TCU students selected as Bridge Interns this summer to help at-risk students
Fort Worth, TX
Emily Hess wanted a summer internship that challenged her financial skills while providing practical, hands-on experience.
She got all that plus the occasional hug.
"Sometimes they come from behind when I'm working on the computer," she said. "I feel their small, warm hands around me."
Those hands belong to the kids at H.O.P.E. Farm Inc., a non-profit serving at risk boys in Southeast Fort Worth. Hess is spending her summer overseeing land acquisition and construction plans for a new gymnasium.
"It's showed me I can use my finance skills to better the community, something I'm passionate about," said Hess, a senior finance and real estate major.
Hess is one of the 23 TCU students selected as Bridge Interns this summer through the TCU YOUth Program, a federally-funded grant initiative administered through the university's Office of Extended Education.
The program places interns in projects designed to improve the lives of at-risk kids but these summer gigs aren't just about giving back – they're about growth. Each internship specifically helps local non-profits build capacity to reach more people.
"Rather than simply serving immediate short-term needs, each of these students has the satisfaction of making a contribution that will last far beyond the eight weeks they worked this summer and will serve our partner organizations and our community for years to come," said Intern Coordinator Tiffany Wang '07.
For example, at the Volunteer Center of North Texas, three Bridge interns – Alexis Branaman, Laura Clingman and Paige Zinsou – developed ways the organization could reach out to 12 to 21-year-old volunteers including compiling a computer database of local school volunteer organizations. They also organized specific volunteer projects such as building a butterfly garden and constructing bat boxes for the Fort Worth Zoo.
"The need was there to expand our ability to serve," said Kay Dillard, Tarrant County director of the Volunteer Center of North Texas. "We weren't reaching out to as many people as we needed to. I was a little apprehensive at first, I'd worked with interns before and I thought I'd have to spend a lot of time explaining how to do things, but that hasn't happened."
Interns receive a paycheck, which roughly equates to $10 an hour, plus most are also earning credit for a political science class called Civic Literacy. While most internships were completed during the summer, a few will be done this fall and spring. Next summer, the grant is expected to fund another 12 to 15 internships.
"This federal grant has a year and a half left to run, but we're going to look for ways to carry it on," said David Grebel, director of Extended Education.
Grebel and Judy Shannon, director of special projects, spearheaded the application for the three-year, $750,000 grant, funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, designed to help non-profit programs that target gangs, youth violence, child abuse and neglect.
TCU is also working to help non-profits strengthen their infrastructure by offering training and consulting in areas such as staff development, computer software, marketing, grant writing, fundraising, and volunteer development.
Thanks to the efforts of Bridge intern Annie Cooper, leaders at local non-profits serving youth recently gathered for an informal networking event dubbed "Youth Focus" to trade ideas and insights.
"We had folks tell us they got more out of that short session than anything they've attended in the last six months," Shannon said.
She said the program keeps TCU connected to the greater Fort Worth community and gives students possible new career paths.
"Including students in the process helps them test the nonprofit sector as a potential career choice and exercise some of the skills they are acquiring," she said. "It also shows them the importance of community development and service. It's building community minded citizens, which is essential."
By the end of this summer the program's interns were on track to log more than 3,500 hours devoted to expanding the reach of seven Tarrant and Parker county non-profits serving young people.
As part of the grant, TCU has awarded more than $63,000 for infrastructure needs at non-profits including upgrading the phone system at H.O.P.E. Tutoring, an Arlington non-profit serving students from low income homes, and a new computer and C.P.R. Training for coaches and referees at the Youth Sports Council of Fort Worth.
"To us at Hope Farm, they've been a godsend," said Noble Crawford, who co-founded the organization with former TCU basketball player and Fort Worth police officer Gary Randle ('76).
Everything that each intern is working on didn't need to be fabricated, it was a real need for us."
Jordan Cohen, a senior English and philosophy major, helped H.O.P.E. Farm by creating and implementing a volunteer management plan and integrating new software to aid fundraising, but she said she feels she's gotten much more in return.
"The way the staff motivates the boys, they have also motivated me to tackle some things in my life," she said. "It's been really profound."
Already the internships have helped some students land full-time gigs including Danielle Marshall, a senior advertising and public relations major. She jumped into organizing a Juneteenth event recognizing 32 high-risk students who had stayed in school featuring former Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith. Her work quickly pulling together the event helped her win a job offer from the Fort Worth Independent School District.
"I found out I really like working with people," she said. "Creating things, being hands-on. This is definitely something I could do. I want to do something to help people who didn't have the advantages I've had."
Hess said she feels the same way. She said her mother had hoped she would land an internship at a major corporation, but changed her mind after visiting H.O.P.E. Farm.
"She saw what I was doing, how the organization is helping kids," Hess said. "She told me, 'you are making a difference here. I'm really proud of you.' "
For more information on the Bridge Student Internship Program, go to www.youth.tcu.edu/interns.asp