The summer months may be meant as time off, but many Centre College students utilize that time to do important research and internships across the world—including several participating in the Shepherd Internship Program (SIP). While the work they are doing varies greatly, each of these students shares a similar mission of improving the lives of others by alleviating the hardships that often accompany poverty.
The SIP pairs students from the colleges and universities that make up the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP) with agencies across the country whose goals are to improve the lives of the impoverished.
Through these eight-week internships, students learn how to address such issues as community building, economic development, healthcare, homelessness, job placement and nutrition.
“I was drawn to the Shepherd Program because of my interest in social justice,” says Amaryst Parks ’18 (above, shearing a sheep). “The program is very people- and experience-oriented. I love that one way they are helping against poverty is by putting people in situations to better understand and to ignite each of our desires to serve and work with others.”
Parks, an anthropology and sociology major from Florence, Ala., who is also a Brown Fellow, is working as a youth activities organizer this summer at St. Anne Mission, a Catholic mission in the Navajo Nation in Klageto, Ariz. Parks has come to expect the unexpected through her internship.
“There is no average day,” she says. “My fellow interns and I do everything—helping people shear sheep, driving people to the grocery store, attending ceremonies. Our job is to get to know the community and help them out in any way we can.”
For Parks, interacting with the community has been the highlight of the internship.
“My favorite part of the internship is definitely the relationships we’ve cultivated,” she says. “One of my favorite moments was meeting an older Navajo lady whose house and porch one of the volunteer groups had renovated. She was tickled pink that she could now open her windows. She gave us all hugs and said to me, ‘I’m going to find you a Navajo boyfriend so you can stay forever.’ The people have just been great—welcoming and always up for a laugh.”
Christina Colón ’17, an anthropology and sociology major from St. Petersburg, Fla., has also embraced the community she has come to know while working as an educational opportunities intern at the Cabbage Patch Settlement House in Louisville, Ky.
“The Cabbage Patch Settlement House provides recreation, youth development, education and social services for at-risk children and youth,” Colón explains. “During the summer months, the Cabbage Patch sponsors weeklong camps that teach children skills in everything from cooking to horseback riding.”
Colón, who assists the kids with these projects, is often at work late into the evening—but seeing how much the children love being there makes that worthwhile.
“Many of the children are disappointed that they have to leave. They tell us they truly love the Cabbage Patch and feel they can be themselves while they are there,” she says.
Watching the kids learn new skills and understand more about the world has been meaningful for Colón.
“The children continuously surprise me with their thoughtfulness,” she says. “One of our most recent themes was ‘Refugee and Immigration Week.’ During the week, we explained the differences between refugees and immigrants. We discussed the difficulties that accompany being forced to leave your home. On one of the days, the kids participated in a refugee simulation activity.
“Afterwards, we had the children talk about their experience,” Colón continues. “We discussed how difficult it is to start over in a new country. They were engaged and inquisitive. They wanted to know how they could help.”
For the children—many of whom have never left Louisville, much less Kentucky, says Colón—activities such as these broaden their horizons.
“The kids learned what the world around them looks like and how they can make a positive impact in that world by showing compassion,” she says.
Willbanks, a religion major and Spanish and Latin American studies minor from Monticello, Ind., helps refugees as they transition to new lives in a new place.
“I like to think of our work as smoothing over some of the early difficulties in order to help newly arrived refugees preserve their sense of hope for the future and prevent them from feeling too overwhelmed,” Willbanks says. “Ultimately, our goal is to make the dream of a new life possible.”
Much like Parks and Colón, Willbanks has most enjoyed the interpersonal interactions the internship has provided.
“One of the best things about working with Church World Service is, without a doubt, meeting the people who come here as refugees,” she says. “They come from so many different backgrounds and handle the transition in myriad ways, but many adapt with startling rapidity. Making a space for themselves here is still no easy task. Yet, they demonstrate remarkable resilience and manage to make it work.”
Recently, Willbanks sat in on a class about unemployment with the refugees and was struck by how quickly the people in the room had created a new community.
“It was almost surreal to see these people from all over the world, who have borne witness to some of the darkest parts of humanity, all working together. They sat together laughing and helping one another despite differences in language, religion and level of education,” she says. “All of these people are here with the aim of making Greensboro a home. That moment of earnest, genuine community is seared in my mind as something truly beautiful as a natural outpouring of common humanity.”
Parks, Colón and Willbanks are grateful for the opportunity to complete an internship, guaranteed to all Centre students as part of the Centre Commitment.
“This internship has taught me so much about myself: my strengths, weaknesses, passions and what I want to do in life,” says Parks.
“Being guaranteed an internship has been a gift,” Willbanks adds. “It has been wonderful to see people with so many different perspectives come together to talk about how everything connects and how we can move forward in making the world a better place.”
While the Shepard scholars’ summer internships will come to an end as a new academic year begins, their passion for helping those in need is sure to continue.
“I am excited by the fire I see in my fellow interns, and I know that they are going to have a lasting impact on their communities and on the people they work with,” Willbanks says.
To learn more about the Shepherd Internship Program, visit their official website.
by Elizabeth Trollinger
July 26, 2016