Students fight poverty with Shepherd Internship Program
July 3, 2013 By Mariel Smith
completed the TRUCE Media program and is now college-bound.
Paige Coomer ’14 at the Energy for Change rally in Louisville, where
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth turned out in force.
Cyrus Xi ’14 at work on legal documents for low-income residents
of Charleston, West Virginia.
Summer is a time to kick back, relax and soak up the sun, but for three Centre students in particular, this summer is a time to focus on a much loftier goal: fighting poverty.
Kendra Montejos ’14, Paige Coomer ’14 and Cyrus Xi ’14 are all participating in the Shepherd Internship Program, a branch of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty.
The Consortium—which Centre joined in the fall of 2012—works to involve multiple academic disciplines and institutions in educating graduate and undergraduate students on poverty, both in the classroom and through rigorous internships.
The internship program provides eight-week opportunities for intensive experiential learning. Interns travel to impoverished communities and work with residents on issues like education, healthcare, legal services, housing, hunger and community-building. The internships are designed to provide a foundational experience that can be built upon and continued after graduation.
Kendra Montejos will travel to the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ) in New York City.
HCZ is an organization dedicated to fostering lifelong education in low-income communities by offering in-school, after school, social service and health and community building programs for children from birth through high school and college.
Montejos will be working with the HCZ after school and summer programs, specifically the TRUCE Media program. Groups of students are taught by a local artist specializing in a certain field, from filmmaking, music production and journalism to drama, graphic design, fashion and dance.
Montejos was attracted to HCZ because of its astounding success rates. "The TRUCE Media program I will be working with has sent 100 percent of its seniors to college," she says. "I want to learn how they are able to engage their students enough to make them believe in themselves and succeed."
For Montejos, who worked with the Bonner After School Program at Centre, such positive outlooks are rare. "I had a fifth grader in the program tell me he would never go to college," she says. "I want to learn how we can change that mentality."
The HCZ internship will be invaluable to Montejos as a career-building experience, especially since she wants to work to reform the American educational system.
"I don't believe education is a privilege depending on your family's income or where you're from; education should be a right every child has," she says. "Working with HCZ will get me up close and personal with some of the problems in our education system and what we can do to start fixing them."
Paige Coomer will work with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) in Berea, Ky., a grassroots organization that encourages citizens to become leaders in the fight for social, political and economic justice.
Coomer explains, "KFTC educates and empowers citizens to create a Kentucky where power is balanced, people trump profits and the self-worth of every Kentuckian is realized."
Coomer's summer project is to research voter disenfranchisement among ex-felons in the Commonwealth, which suffers from one of the highest rates of disenfranchisement. Part of the problem is the state's law barring felons from voting, even those who have served their sentences. Coomer hopes her research on the effects of this disenfranchisement can illuminate the need for change in the state's voting laws.
"I joined KFTC because of my deep-rooted love for Kentucky land and the people who live on it," she says. "The organization genuinely cares for Kentuckians and ceaselessly works to promote the wellbeing of all citizens."
This summer's internship will be invaluable to Coomer, who aspires to be an environmental lawyer in Kentucky. This internship will give her firsthand experience with the Commonwealth's law and the people it directly affects.
Cyrus Xi will work with Legal Aid of West Virginia in Charleston, W. Va., which assists low-income clients with legal issues concerning government benefits, taxes, evictions and domestic violence.
Xi will work on multiple projects, from FAQ sections of the Legal Aid website to creating printable electronic templates for legal motions and petitions. These templates quickly and easily give clients the tools they need to represent themselves in court.
Xi will also interview clients, draft case notes and observe hearings.
"Legal Aid plays a very important role in filling the legal needs of the low-income population, particularly in civil matters," he says. "Public defenders are available in criminal cases, but there isn't a comparable system for civil issues like tax controversies or government benefits."
Working with Legal Aid is especially important for Xi as he works toward a career in law.
"I will experience firsthand the day-to-day work of lawyers who are working in a capacity not often depicted in popular media," he says. "This internship will help me make informed decisions regarding my future career. For example, I will gain a better understanding of how a professional interest may be paired with a humanitarian instinct."
Mindy Wilson, assistant director for employer relations and internships at Centre, sees an immense value in the opportunities the Shepherd Internship Program provides.
"I hope that the Shepherd internships will show our students that poverty is something that can be addressed at all levels and in all professions," she says. "I think that their experiences this summer will influence how they might continue the fight against poverty after they leave Centre. But I also look forward to seeing them bring those experiences back to campus to share in their classes and activities here, enriching not only their own education, but the education of other Centre students, as well."
To learn more about the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium, visit http://shepherdconsortium.org.
Centre College, founded in 1819, is a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Danville, Ky. Centre hosted its second Vice Presidential Debate on 10.11.12, and remains the smallest college in the smallest town ever to host a general election debate. For more, click here.