We will weave together intentionally the strands of Paideia: academics, intercultural, collaborative, and civic engagement. The Paideia Program seeks to assist the Paideia Scholars in their search for a life that is connected, thoughtful, and authentic. Our seminar and tutorial sessions are designed to assist each seminar member in the pursuit of such a life.
The following shared values, methods, and procedures continue to clarify our approach to learning in this seminar:
Therefore, this seminar will require all of us to “stretch” beyond our established frames of reference, limits of understanding, and levels of comfort. The end result will be the integration of diverse learning experiences and progress toward the realization of our respective personal goals with regard to our educations.
Session #22 (Sept. 17)
Please read the relatively short definition of civic engagement at:
is ANYthing in this article relevant? realistic? genuine? not bs?
Session #23 (Sept. 24)
I decided to post the narrative I wrote for Suzy Pukys about the internship. Our instructions were:
Write a narrative, at least 2 pages in length (it can certainly be longer), single-spaced, describing this internship experience. Please include:
-your work responsibilities
-your agency -- its mission, staff, and clientele, include how many people (an estimate is fine) you worked with throughout the 10 weeks
-share at least three stories related to your work that were meaningful for you, and explain why they were meaningful to you
-discuss what you have learned from this experience -- what has it signified for you? How are you going to make meaning from the experience in the coming year and in your long-term future?
I don't have any questions in particular for us to think about, but I figure we can discuss things such as any internships or similar experiences we have had and how they relate to our lives academically and otherwise, whether or not we all knew much about domestic violence or its prevalence in Williamson County (and everywhere), and how we could possibly serve the community of Georgetown in ways that would lead to societal improvement. If you have any questions you'd like to ask everyone, please add those in as well.
THE INTERNSHIP THAT BECAME A CAREER
For the past ten weeks, I have served as a Case Management Intern at the Williamson County Children’s Advocacy Center. Earlier this spring, I had been looking for a meaningful internship or work experience to fill my free time during the summer. Project Transformation piqued my interest, but by the time I found out about the program the deadline was only a week away—not long enough to gather all of the materials, including letters of recommendation, that I needed. Soon afterward, when I had nearly resigned myself to finding a part-time retail job, I saw a campus-wide email that called for students interested in serving as interns at agencies that deal with domestic violence. Although I had never personally been touched by domestic violence and knew little about it, the opportunity to serve members of the community was too good to pass up, as by nature I live to serve.
The Williamson County Children’s Advocacy Center was my first choice for placement. Its mission statement reads, “Breaking the cycle of abuse one child at a time.” This is achieved by conducting child-friendly forensic interviews that are often evidence enough to put perpetrators behind bars and by making sure that clients receive counseling, when requested, to help prevent children who have been abused from one day becoming perpetrators themselves. Although it has only five staff members—two forensic interviewers, one of whom is a counseling intern; a full-time counselor; a program manager; and an executive director—the Center offers a fairly wide range of services, having recently added the ability to conduct forensic evaluations (interview-therapy hybrid sessions that take place over the span of several weeks, rather than just an hour or two) and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) exams. Until my personal interview with the staff, I was under the impression that it was a shelter for children who have been domestically abused. I soon learned this was not the case, but it ended up having little effect on how enjoyable the experience has been. I have still had the opportunity to interact directly with the children that the Center serves as they come in for various services. Although the Center usually has at least one volunteer throughout the day who takes care of the clients, on occasion both Mariah and I were called to do this as well, particularly when large families came in for interviews. The children often needed someone to watch and play with them while their parents filled out our intake form and spoke with law enforcement and/or CPS. Heather Batten would also have one of us sit at her desk whenever she was gone so that we could spring to action when needed.
Our main task, particularly for the first six weeks of the internship, was case management. The Center was nearly six months behind when it came to making follow-up calls to clients who had already visited—partially because there was no static system in place, but largely because the two volunteers who took care of case management were simply overwhelmed by the sheer amount of it. Mariah and I quickly immersed ourselves in this enormous task—and case management, at least in my eyes, can truthfully be described as an immersion experience. Although it was difficult to begin each day, once I did start I became completely focused on the cases and their particular circumstances, emerging from that mindset only when necessary. Perhaps it is this ability to separate the cases from my daily life that has enabled me to remain sane throughout the internship without receiving counseling services myself, though that is not to say that I have been completely untouched.
