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A Home Away from Home

When I first came to the United Way, I was so nervous. I was interviewed by Cathy Train, the President, and three days later I was thrown right into the mix of things. All around me I could hear typing fingers, phones ringing, and even a peep or two from Rylan (Lisa Frazier’s little daughter). I wasn’t sure how I would fit in, but as my time at the United Way is coming to an end, I feel like I fit in just where I am supposed to be.

I have been to meetings, helped out with golf tournaments, and become a master of the Andar database, Ladi2 (even though as I write this, it is not working for me.) I helped operate Westhaven Community Day, a day for the residents of this public housing neighborhood to come together and celebrate their culture and their community. At this event I got to do what I love best: work and play with kids. I have also been to the Charlottesville Newsplex on more than one occasion. I received a tour of their entire studio, and also got to see commercials and ads being made. Speaking of media, Shaele introduced me to a couple of radio stations in the area: I met Mr. Jay James from WINA and Mr. Joe Thomas from WCHV. Here Shaele and I (well, mostly Shaele, because I was observing) promoted the Day of Caring, and encouraged people to submit projects for the volunteers.

Recently, I helped install the Smart Beginnings display in the window of the downtown Virginia National Bank with Nathan, my co-intern. We gathered toys from everyone in the office who has kids, made posters with advice for parents about getting their kids ready for kindergarten, and trotted to the Downtown Mall. Here we spent the day arranging toys, and put up flyers for parents in need of this information. Setting up the window was fun, but when I stepped outside and saw people stopping at the window, I realized that the information Nate and I had put up could really influence and help people in our own community.

My weekly Wednesday project is one of my favorites. I head over to Word of Faith church where I meet up Ladi1with a host of Latina women to whom Martha Trujillo introduced me. These women come together and discuss problems they are facing or troubles they are having because of the transition from their home country to the U.S. While they talk in a seminar-like fashion, I watch their niños (children). These kids are so much fun, and being there helps me practice my Spanish-speaking skills.

Reimi Okuyama, who very recently moved to Florida, took me with her to court and introduced me to a part of Charlottesville I had no idea about: the drug rehabilitation program. Offenders have the opportunity to be in a three-phase program. If they succeed, the offense will not go on their record, and this program also supports self-confidence and self-control.

I have learned so many skills from being here, and being with all the people, and that’s what surprised me the most about the United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area. Everyone here gets along so well, and though each of them is constantly working on something different that may have nothing to do with another person, the friendships I have seen in the office seem great.  In the mornings I always hear Rylan coming up the stairs, followed by Lisa, Shaele, Leah, and Miriam who all dote over her. I am then greeted by Alaina, and we always discuss her battle with her morning coffee. Later in the day I usually see Caroline and Kim who have been watching over me for the past months, and have been absolutely great. Cathy is like a ghost because she is always in meetings and I am usually upstairs anyway. However, when I do see her and get to talk to her, her southern accent always catches my ear. Jon and Helen are also like ghosts because they are always at meetings, as well. I find my desk a cozy little place. There are Post-it notes all around, pens open, and the busy Bizhub printer right next to me. I can’t believe my time here is almost over. For someone who was as nervous as I was, I sure found a home away from home here. Thanks United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area!

Posted by Ladi Smith, United Way Intern.

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