In my third year at the University of Virginia I decided to enroll in the internship program (UIP) for the entirety of my fourth year. I had extra space in my schedule and thought it would be fun to get out of the classroom for ten hours a week and do something a little more practical.
My first day at the United Way was both wonderful and overwhelming. Jessica, my sponsor, showed me my desk and then introduced me to everybody in the office. They were all incredibly nice and excited to meet me and they all wanted to tell me all about what they did. I of course promptly forgot everything that they said and spend the next few months learning everything I could about the office and remembering what they had told me earlier.
At my internship seminar I heard horror stories of other interns’ experiences; they would vacuum for ten hours a week, didn’t have a desk to sit at, or would have to deal with highly erratic sponsors and schedules. At the United Way, however, everybody went out of their way to accommodate my schedule and they did their best to involve me with everything that went on in the office. As the intern I expected to do a lot of the busy work in the office, but people would hesitate to ask me to do certain things; everybody really wanted me to have a valuable experience and not just envelope-stuffing experience. I helped organized a School Supply Drive, participated in the Day of Caring (I have never blown up that many balloons), went to a Board Meeting, did research for Impact Area meetings, worked on the Better Business Challenge to make the office more sustainable, and accompanied people to the radio station.
From January until April, I devoted most of my time to doing taxes through the EITC tax coalition. While taxes might not sound very exciting, I really enjoyed this portion of the internship! It meant I got to interact with clients, problem solve if a return got rejected, and really feel like I was making a difference in the community.
By interning at the United Way, I now have a much better understanding of how organizations, and particularly non-profits, function. I feel a lot more confident that I will be capable of holding an actual job. I gained great work experience and also started really connecting to Charlottesville (the University tends to be a little bit of a bubble at times). It felt great to be a part of an organization that works so hard to improve the community. I know that when I visit Charlottesville in the future, I will definitely drop by the office and say hi to everyone!
Posted by: Ellen Janssen, University of Virginia Class of 2012