While doing case management, it often became necessary to contact a detective or CPS worker for an update on who a child was living with, whether or not charges would be filed, etc. At first we called them, but Mariah and I soon found that the chance of receiving a return call was rather low, particularly where CPS was concerned. This problem was almost entirely solved by sending e-mails instead. These e-mails were not our only contact with law enforcement and CPS, since the Center conducts monthly “staffings”—meetings involving the Center’s employees, local detectives and caseworkers in which they talk about particular cases and make sure that everyone is up-to-date on what is happening to the victims and perpetrators. The first staffing was during the second week of the internship, and although both Mariah and I were slightly nervous about being around so many people who had guns and badges, as the summer wore on we became more and more comfortable interacting with these important individuals—a fact that I think will serve us both well in the future.
Besides case management and client intakes, our job responsibilities were numerous and varied. Heather recognized that Mariah and I would not be at the Center forever and that systematic guidelines and procedures for conducting case management were needed so others would be able to follow in our stead and keep the Center from falling behind ever again. To accomplish this, she had us meet with herself, Carole and Erin—the forensic interviewers—and Adrienne, the Center’s counselor, to work out a system that would be efficient and help keep case managers from having to make judgment calls about whether or not a client needed counseling. Over the course of several meetings we developed a three-tier system that allows a case manager to easily decide whether or not to immediately close a case, see what kind of follow-up is needed, and quickly make a counseling referral if necessary. The new system is easy to outline and teach to a new case manager and cuts down on the amount of time-consuming grunt work required by Adrienne, who is the most overburdened staff member at the Center.
During the course of the internship, we were given the opportunity to meet with each staff member for about an hour and talk to them about their role and job responsibilities, how they came to the Center, and any other questions we had. I found each of these meetings to be very valuable in different ways, and the opportunity to learn about each aspect of a nonprofit was both intriguing and eye-opening. From Jerry, the Executive Director, we learned the importance of forming and maintaining good relationships with donors and cities served by the Center, in addition to the vital role of organization and record-keeping. From Heather, the Program Manager, we learned that it is beneficial to a nonprofit organization to have someone who can devote much of their time to writing and applying for grants. She also showed us throughout the internship that an administrative role is never fully separate from a client-oriented role, as she was the one we turned to when we needed services for a client but did not know where or how to look. From Adrienne, Carole, and Erin we learned a lot about what their jobs entail, but also, and more importantly, that no one person can save the world. Sometimes all we can do is paint our part in the greater picture.
On Wednesday evenings Adrienne and Erin held a group counseling session for children who had been sexually abused and had previously come to the Center for interviews. Mariah and I were in charge of providing activities for the children’s parent(s) and sibling(s) during the session. Sometimes we watched movies, but we also provided coloring materials, games, and puzzles. The goal was to get parents who may not otherwise have spent much one-on-one time with their children to interact with them for the entire hour. Mariah and I also participated, since this was a small group and there was usually only one parent and her son. We all had a great time playing Jenga, Don’t Break the Ice, and Ants in the Pants, and it was very rewarding to see a parent and her child having so much fun together—playing “kiddie” games!
In addition to the above, both Mariah and I spent dozens of hours compiling an organized, printable, and easily editable list of local resources. The final alphabetized list is an Excel spreadsheet that lists names, phone numbers, addresses, websites, and descriptions and is 38 pages long. We also began and have nearly finished a separate spreadsheet that contains the same resources organized by type of service—for example: counseling, transportation, crisis management, and emergency shelter. This resource guide came in handy for us and will hopefully serve others well for years to come.
During the ten weeks of our internship, Mariah and I worked with an estimated 1000 clients total. You might think that interacting with such a vast number of people would cause their cases to blur together into an indeterminable mass, but many of them had some sort of defining characteristic that made them memorable. On the first day of the group therapy session I was at the front of the Center, waiting to greet the families who were coming. The first child to arrive was a boy who was about eight years old. He was a little shy at first, but he sat down at a table and began to color, and I sat and talked with him. Over the course of the next seven weeks, he was almost always the first one to arrive for therapy. Although I knew from talking to Adrienne and Erin that his personality within the session was quite different from the way he acted outside it, he and I got along very well and he always seemed to look forward to talking for a few minutes. He often gave me the pictures he colored, which are currently hanging in my campus apartment. Although all of the children in the group therapy session were and are special, something about this one particular boy made me want to make an extra effort to reach out to him. Perhaps it was because he is in the foster care system—the other children were living with their parents—or because his case was one of the more shocking ones. Whatever the reason, I can only hope that showing an extra ounce of kindness to a child might help influence his future in a positive manner and remind him that he is not alone.
