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Over the course of the summer, I really enjoyed my time with Hands on Thomas County. Through the Impact ROI internship program, I was given the opportunity to learn more about myself and Thomas County.
My favorite part of the internship was by far all of the people I met in the community during the summer. I loved going back to non-profits for a second or third time and having several people recognize me and strike up conversations about school or other volunteer projects I was doing this summer. Building relationships with the kids I worked with was another big highlight for me. The kids at all of the youth organizations were always happy to see me (or maybe they were excited about the honey buns, not sure, but thanks Flowers Baking!), and were enthusiastic about volunteering and doing good in the community.
I enjoyed getting feedback from the kids about the projects and seeing what their favorite and least favorite parts about volunteering were. Many of the kids seemed to like projects where they could directly interact with people the most, like helping with kid’s camp at Hands and Hearts for Horses or making memory collages with residents at Legacy Village. During closing discussions, lots of kids would ask how they could volunteer with that organization on a regular basis or if there would be another opportunity to go back. This was one of the biggest things that made the internship so meaningful to me. I loved that the kids not only enjoyed volunteering but had also found something that they were passionate about.
Most of the projects I led this summer were ones that I had never participated in before. This gave me the chance to learn about more ways to get involved in my community and to learn about different things that I am interested in. Before this summer, I never considered the idea of working with elderly people. But after one visit to Scott Senior Center, my mind was completely changed. I loved hearing the seniors’ stories and seeing how happy they were after interacting with younger people. Visiting the senior center became one of my favorite volunteer activities, not only because I enjoyed talking to and meeting new people, but also because I loved being able to see an immediate positive impact from what I was doing.
There were also projects where I was not able to see an immediate impact from my actions, but I enjoyed these as well. While working at the Cherokee Lake Pollinator Garden, the benefits of our work could not be seen immediately, as we were laying the ground for new native plants to take root. One day, these plants will be the home of butterfly eggs and cocooning caterpillars, but when we left, it just looked like mulch laying amidst pine trees. This experience taught me to have patience and trust the process. Just because I can’t enjoy the beauty of the butterflies at the moment doesn’t mean that someone else won’t be able to in a few months.
Perhaps the most important skill I learned this summer was how to be flexible. During the opening discussion with each youth organization, the final rule we went over was “BE FLEXIBLE!”. This was not only important for the youth to remember, but also for me. I had to learn that no matter how much you prepare, there are some things that are just not in your control. Weather, COVID, or transportation issues could take over at any time, so it’s always important to have a backup plan. It’s also important to learn when to let go, because you can’t force everything to work out.
I also feel that I have gained lots of leadership experience and am able to handle more responsibility, especially from supervising so many kids during camp and volunteer activities. These are vital life skills that many people do not learn until their first job. But because of this internship, I was able to learn it much sooner.
I hope that I will be able to apply the skills I learned during this internship to both my life in my hometown ofThomasville and in my college town of Charlottesville, VA. I’m leaving this internship with a plethora of new experiences that will encourage me to become more active in every community that I belong to.