By Jordan Harris
Jan 07, 2011
Thanks in part to the OS Internship Award I received at the end of the last school year, I spent this summer living in Boston and working at a small nonprofit agency outside of the city called The Second Step. The Second Step (TSS) was founded in 1992 by a group of women who believed that survivors of domestic violence needed a supportive environment where they could stay for enough time to heal emotionally and physically, obtain the legal remedies they deserved, participate in job training, locate affordable housing, address the emotional needs of their children (many of whom had witnessed or experienced abuse themselves), and create meaningful social connections. This is a big mandate, and the organization, small as it is, fulfills it very well.
The organization is almost 100% women, in accordance with the feminist ideology that much of the movement against DV is based upon, and that (along with its small size) provided for me an entirely new type of environment: at once nurturing and empowering, ambitious and understanding. I was able to sink my teeth into a number of projects across the agency’s spectrum (developmental to administrative to client-based), and never felt the hierarchical condescension often associated with an intern position. My work was appreciated, even considered necessary to many of the endeavors of the organization (because with such a small staff, volunteers become integral to the mission).
Domestic violence (DV) was not an issue in which I had any prior experience or knowledge before this summer, but weekly training in all the nuances and complexities of the problem allowed me an entirely different understanding of it and the work being done across the country to combat it. Nationally, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and TSS was preparing for it in a number of different ways, but in particular with the creation of a Mayor’s Task Force on Domestic Violence for the city of Newton. I became responsible for the logistics of Task Force meetings: agenda creation, member correspondence, meeting times and dates. This meant keeping in constant contact with over twenty individuals from different local institutions with the potential to move the movement against DV in Newton forward (including the Mayor, representatives from the Police Department, School System, local hospital, and District Attorney’s office, along with other DV service providers). Currently, the Task Force is working on putting together an extremely full calendar of events for this October.
On top of that project, I worked throughout the summer to find an avenue for ESL learning for the non-English speaking women housed in TSS’ transitional living homes. It was difficult for many of these women to benefit from the therapy sessions and educational programs that TSS offered if they couldn’t understand the language in which they were offered. Standard ESL programs were hard to work with because of the precarious nature of these women’s lives and histories, so I explored the possibility of the creation of an entirely new program based around survivors’ needs. Rather than reinvent the wheel, however, towards the end of the summer I had a successful meeting with the head of an ESL program at the Newton Free Library who was incredibly sympathetic to the cause and willing to cater to our women’s time constraints and child care needs. In both the Task Force and the coupling of TSS and the Newton Free Library, I experienced the extent to which collaboration among nonprofits and public institutions can be an avenue for mutually beneficial progress in the nonprofit sector.
The most important connections I’ll take away from the summer, however, will be those I was able to make with TSS staff and interns. I found a kindred spirit in the executive director of the program, Roberta Rosenberg, and looked (and will continue to look) to her as a mentor. The other interns were great as well – we all became like a little family, having dinner together a couple times and lunch together daily in the conference room, along with the other women in the office. I went into the office each day with the feeling that I would be contributing, as would all of my co-workers, to the solidarity of the mission and its goals. It was the perfect introduction to nonprofit work: comfortable, but consequential.