For more than college credit: Intern program gives real-world experience in community building

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For more than college credit: Intern program gives real-world experience in community building

By Karl Stauber

 

On May 22, Danville Regional Foundation will welcome its next cohort of interns as they join us for the summer.

We’ve been fortunate since 2009 to bring almost 100 bright, talented young people to the Dan River Region to work and learn. Some students come for the very first time to our area while others have grown up here and want to return home to make a difference or go to school here and want go deeper.

When we started our intern program, we decided to offer full-time, paid summer opportunities so that students from various backgrounds could gain first-hand, real-world leadership experience in philanthropy, economic development, education, health and wellness and community engagement.

Why do we invest in an intern program? In addition to bringing the skills and positive energy of highly capable young people into the Dan River Region, our internship program offers project-focused services for DRF and the community while proving that there are challenging and rewarding job opportunities right here.

Intern projects over the years have been wide and varied in their scope and their subject. From researching best practices and evaluating programs to looking at our region through the lens of the arts, our history and better health systems, our interns have begun many of the projects currently underway throughout our area — either by DRF or one of our many partners.

Every year we learn something new from our interns and it impacts how we do our work — day in and day out. It also shapes how we think about our own projects, initiatives and grant making activities.

This year’s intern project is a culmination of three years of work, planning and testing that began in 2015 with the core assumption that communities have assets. From that assumption, the interns help residents embrace their assets and decide how to build on them.

In 2015, our interns began what we then called our Villages Initiative. Throughout the summer they worked in the smaller towns of Milton, Yanceyville, Chatham, Gretna and Hurt to help residents dream big and provide support as these communities shared ideas and developed programs and events that they wanted to see begin in their towns.

Our interns worked with the Milton Street Fair, GretnaFest, the opening of Competition Alley in Chatham and hosting a movie night in Yanceyville while also helping communities to develop strategic plans and long-term goals.

In 2016, we took this same idea and moved it into Danville — focusing on specific neighborhoods that were ready to celebrate their communities and challenge neighbors to think differently about their futures.

They worked in the White Rock neighborhood, Almagro, Schoolfield, Old West End and Westmoreland putting on talent shows, block parties, studying neighborhood assets and producing videos and postcards showcasing the bright spots and stories found along the streets.

And now in 2017, the interns will be working alongside the Health Collaborative, local residents, community organizations and local government entities to make the Dan River Region the healthiest place it can be not only at the neighborhood level, but deeper and more intensive.

Here is just a snapshot of the projects planned for this summer:

» Youth Agriculture & Entrepreneurship Program (YAEP): Interns will work in cooperation with the YAEP Farm Manager and participating youth to fully develop the program details, including agricultural practices, curriculum and sustainability planning.

» Parks & Open Space Equity Mapping: Interns will work with local Parks & Recreation staff to develop a series of maps identifying gaps in access to safe, high quality parks and provide recommendations for how to create new parks, revitalize existing parks or expand shared use to create an equitable parks system in the Dan River Region.

» Complete Streets Implementation: Interns will develop a plan to engage the community around implementation of Complete Streets, including walkability audits, place making efforts and training.

» Building Healthy Neighborhoods: Interns will work with Community Health Workers to develop ways to support better health within their communities, such as a healthy corner store project, barbershop health program or walking school bus.

» Health Policy Scan: Interns will identify laws, regulations, rules, protocols, and procedures that influence health-related behavior in the Dan River Region and create a series of recommendations for local governing boards, community leaders and citizens.

» Community Education and Outreach: Interns will disseminate the newly completed Health Equity Report within the community and analyze The Health Collaborative’s community engagement and event strategy.

We’ve recruited the best and brightest from across the United States to join us this summer because this work isn’t designed as busy work to only fulfill a class requirement. This work isn’t designed to only provide a paycheck and an opportunity to tell a good story once the summer is over.

No, this work is designed to be much more than a box to be checked or time to whittled away.

DRF needs our interns to work hard and work smart, working alongside groups already in the trenches moving towards revitalization. We need our interns to move our community forward by helping our residents find their strengths, their weaknesses, their leaders, their doers, their opportunities and even help them understand why their misses missed.

While here during their 10-week assignment, our interns help us see the Dan River Region through a different lens — a lens of possibility and excitement. They see the good happening in our community and their enthusiasm is contagious.

 

Article originally appeared on GoDanRiver.com.

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