Insights From a United Way Intern

I’m a senior at Birmingham-Southern College graduating with a degree in Global Comparative Studies and Spanish. When I began weighing my options for how to spend my final term (a four week “semester” at BSC where students can take a class on campus, participate in a travel project, do some sort of independent study, or just take the month off!) I realized that it was time for me to get some real world experience and do something outside of the classroom. When I began looking at internship opportunities, finding one at a non-profit was at the top of my list. For years I had been interested in non-profit work, especially those aimed at poverty alleviation and education. I’ve always had the lofty aspiration that I would spend my life doing something impactful; I wanted to know that I was making an important change.

While I looked at a few different organizations, I chose to spend the month at United Way because, being from the New Orleans area, I had heard about United Way of Southeast Louisiana’s work in the community all my life. I knew the enormous impact that they have and the voice they have in the community, but I really had no idea what the day-to-day work entailed.

I spent a month helping out in the Marketing Department and learned that the day-to-day work of a non-profit is actually really similar to the day-to-day work you would expect at any place of business. There were mailings to go out, events to plan, and retirement parties to organize; there were budgets and conference calls and meetings. But being at United Way, I also learned that there were a few distinct and vital differences. Working at United Way showed me the passion and determination that went into these everyday tasks. At an organization like this, there is a real need to be met combined with a tight budget to work around, but the commitment of the employees here showed me the way that real changes could be made. They wouldn’t be overnight and they wouldn’t come easily but because of all of the little things like the fundraiser that I helped organize or the promotional materials I worked on for a report on poverty, United Way comes closer and closer to meeting its goals each day.

While I may not be exactly sure where I’ll be after graduation, I know it will be somewhere still trying to make that change I always dreamed about. Thanks to a wonderful month at United Way, I know that it’s more than a lofty aspiration but also that it really takes every little step to make that difference and a group of people that genuinely care about getting it done. In these past four weeks, I worked on projects that I got to see put into action, learned everything I now know about marketing, had so much fun, and became one step closer to figuring out my future.