Rylee Neville ’21 conveys the voices of a facet of Walla Walla many do not hear during her internship at The City of Walla Walla Support Services

My name is Rylee Neville, graduating class of 2021. I am majoring in economics and minoring in Hispanic studies. This summer, I have the incredible opportunity to work for The City of Walla Walla in Support Services. My office is located in City Hall in Walla Walla, Washington. My supervisor is Jennifer Beckmeyer, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Coordinator.

The Community Development Block Grant is funding from The City that is provided to projects that meet a national objective of serving low to moderate income individuals by addressing areas of slum and blight, or serving an urgent need. CDBG projects include The Teen Center, the Micro-Business Assistance (MBA) program, sidewalk and crosswalk construction, home repairs, and alley lighting. I work closely with people who have been affected by CDBG funding. Many of the individuals in the programs are from low income neighborhoods and speak little to no English. I use my language skills from my Spanish minor to communicate with these people. I work with all CDBG funded programs, with an emphasis on the Micro-Business Assistance (MBA) program. The MBA program provides training, support, and funding to local entrepreneurs through an initial grant and/or micro-loans to allow fledgling businesses to grow and flourish.

My main responsibility is to oversee a project called CDBG Storytelling. Within the three-month period that I will be working under Jennifer, I am in charge of gathering and analyzing data as well as retrieving the stories of people from each of the CDBG funded programs. Over the course of the summer I will be researching, interviewing, and writing stories to uncover the personal truths behind CDBG.

In the past three weeks, I have interviewed Erin Coffey at the Teen Center and am looking to gather more specific stories from teens themselves. I have reached out to people from the MBA Program asking for a chance to share their experiences. Many individuals have incredible stories, and I can’t wait to share all of them with the community. For example, Noemi Reed was one of the graduates of the Micro-business Assistance Program in 2018. Noemi was an architect for 20 years in Mexico. She came to Walla Walla two years ago and wanted to create a design and construction business. As a single parent, Noemi went through the entire MBA program and received an award of $4,000 at the end to invest in her business. Through my work so far, I have already had the opportunity to dive into the complexities of being a Spanish speaking, low income, single parent, female entrepreneur in Walla Walla. I have contacted the other individuals who could have been affected by any of the six CDBG funded programs and am looking forward to uncovering more stories like Noemi’s this summer.

Besides developing CDBG Storytelling, I assist my supervisor with various tasks, including using data to calculate percentages of certain demographics in Walla Walla, as well as writing multiple grant applications in order to receive more funding for our programs. I have created PowerPoints that were shared with the City Council. I attended a City Council work session and a City Council Meeting, where my presentation of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and Title VI was discussed.  I also participated in a community trash clean up (pictured directly above). I have attended luncheons and a block party organized by my department. These events enable me to get in touch with the community and allow me to develop a clear understanding of the lives I am writing about.

By the end of my summer internship, I hope to have made an impact on the community. Through my writing, I want to share the side of Walla Walla that most are not aware of; the side of disadvantaged, underserved, yet determined, individuals. Raw economic data points to growth in Walla Walla through programs like the MBA program; my job is to shed light on the personal, human side of this data. My project, CDBG Storytelling, will have an impact on Walla Walla by sharing the narratives of community members. This internship grants me the opportunity to serve as a platform for voices to be heard and stories to be shared.

Experiences like Rylee Neville’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 Mitzy Rodriguez

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