern at this agency was eye-opening would be an understatement. As a rising sophomore, I can already tell that my Shepherd internship will be one of the most valuable portions of my college education at W&L
Every weekday, I reported to the nursery on East Biddle Street, a notoriously dangerous and impoverished area of Baltimore City, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. I spent my days split between classroom time with the infants and toddlers, therapy sessions with parents and families, and completing administrative and research-related tasks for the agency. My wide variety of responsibilities as an intern at PACT gave me the opportunity to observe both the agency and the population it serves from several different angles. The combination of these perspectives both deepened my prior understanding of poverty and socioeconomics and brought to light facets of the issue to which I had never been exposed. I saw the real pain attached to issues I have learned about in the classroom, such as the labor market and medical expenses. I witnessed firsthand how difficult it really is to get a job and keep up with expenses as an American in functional poverty and how much damage this distress can do to a family’s well-being and security. Having grown up close to the Baltimore area, I was able to understand and become involved in my local community in a way I never have before.
I have been interested in service and poverty alleviation since middle school, but this internship in combination with my coinciding coursework at W&L has been the most intensive and educational encounter I have ever had with the subject matter. I formed relationships with the poor and those who served them by providing childcare and support for homeless families, and I was able to learn more about their day-to-day lives and personal struggles and victories through these bonds. I learned a new aspect to service that I never dove into previously. Service is not just giving time and resources to those who are less fortunate in the hopes of lifting them out of poverty and homelessness. Service is forming relationships and giving support to those in need on a personal and emotional level. Service is listening to problems that I have been fortunate enough never to encounter, when no one else will listen. Service is relating to people from very different backgrounds from my own and supporting them through real friendship, not just charity. The immersive nature of the summer program gave me a glimpse of how all-encompassing and life-swallowing poverty and homelessness are, and placed me in a position to work with, not just for the families. For the first time I got to know impoverished people, not merely a “poor” general population, at a safe distance. The family members have names, faces and stories, and they are now friends and peers. This experience has made a lasting impact on my outlook, one that I will carry with me back to school in my future studies and service.