Virtual Poverty and Social Justice internships offer life experiences, career perspectives

Elon is a member of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, which offers summer internships to undergraduates across the nation.

For five Elon undergraduates in the Poverty and Social Justice minor, virtual internships through the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty connected learned theories to lived experience.

One of them was even hired part-time by their host agency this fall.

Elon is a member of SHECP, which offers summer internships at agencies nationwide working with impoverished populations or to alleviate the symptoms of poverty. About 25 campuses nationwide are members of the consortium. The membership furthers the minor’s objectives and Elon’s mission to create informed and compassionate global leaders.

“We want our students to make contact with, work with and get to know people in poverty,” said Toddie Peters, director of the Poverty and Social Justice minor. “It’s important that they’re in relationships with people in poverty, working with and for them, so they have a deep understanding of it” to affect lasting change and build effective policy.

The five Elon undergraduates who participated in this summer’s SHECP virtual internships were Caren Aveldanez ‘21, Kendall Cage ’21, Aliana Fouse ’21, Talia Gallo ’22, and Chandler Vaughan ’21. Gallo was hired by her agency, the Savannah/Chatham County Court Appointed Special Advocates, in Savannah, Georgia, to continue working remotely this fall.

“I would tell other Elon students to participate in the program. It’s unique, and it could play to anyone’s interests,” Gallo said. “It’s the perfect way to take all of this information we hear and learn about social justice and see it being implemented in the field. It was an empowering experience.”

Even through virtual internships, connecting with people hundreds of miles away, Elon’s SHECP interns were able to observe and learn from people and communities in poverty, Assistant Professor of Public Health Studies Stephanie Baker said. She coordinates the internships through the minor program, and believes SHECP offers experiences that will lead to critical examination of social issues and future policies.

“I think this internship program is a hidden gem at Elon,” Baker said. “We want more students and applications. Everyone who participates has a great experience.”

The deadline to apply for the consortium’s summer 2021 internships is Nov. 15. Find out more at the consortium’s website.

Here’s a closer look at the experiences of those who participated this summer:

Caren Aveldanez

Caren Aveldanez '21
Caren Aveldanez ’21

Major: Public health studies; minors in poverty and social justice, German studies, and international and global studies

Interned with: House of Ruth, in Balitimore, Maryland, as a domestic violence advocate

Duties: Staffing 24-hour crisis hotline, connecting clients with resources, creating safety plans and assessing the lethality of their living situations, and assisting clients in the protective order process.

“Due to social distancing and isolation rules, there were a lot more domestic violence cases because people were stuck with their abusers. The importance of the work became very apparent in a pandemic. … You can read about domestic violence or poverty, you can see images, but you can never understand people’s experiences until you’re able to talk to them.”

What they learned: “There isn’t one thing poverty looks like. I learned more about the different faces of poverty. Domestic violence can be a cause or result of poverty. … And I learned the power of words, language and communication. Sometimes when people are in the middle of a crisis, there are things you can say that can impact the outcome of what they do later. I learned a lot about being able to be there for someone. I take more time now to think about what I’m going to say and what impact that may have.”

Kendall Cage

Kendall Cage
Kendall Cage ’21

Major: Political science; minors in poverty and social justice and economics

Interned with: Common Table (Catholic Charities of Louisville) in job development and communications. Common Table provides culinary skills training and job support for people with disadvantaged backgrounds.

Duties: Created a database of potential employers, made more difficult but more urgent by the pandemic recession and shutdown of many food service businesses. Contacted about 80 former Common Table students to determine their job status, living situation and offer assistance.

What they learned: “The work I usually do is education and outreach. This was completely different, to go into an organization set up to develop professional skills and impact change in multiple ways. … I have always thought of myself as an empathetic person. This experience at this time — with all the different things going on in our world, in our country, even in our town at Elon — made me really focus on the work I was doing. It made me feel I am here for a specific reason: to listen, to help, and to love, and to make impactful change.”

Aliana Fouse

Aliana Fouse '21
Aliana Fouse ’21

Major: Public health, minor in poverty and social justice

Interned with: Gateway Program at the YWCA of Greater Austin, working to eliminate racism and empower women

Duties: Community care coordination program intern, connecting clients to resources in the Austin, Texas, area and developing life-skills videos and resources

A first-generation college student, Fouse used her Elon connections to organize and moderate a panel of first-generation students to share information and advice with high school students. Four Elon classmates participated in the discussion.

What they learned: “I’ve always been interested in women’s health. I came to Elon as a biology major but became more interested in the social and cultural aspects of health. Studying public health helped me meet my goals in working with communities. That’s also why I enjoyed working with the YWCA of Greater Austin. They serve mainly women and people of color. I’m interested in healthcare administration. This experience confirmed everything I already knew.”

Talia Gallo

Talia Gallo
Talia Gallo ’22

Major: policy studies; minor in poverty and social justice

Interned with: Savannah/Chatham County Court Appointed Special Advocates, which provides guardian ad litem services for children in the foster care system.

Duties: As advocacy analyst and communications, Gallo helped rewrite the agency’s memorandum of understanding with Child and Family Services and coordinated with the state’s CASA office to create guides for Georgia’s branches and advocate for policy changes; communications and social media management

“I had an underlying knowledge of systems, but working with CASA, I was able to see how nuanced the foster and juvenile justice systems are. Dealing with child abuse and neglect cases, the majority of those cases are neglect. That’s not because the parents don’t care. The parents often don’t have the resources to care for them. CASA helps guide families to employment and housing resources, welfare, healthcare and to programs that address education and generational poverty.”

What they learned: “I want to go to law school to specialize in public interest law. My experience with CASA reaffirms that. I want to do work that gives a voice to people who don’t have a voice. Everyone who works for CASA is so passionate and believes the work they are doing is vital. It was inspiring to see that.”

Chandler Vaughan

Chandler Vaughan '21
Chandler Vaughan ’21

Major: Policy studies; minors in leadership and poverty and social justice

Interned with: Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center as the youth engagement intern

Duties: Creating activities for youth 12 to 18 years old at the detention center, focused on developing healing, reflection, introspection and collaboration. COVID disrupted her original lesson and engagement plans. The facility held individuals in solitary rooms 23 out of 24 hours a day without pencils, paper, or books.

“I started project-based initiatives and a supply drive for them to get more pens, paper, and arts-and-crafts materials. I recruited people on campus to write encouraging letters to them. My friend from Kenya got her friends to write them letters.

“I knew they were surrounded by blank, white walls. I wanted to give them something they could create. I went through and cut out photos from magazines, included quotes and motivational words, and information about people of color who are influential in society so they could see people who look like them succeeding. I cut out the materials for over 140 collages and sent those in.”

What they learned: “This is an invisible population. It is overlooked, but this is the population that probably needs the most tailored education. This internship experience inspired me to do research on education, policy, and juvenile justice experiences: How teachers impact policy and how policy impacts what they teach in North Carolina and Ohio.

“I feel like the area I’m most passionate about is education, but I don’t necessarily want to be a teacher. Looking at education policy, it can’t just be teachers advocating for policy. There needs to be someone with a different perspective, another lens, looking at the problems.”