Shepherd interns assist struggling communities

Madison Weaver, Assistant News Editor

“The entire experience was very eye-opening,” Shepherd intern Maren Burling ’19 said. “We can learn about all of this in our classes, but something that the program really provided us was the opportunity to work with these individuals and see the problems that poverty causes firsthand.”

Four University students, Burling, Jemmy Moreira ’20, Esmely Muñoz ’20, and Sarah Rippel ’20 spent 8 weeks of their summers serving as Shepherd Interns in struggling communities through Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP). The interns pledge to live on $14 per day in their assigned city, while working with one of many organizations partnered with SHECP.

On Oct. 18, Burling, Moreria, Muñoz, and Rippel spoke on a student panel about their experiences. The University has taken part in the program for four years, and past interns were also in attendance.

First, the interns take part in an opening conference; this year, the program focused on impact of race and criminalization on poverty. After the completion of their eight weeks, students attend a closing conference to discuss their experience and issues they are interested in.

During the panel, the students talked about their experiences with their respective organizations, the difficulties of living on a limited budget and living in various housing situations, and personal stories of how the people they met impacted their experience and future goals.

Muñoz lived in a convent in Louisville, Ky. during her internship with Family Scholar House, which works to empower families to break the poverty cycle by assisting parents with their financial and housing situations while working towards degrees.

“When we went to Louisville, Ky., it was kind of a culture shock because I’ve never been to the south for more than a week,” Muñoz said. “It was a very social experience, where we learned about social justice but we also learned about culture of the places we were going to.”

While there, Muñoz became interested in savior complexes, the idea that an individual believes he or she is responsible to save others, and gave her final presentation on how to address these complexes.

Moreira interned with the Sacred Heart Center in Richmond, Va., where she worked with two free children’s camps that served underprivileged children ages 4-7 and 8-11.

“Primarily, it was a space for them to feel like they were receiving resources that other kids their age were receiving,” Moreira said.

She also discussed how the intern’s house was in a wealthier part of Richmond while she was working with individuals living in gentrified apartment complexes in downtown Richmond, and how the disparity created a unique experience. Moreira said her experiences in Richmond has inspired her to focus on immigration law in the future, after working with children who had family members deported.

Burling and Rippel lived together in a cohort with other interns in Washington D.C. Burling interned with N Street Village, a shelter for homeless women and transgender individuals, while Rippel interned with LIFT, a national nonprofit helping families break the cycle of poverty. 

Burling’s internship focused on female empowerment and providing housing and resources for homeless individuals, and encouraged her to pursue work in the nonprofit sector.

Burling said the experience taught her skills including conducting surveys that determine an individual’s vulnerability level. She also learned how much of a problem it is that the United States addresses homelessness in a quantitative manner rather than on an individual, qualitative basis.

“What I realized was that you can’t just provide housing… it’s also social services, it’s also a sense of community, it’s a standard of living” Burling said. “A lot of times, those suffering from homelessness are seen as less than. You see this every day if you’ve ever been in the city. “

Rippel’s work with LIFT centered on helping the parents of children age eight and younger with focused resources, such as assistance with job searches and financial assistance. For example, Rippel assisted a Spanish speaking woman studying for her citizenship exam in English.

“A lot of times people of who are of low socioeconomic status are subject to criticism from many other socioeconomic statuses regarding their spending habits,” Rippel said, of the freedom that people they assisted were allowed to have as they learned about financial responsibility.

She talked about the importance of the support system of fellow interns her own age when dealing with difficult or emotional situations at work. Overall, the experience has inspired Rippel to pursue a Master’s degree in social work.

Afterwards, the panel answered questions from the audience, discussing issues ranging from their limitations when it came to creating change to advice for future interns. The University will begin holding information sessions for students interested in the internship experience.  

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