On July 11th, 2017, I barbecued for the first time in my life. This may not have been what the Whitman Internship Grant had in mind for skill-development (maybe something more like “professionalism” or “independent problem-solving”), but I think it’s an important life skill to develop. This barbecue was for Triple Point Walla Walla’s annual summer picnic, so I was technically paid to grill hot dogs and it was awesome.
Barbecuing is probably not the first thing you’d think of if you learned that I’m interning for a nonprofit. Most people’s minds jump to grunt-level data entry, light social work and heavy questioning of life choices. I do all of those in my internship, but my other duties involve cooking food for meetings, researching LGBTQ topics and talking with the youth of Triple Point about how flies always look like they’re scheming. My supervisor has dyed orange hair and a septum piercing. I can safely say that I love working at Triple Point, an LGBTQ support group for queer youth and allies in the Walla Walla area.
Triple Point meets for two hours on Tuesday, when a small group of high school youth and volunteers gather in the meeting room of the Children’s Home Society, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk children. The weekly meetings come in two types: Education-based and activity-based. Education-based meetings go over an LGBTQ-related topic such as gender identity, safe sex or mental health/illness (intersectionality, yo). Activity-based meetings involve an activity, like making art, or just talking about life and random topics such as whether flies are secretly plotting something when they rub their creepy little legs together.
As an intern, I have two primary taks. The first is to spend time with the youth during meetings and mentor them, while also being a real-life example of It Gets Better. I grew up as a rural town queer! I survived! There is life after high school!
My other objective for this internship is to compile a yearly curriculum for education-based meetings, ensuring that the youth can receive comprehensive and intersectional information. This involves a lot of research on all kinds of issues, from the history of language and identity in the LGBTQ community to dealing with (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and trauma.
During meetings, I spend a lot of time wondering if I would have attended Triple Point had I grown up in Walla Walla. I usually conclude with no, because to be frank, the kids at Triple Point are weird. They’re the kind of kids I avoided in high school, because I knew that I was abnormal and I was trying very hard not to be. This is the cruel intersection of growing up queer and neuroatypical: When your brain already works differently, it sure would be nice not to have one more thing that can make people uncomfortable around you. But while I spent a good part of high school unsuccessfully trying to figure out faking normal, the teenagers I work with… Just don’t really care about it. They’re weird and they own that weirdness in a way I was always too scared to try.
In their day-to-day lives, many of the youth at Triple Point struggle with homelessness, mental illness, disability, dysfunctional families and bigotry. They are so openly vulnerable that it physically pains me. They accept and encourage each other’s strangeness, and the brilliance that comes with it. They usually validate trauma, although there is some occasion one-upping for Worst Life Possible (hey, they’re competitive teenagers.) For two hours a week, they create their own small community of support and validation, and it has been something amazing to witness.
This internship has shown me that, although I love working with the Triple Point youth, LGBTQ counseling and social work is not where my heart is. However, even if this is not the path I will walk after Whitman, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to engage with this small and beautiful part of Walla Walla.
*neuroatypical has various definitions. Mine refers to both mental illness and developmental disorders.
Experiences like Helena’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff