Some days I’m in the office, writing articles and designing social media posts. Other days, I’m out shadowing Refugee Resettlement case managers and attending Youth Court sessions, or interviewing people with thought-provoking stories. The context for this all? This summer, I’m working as a Communications/Social Media intern at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSSND) in Fargo, ND, and so far it’s been a whirlwind of busyness and learning—and since it’s only June, there’s a lot to look forward to as well!
My name is Michelle Foster ‘20 and I’m an English major. LSSND is a nonprofit organization that serves people in many areas, including adoption services, therapy and counseling, senior companionship, affordable housing, refugee resettlement, and juvenile court diversion. As a Communications intern, my job is to write about what’s going on at LSSND, to tell the organization’s story. That means not just sitting in a cubicle and writing all day—although some days I do that—but getting out and shadowing LSSND employees, going to events and workshops, and of course interviewing people who work at LSSND or receive its services.
Although it’s only been a month, I’ve gotten to experience a lot. The first bigger story I worked on was about Team Boaz, a community project that collects used bicycles for New Americans. In late May they had a big giveaway and supplied around 100 bikes to New Americans in need of access to transportation, and it was neat to see how happy the recipients were and to talk to them.
One of my main focuses this June is promoting Immigrant Heritage Month. I’ve had the chance to talk to immigrants working for LSSND and feature their stories. Probably the most eye-opening project I’ve been working on is a story about a family from Bhutan. They lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for 26 years and arrived in Fargo about two weeks ago, where their case manager and I welcomed them at the airport. I learned about the process of settling them in an apartment in Fargo and how they would hopefully be able to start out at a job where not much English was required. When I spoke to them—with a translator helping—they expressed a mix of happiness at being here with worry about the future. I’m still working on writing their story, and it’s given me a lot to think about. So in this internship, I’m not only learning about writing, but I’m also learning about the community here and about lives very different from my own. It turns out Fargo has the largest population of refugees in ND, but with current policies the number arriving each year is dropping. Attitudes towards refugees in ND have always been riddled with misconceptions, which I’m working to help dispel through my writing.
My supervisors have taught me a lot about writing effectively. They advise me as I learn to focus on the human side of each story, because the connection between humans in the story and the readers is what counts the most. And of course, writing every day gives me a lot of practice!
Another important component of my internship is learning how to best get the stories that I write out there for people to read. A lot of my work goes on the website as part of a blog, but I’ve also been learning how to use social media to promote these stories and to condense the longer articles into shorter, consumable pieces. I’ve been doing a lot with Facebook and Twitter, and the Communications/Photography intern Sarah and I have even started an Instagram page for LSSND.
Looking forward, I’ve got many more projects ahead of me. One of them is promoting Youth Court, which is a program in which minors charged with misdemeanors get to sit in front of a jury of other minors instead of going to juvenile court. After they complete whatever the jury decides they should do to repair the harm they caused, the charge will not go on their criminal record. Sarah and I sat in on a session last week, and it was neat to see how impassioned the student jurors were about giving their peers a second chance, and how those on “trial” were grateful to be given that chance. We’ll be working on a short video—and after that we’ll tackle new projects! There are always so many stories to tell.
Experiences like Michelle’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