Liberal Arts and Science student Hannah undertook a summer internship with The Passage, a homelessness charity based in London, after her first year at University. She shares her experience with us below.
‘Jamie’ (not his real name) looked like just another down-and-out that we see on the streets of London every day; he was 32, kicked out of his house by his wife because of his drinking, turned away by his parents and had nowhere to go. His ensuing depression lost him his job and left him stranded and alone. The Passage provided Jamie with, food, counselling, and opened doors to new opportunities. Seeing Jamie gradually find hope and turn his life around was the most moving thing I experienced this summer.
I undertook an internship at The Passage, a homelessness charity based in London. I became involved in the project because I am interested in working in the charitable sector after graduation, so wanted some experience to see what it was really like. The position I took was not actually offered as an internship; I found it by contacting the volunteering coordinator at The Passage via their website and they agreed to take me on. This just shows that there can be alternatives to the traditional (usually massively oversubscribed) routes into an internship and that determination will pay off!
I was working on developing a new fundraising approach for The Passage, focusing on sports clubs. This became my project, requiring me, with minimal coaching and guidance, to create a strategy, identify opportunities and follow them up myself. At first the task was quite daunting, but by the end of the first day I had made significant progress and I felt a tremendous sense of satisfaction. The freedom nurtured my creativity, initiative and determination and allowed me to experience what it would be like to be a permanent member of the team, rather than just picking up odd jobs as work experience volunteers tend to do.
Breaking all student stereotypes, my typical day started with an early commute to arrive by 7 30am. I would then spend the next 3 hours with other volunteers and clients at the shelter in front-line services, such as serving food or helping with clothing. This time was extremely useful in giving my office work context; I would advise anyone working in the charity sector to discover first-hand the impact that your work is making, seeing people like ‘Jamie’ gradually improving really motivated me to work harder. Following this I would go to the office to research and contact possible fundraising partners such as shops, running clubs and gyms. After lunch I would sometimes visit these partners and talk to them about our work. Becoming an ambassador of the charity so soon was challenging but, with good preparation and my own experience, I was able to talk convincingly about the workings of The Passage.
This experience has greatly enriched my skills, knowledge and understanding of the world of work; obvious things such as professional communication and minute taking, but also, crucially, the importance of finding out what a certain type of work is actually like before deciding whether or not it is what you want to do. I have realised that working in a charity office is not boring and monotonous but in fact very diverse, engaging and rewarding. However, even if an internship experience turns out to be a negative one, it is still incredibly useful to realise this before you begin a career in that area.
Overall, my experience at The Passage has helped me to hone useful skills, given me experience working with a charity and been a useful addition to my CV, as well as being an incredibly enjoyable way of spending my summer. I also hope that I made difference and, in my small way, helped people like Jamie turn their lives around.