Nearly 130 college students, from more than two dozen institutions, convened in Cleveland last week for the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty’s (SHECP) 2018 Frueauff Closing Conference.
The two-day event was the culmination of an eight-week internship program that provided students with the opportunity to learn about poverty beyond the classroom, by working with nonprofit organizations that address issues of income inequality related to community and individual services, education, healthcare and legal aid.
“One can only learn so much from a textbook,” said Dr. Brett Morash, SHECP executive director. “By integrating classroom study of poverty with tailored and focused, hands-on experience—living and working within distressed communities—these young adults are better poised to make a difference in our nation.”
The conference was held on the campuses of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine and John Carroll University, Aug. 4-5. There, the interns reported on their experiences to fellow students, consortium faculty advisors and SHECP leadership.
“The SHECP internship was a unique opportunity to work within the field of advocacy and policy development that I have always had both personal and professional interest in,” said Hannah Gibbs, a student at Centre College, who interned with Capstone Community Action Vermont. “It provided a chance to look beyond my own community and has shaped my decision to continue work in environmental and low-income advocacy after I graduate from Centre next spring.”
SHECP interns provided more than 36,000 hours of service to 112 agencies, in 17 different geographic locations this summer. In many cases, their work will have a long-lasting impact on the communities in which they lived and worked. For example, Tommy Willingham, of Washington and Lee University, helped secure grant funding for a badly-needed fire truck in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas.
“SHECP interns are a force multiplier for our program partners, organizations that are truly leading the way but sometimes struggle for the necessary resources to meet the needs of those they serve,” said Morash.
Beyond the presentations, the conference was an opportunity to inspire the students. Dr. Katrina Rivers Thompson, professor of child and family studies at Berea College, was presented with the second annual Harlan R. Beckley Award. Thompson was instrumental in the formation and shaping of the Shepherd Alliance on Poverty, forerunner to SHECP, in 1997. She has remained personally committed to the success of SHECP’s interns, and is actively involved in the recruitment, selection, placement and evaluation of 10 to 15 summer internships annually—more than 150 interns to date.
The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, delivered the conference’s keynote address. During which, she told the students that “poor is a four-letter word in this country” and that it is often only when things are really bad and times are “at their darkest” that people take notice.
“How do you build the power, influence and the will of millions to change things in a transformative way,” Theoharis asked, before encouraging the students to expand upon what they have accomplished. “It takes all the work you’ve been doing and then some—not one policy, not one program—to build a movement and change things.”
Additional speakers at the conference included Dr. James Krukones, interim academic vice president and professor of history at John Carroll University; and Lawrence Bresler, executive director of Organize! Ohio.
Though the internship has concluded, the students will now take their findings to their own campuses. To learn how you can support SHECP and its internship program, visit shepherdconsortium.org.
About the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty: The Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP), is a consortium of colleges and universities that are committed to the study of poverty as a complex social problem, by expanding and improving educational opportunities for college students in a wide range of disciplines and career trajectories. SHECP institutions support undergraduates toward a lifetime of professional and civil efforts to diminish poverty and enhance human capability. For more information, please visit ShepherdConsortium.org, or follow us on Twitter at @TheSHECP.