The Center often receives calls from non-clients who want to file a report with CPS or are looking for assistance of some sort. The volunteers who answer the phone are ill-equipped to deal with these calls and instead pass them to Heather, Mariah or I. Often it is simply a matter of giving the caller the names and phone numbers of an organization that can help them. Sometimes, however, it is more. Just a couple of weeks ago I received a call from a man we will call Jim. Jim had a granddaughter who was being abused by her father. I am not sure whether Jim abducted her or convinced her to run away, but she was classified by law enforcement as a runaway and Jim was sheltering her and doing everything in his power to make sure that she did not go back to living with her father. Jim had already filed a CPS report but it had been closed, likely because CPS could not find enough evidence of abuse to actually do anything. Because his granddaughter was classified as a runaway Jim could not go directly to the police regarding the abuse of his granddaughter. He was at his wit’s end, and frustrated with a system that was preventing him from doing what was best for his granddaughter. After Jim had told me all of this over the phone, I told him I would have to go talk to some co-workers and call him back with instructions. I spoke with Erin and Carole, who said that all Jim could do was go to law enforcement and risk punishment for harboring a runaway. Although I myself was very frustrated with “The System” by this point, all I could do was call Jim back and tell him what Erin and Carole had told me. He understood, but said that he might try to seek out the services of an attorney. On Friday, the last day of the internship, Jim called back to the Center and informed me that he had managed to gain legal custody of his granddaughter. He was now looking for counseling services for her, so I obtained his e-mail address and sent him every resource I could find. I was overjoyed that such a frustrating situation had ended up working out for the people involved and glad that, though I hadn’t been able to help Jim very much with the initial problem, I could now do something meaningful for him and his granddaughter.
Although there were enough relatively happy endings to keep the internship from being depressing, there were also some very difficult moments. One case in particular, that of a teenage boy who had been sexually assaulted by a male stranger, may very well haunt me for years to come. It is not his story itself that is so terrible, but the fact that his experience scarred him so irrevocably that he took his own life just weeks afterward. Upon reading about his case, what struck me was that his death could have been prevented. What if someone, at the Center or elsewhere, had taken just ten minutes to contact his family and make sure they were able to get their son counseling services? Could one phone call have prevented his life from coming to such an end?
It does no good to ask, “What if…?” years after the fact. The past cannot be changed, but the future can. It was at very soon after reading the boy’s case that I knew my purpose—to devote every fiber of my being to preventing other troubled teenagers from making poor choices or hurting themselves; to help them realize that there is hope and show them that there is love. Before this internship I was pursuing a Computational Mathematics major largely because it is useful and there was nothing else in particular that interested me enough to major in it. Although I have always known my true calling somewhere deep down inside, I did not realize it for what it was until now. Had I not taken a chance and been accepted into this internship experience, there is no telling what my future would have held. Now, I have a plan and a clear direction that my heart says is right. I will graduate from Southwestern in two years with a degree in Spanish and accompanying minors in both mathematics and computer science. Then I will either take a year off and work with Americorps or go directly to graduate school with the intention of earning a Master of Social Work degree. In the meantime, I will continue working with the Center and will also look into working with other social service organizations in the Georgetown area, as I do not yet know what area of social work I feel most called toward.
I highly recommend the continuation of this internship opportunity. It is all too easy to wear blinders that block out the world’s misfortunes and make them someone else’s problems rather than “our” problems. If more students were able to be a part of this potentially life-changing experience, it would be a big step forward in the fight for social change. As federal aid programs continue to suffer from funding cuts and nonprofits rise to take their places, public awareness of the issues that plague our society will need to rise in order to ensure that these nonprofits have enough donors. Each person who is made aware of what is often a private problem is one more person who can advocate for the members of our society who need help. Sometimes one person really can make the difference.