Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Last Word: An Eye-Opening Experience

Going into my internship at Street Sense, I felt ready to leave an impact on the lives of the homeless vendors. I also wanted to show that I was a determined worker, make some necessary professional contacts, sharpen my journalism skills, and get a taste of D.C. Going in, I didn’t expect that I would get more then I could ever give. I didn’t expect that my internship would reward me with more than a couple stories in a great nonprofit newspaper.

Interning at Street Sense two days a week for three months has been the most rewarding experience an 18-year-old moving D.C. would hope to have. Street Sense has provided me with the opportunity to mature, meet amazing people, and understand what homelessness is.

Before working at Street Sense I didn’t understand the complexity of homelessness. Coming from a suburb in central New Jersey, I always looked at poverty and homelessness as if they were some far away problem that I would never experience directly. Working at Street Sense has taught me that the effects of poverty and homelessness can be felt all around, and can easily and suddenly touch anyone’s life. While interning at Street Sense, I have became familiar with the real world, a world away from the shelter of my family. I discovered aspects of life that I came to college in hopes of discovering.

What I have learned about homelessness comes in the form of intellectual gifts and kind gestures felt around the office daily. The more vendors started treating me like a friend, the more I was able to understand that homeless people are no different than I am.

I have also perfected my ability to work under extreme conditions. I don’t know what I would have done if I had an internship with no distractions. The Street Sense office isn’t exactly the most serene place to put together a paper, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t look forward the times that Jeffrey McNeil came in and put together his political slogan signs or when I got to walk to the post office with Lisa, or Mary.

Street Sense has given me the perspective needed to value every second of life and to push through the stressful or difficult times because they are always a little something in the world that will make you smile.

At Street Sense, there was always something to do; there was always something that I wanted to do. As took on more tasks, sometimes all at once, and as I became acquainted with more vendors, I felt like I was digging to the center of the thousand unanswered questions about poverty and the politics of poverty in Washington, D.C. Learning about homelessness is learning about an important D.C. subculture necessary to understanding our nation’s capital.

The most rewarding lesson I can take away from interning at Street Sense is to value people for their personality and not whether they have a home or not. I have accepted the idea that you can learn something from anyone and I am glad that I allowed myself to learn an important life lesson from our vendors: the lesson of struggle and perseverance.

--Carol Cummings


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