This summer, Olivia Burke ’21 (Indianapolis, Indiana) is working to improve the lives of the impoverished through an internship program that pairs students from the colleges and universities that make up the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium of Poverty (SHECP) with agencies across the country.
During the eight-week Shepherd Internship Program (SIP), students learn how to address such issues as community building, economic development, healthcare, homelessness, job placement and nutrition.
Burke is interning at North Penn Legal Services (NPLS) in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. NPLS is a non-profit organization that offers civil legal aid to low-income families in northeastern Pennsylvania, with a specific focus on evictions, discrimination, family law, abuse and consumer protection issues.
“My official title is a ‘protection from abuse intern,’ so I’m specifically working on processing Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders filed by women or men who want protection from an abusive parent, family member or friend,” Burke said. “This abuse can take many forms, ranging from physical violence, and emotional manipulation, to sexual harassment and violence.
“I’ll be shadowing attorneys during interviews with victims, going to court to witness hearings and procedures and working with local domestic violence advocates to address the ongoing community concerns,” she continued. “The internship will culminate in a project that maps domestic violence calls in the three counties NPLS serves to see if there are any gaps in service, as well as compiling checklists to better help pro-bono attorneys serve clients in PFA cases.”
For Burke, this experience means the possibility of exploring several of her greatest interests in an environment where she works in tandem with individuals to solve issues in the community.
“I’m also exceedingly grateful that I get to learn from people who serve and fight for justice for women, their children and their families every day, and who have been doing so, so well, for so long.”
Burke was initially interested in the SIP because she wanted to explore working in a non-profit dealing, directly with poverty and homelessness as it intersects with issues such as gender, race and sexual orientation.
“I was also excited by the idea of being placed with an organization that I may have otherwise never have found, such as NPLS,” she added. “What most interested me, however, was the ability to work with local community members, both in my position as an intern and just as a citizen of the town for a few months, to improve their community in the ways they see fit.
“As I’m still a student, and thus still learning and growing, I don’t have a lot of expertise or experience I can offer to any profession or community,” she continued. “However, my position as an ‘outsider,’ optimistic about the future of Shamokin and eager to help, is something I am grateful to be able to share with people who have long-served their community so diligently.”
Burke hopes this experience does multiple things, ranging from providing insight into the legal system as it pertains to violence against women to gaining experience working directly with victims of domestic violence.
“Mostly, I hope to gain a better understanding of how problems and identities intersect with each other, specifically gender and class status,” she explained. “NPLS provides legal aid only to those who qualify as low-income, so the clients we work with are inherently affected by poverty. I’ve studied in various classes at Centre how poverty is linked to several problems, including domestic violence, but it is easy to forget what this actually means. I hope that after my summer with NPLS, I am better able to understand what part I can in ending both cyclical and generational poverty, as well as generational family violence, whether through future legal work, advocacy or policy.”
After Centre, Burke plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health and a law degree. She said this internship combines legal work with public health issues—domestic and sexual violence.
“I’m excited that I found an internship that so perfectly combines my interests that will hopefully provide clarity with what I want to do after Centre,” she concluded.
by Kerry Steinhofer
June 19, 2019