What a summer it has been! Here I am reflecting on my internship experience with United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area, but it still seems unreal that eight weeks have flown by. During my time here I worked mostly on data analysis and management, but also had opportunities to learn about community engagement, grant writing and project management. As a Global Development Studies (GDS) and Statistics double major at U.Va., my internship with the United Way was the perfect fit for me.
A key project I worked on this summer was analyzing survey data for United Way’s free tax preparation and prescription assistance programs. United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area takes the feedback of its beneficiaries very seriously in improving its programs. An issue that GDS majors often discuss is accountability, as the views of program recipients can sometimes be overshadowed by opinions of donors and staff members. Surveys can help counter this by allowing program recipients to evaluate the services they are receiving. The statistical side of me also enjoys crunching numbers and translating them into meaningful conclusions on how effective the programs were. I have been challenged by United Way’s impact - or outcome - based approach to evaluating both grant applications and its own programs. It is a testament to United Way’s self-critical lens, as well as the power and importance of information.
Throughout my internship I was also able to attend meetings with other agencies, where I found out about what they do and how the United Way is working with them. United Way embraces collaboration as a powerful way to meet the needs of the community. Rather than reinventing the wheel (another concern that GDS majors often discuss), United Way often redirects needs to other agencies that may already have existing programs in place. It has an Information and Referral Center that refers callers to services provided by other agencies, and it also linked up Walmart with the Salvation Army when the company wanted to organize a school supplies donation drive.
Fundamentally, the United Way is committed to community engagement. This often involves pairing up volunteers with projects that would best tap their interests and talents. Even as an intern, I was given a lot of say in what meetings I wanted to tag along on and which staff members I wanted to shadow. I even got to go on a local radio show one week to talk about my internship! United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area truly celebrates differences and collaboration, tapping into the various things people and agencies bring to the table to make the biggest impact.
Of course, the best part of the internship was how much I enjoyed getting to know the staff at United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area. Over the past eight weeks, I met passionate and dedicated individuals who so warmly welcomed and mentored me. They have truly inspired me to become more active and engaged in the world around me, and I now want more than ever to explore a future career in the nonprofit sector. Thank you all for a wonderful summer internship experience!
Posted by: Bernice Tay, United Way Summer Intern
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