Thursday, January 24, 2008

Intern Insight: Coffee Break

By Brittany Aubin

Undoubtedly, some poor intern in this city is just now embarking on a semester–long affair with the office copy machine. For many young people, the allure of prestigious ID badges and K Street commutes almost eclipses the annoyance of days spent running coffee and crunching numbers.

It was partly an effort to avoid such a dreaded coupling that brought me to this position in Street Sense’s humble church office. For me, a senior majoring in international development and print journalism at American University, Street Sense seemed the perfect chance to combine news writing, social justice and empowerment.

While I have worked with homeless communities before, much of my knowledge comes from volunteerism, both in D.C. and as an exchange student in Chile. These opportunities were rewarding, but did little to address the deep–seated issues surrounding homelessness.

Seeing the advertisement for Street Sense online, I saw a chance to take my involvement one step further.

All of that brought me to this morning, my first day at Street Sense. Wedged between fellow commuters on the Metro bus, I fantasized of soon–to–come undercover features, intimate interviews and daring adventures as intrepid gumshoe reporter.

Only an hour in, I decided this job would be anything but predictable. Set up at my own little computer – complete with lime–green keyboard and mouse – I already had a list of tasks ahead of me. With stories to cover, photos to find and sources to track, a bit of mindless photocopying actually started to sound relaxing. Between e-mails and phone calls, I had a chance to meet some of the paper’s vendors, who drifted in and out of the office to buy more issues, attend meetings and just chat. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to welcome me to the team.

By noon, every stereotype I might have had about the homeless was gone and I was floored by the diversity of personality, race, gender and background that made up this little office. The roles of vendor, volunteer and friend seemed merged, with many vendors helping out and basically everyone knowing more about the paper’s operations than me. In fact, everyone seemed to know a little more about life than me. With conversations jumping from the origins of Valentine’s Day to what kind of root goes into root beer, I wondered how it was that anyone got any work done here at Street Sense.

But work I did. By the end of the day, I realized how different this internship would be from others I had in the past. Putting the finishing touches on the vendor survey charts for this issue, I knew that the numbers corresponded to the many new faces I had met today. Although quite used to sobering statistics, I couldn’t shake the fact that over half of our vendors were 51 or older. And even my math–challenged mind understood about 30% of vendors had been homeless for four years or more – about one–fifth of my 21–year–old life.

Making the abstract personal is an uncomfortable feeling. Returning with other tired commuters Friday evening, I may have appeared just another Red Line undergrad, dressed in freshly-bought business casual, departing at the Tenleytown stop. Returning to a comfy apartment with heat and well–stocked shelves.

And a newfound understanding of the inequalities of this city. It sure beats running coffee.

Brittany Aubin is a senior at American University and an intern with Street Sense through the spring.


Anonymous said...

I loved your first day experience. Thanks for sharing it with everyone and I hope all your days are just as rewarding.

Melanie Lidman said...

What a great column... You really capture what it's like to work at Street Sense! With such an interesting office, it IS amazing any work gets done.

I felt the same way after my first day as an intern at Street Sense. It only took a few hours and suddenly I knew that everything I had previously thought about homelessness was totally wrong.

Good luck with your internship this semester--I'm sure it will be amazing!!!
-Melanie (last fall's intern)