“We asked ourselves: What could we do to really engage young people in the charism?”
That was the million-dollar question that Sheila Tracy, Director of the Office of Interns and Volunteers for the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, asked nearly two years ago. To help answer this question, Sheila hired one intern, and then another. It wasn’t long before the Values Into Action student internship program was born.
“We soon realized that while trying to create a program that engaged young people in our charism and mission, we were actually already doing exactly that,” Sheila said. “The interns were doing what we wanted to do – they were interacting with Sisters, they were seeing the values in action and were participating in them, they had a context. Then we amped it up. I have always loved working with volunteers and student interns, and I liked the idea of building a program that was based on the values of the Sisters of Charity.”
How It Works
Each fall and spring semester, interns are placed in office settings within the motherhouse. During the summer, interns are placed at nonprofit organizations near Convent Station, NJ. Each intern works 10 hours a week at their site. The program offers a small stipend and can only accept a handful of students – last summer more than 500 students applied. To date, the Office has had 31 interns from 18 different schools.
“Our interns don’t make coffee. They don’t run errands. They are getting real work experience and making meaningful contributions,” Sheila said.
Thus far, interns have been placed in the motherhouse in the finance department, vocations, development and communications offices. Sister Maryanne Tracey, Director of Vocations & Formation, has hosted a student intern for the last three semesters and provided hands-on experience in event planning, photography, social media strategy and interviewing. She says the set-up is an ideal situation for both parties.
“I never could have done the Ambassadors program without my intern,” Sister Maryanne said, referring to one of her previous interns. “We developed a whole plan together, but then she did everything. And that went on her resume. It was a win-win for both of us. It’s a very good compliment to the vocation office.”
Interns are also placed at local nonprofit organizations that reflect the values of the Sisters of Charity. Receiving a student intern is a big blessing for partner organizations like Holiday Express, a small nonprofit that offers hope to those in need during the holiday season. Holiday Express hosted two summer interns in their marketing department and provided them with hands-on experience in fundraising, donor relations, grant research and web content creation.
“Our commitment to serve those who are desperately in need and often forgotten is in close alignment with the Sisters of Charity mission,” said Lorrie Klaric, Executive Director of Holiday Express. “We share a spirit of collaboration, and are blessed by strong volunteerism. It was our goal to provide meaningful assignments and a comprehensive experience so that [our interns] could sharpen their skill set and apply what they learned to their own professional and personal goals.”
Interacting with the Sisters
Not only are the students gaining practical experience in the nonprofit world, but they are also interacting with Sisters of Charity. Interns at the motherhouse of course see the Sisters on a regular basis. During the summer, students gather once a week at the motherhouse to process the internship and occasionally have lunch with the Sisters.
Sister Maryanne says that the presence of student interns has created a whole different atmosphere of youth and life at the motherhouse.
“It has had a great impact on our Sisters, especially at the motherhouse,” Sister Maryanne said. “What they do for me, and for people my age, is #1 they give us energy. They open up our eyes to a new generation that we normally would have little or no contact with, and we get to see them in a very positive light. It gives us hope for the future when we see these young people so dedicated and have such values.”
Similarly, students have a chance to talk with Sisters and learn more about their incredible lives of service. The stereotypical television image of a Sister is quickly debunked.
“Students come here for our thriving internship program, because they get to work on projects that they can really own…only a small percentage are actually Catholic,” Sheila said. “Most of our students have no idea what a Sister is, or they have really outdated or inaccurate ideas. By getting to know Sisters, the students learn that sisters are extraordinary, yes, but they are also ordinary, regular people. That relatability is really important.”
After the Internship
Several students have gone on to do more in the spirit of the Sisters’ charism. One of the program’s previous interns, Isabelle Santos, went on to get an internship at the United Nations Headquarters with Sister Teresa Kotturan, representative for the Sisters of Charity Federation. Another former student intern, Allexus Currie, is currently doing a year of volunteer service with Sister Dianne Moore and Seton Associate Dawn Colapietro in Haiti (read about her experiences at: https://spiritalivehaiti.blog).
Sheila and the Sisters are pleased that the Values Into Action program has opened the door to sharing the charism with students in a unique way.
“Our interns leave us with not only practical work experience, but concrete ideas of how our values – charity, humility, simplicity – can be incorporated into their own life and work,” Sheila said.