By Ally Slocum, REACH Intern
Most often when discussing my summer plans with people in my life, I was met with variations of the same response: that working with survivors of domestic violence sounded like sad, heavy work. There are some aspects of interning at REACH that do feel heavy- it can be really difficult to hear about all of the challenges that many of the survivors have faced without feeling overwhelmed with emotion. However, what I think surprises most people about the work that REACH does is just how positive of an environment it is, despite the weight of the work that is being done. REACH fosters an unbelievably supportive and welcoming community, not only for the survivors who walk through the door every day, but for the staff, volunteers and interns as well. I never went a day at REACH without someone checking in on me, making sure I was taking enough breaks and feeling alright emotionally. I knew from day one of my internship that I could ask anyone in the office for help if I had a question and I would be met with nothing but support and kindness. This internship was my first time in a real-life, “adult” working situation- I had worked in the past, but only in roles like a summer camp counselor and never in an office building. As a result, starting my work at REACH was pretty nerve-wracking. I was pleasantly surprised though, as I could not have felt more welcomed by everyone REACH, and I honestly looked forward to coming in to work each day.
When I first met with my supervisor at REACH, I had expressed to her that I was interested in accompanying a survivor and advocate to court if the opportunity were to arise. I had never set foot in a courtroom before, but I had learned a lot about how abuse can be perpetuated through the legal system. I wanted to have a better understanding of what that meant for the survivors- what processes like divorce and custody look like, how the legal system can work against the survivor and be manipulated into another form of control by the abuser, and how being involved with the court system can be overwhelming and emotionally draining in many ways. My supervisor not only heard me, but worked hard to provide me with multiple opportunities to do just that. I was able to accompany a survivor to probate court for a divorce hearing, as well as another survivor to district court to file for a restraining order. Both of these experiences were very impactful for me, as seeing something first hand is very different from hearing or reading about it. I was really glad I was given these opportunities and that the advocates and survivors were willing to let me, a new face to the survivors, come along despite having to endure something so difficult. Beyond that, I appreciated that my supervisor had really listened to me and worked hard in order to help me turn my internship experience with REACH into what I had envisioned it would be like. We had talked about how I hoped to learn a lot during my time with REACH and hoped to be exposed to as much as possible, and that’s exactly what my internship was. In just 10 weeks at REACH, I was able to:
- Assist with children’s group therapy sessions
- Accompany a survivor throughout the process of filing for a restraining order
- Lobby at the State House for the Safe Communities Act
- Write and publish a blog post about lobbying at the State House
- Help organize a backpack drive for over 350 children
- Support a survivor during a divorce hearing
- Compile a central guidebook for community resources to help advocates refer survivors to various programs and services
- Visit community partnerships to share information about REACH and facilitate a strong relationship
- Refer survivors to REACH’s services and connect them with the intake coordinator
- Complete basic statistical analysis relating to REACH’s use of trauma-informed practices
- Care for the children of survivors during meetings or group
And that’s just a list of some of the more concrete things I did with REACH. That doesn’t include the countless impactful conversations I had with various staff members, volunteers and interns, the comprehensive and thought-provoking training required by all staff, interns and volunteers, or any of the small, daily tasks that provided me with insight into how a non-profit organization like REACH functions.
On my last day of my internship, I had a lot of meetings with various staff members to wrap up my internship, and thus was given a lot of time to really reflect on my time with REACH. I remember one conversation in particular during which I talked about how lucky I felt because I was sad to be leaving REACH and that my internship was coming to an end. From the interactions I have had with other students my age, many interns cannot wait to be done with their summer experiences. Interning with REACH was a really important experience and something that will have a huge place in my heart forever. I’m already planning when I can come back to REACH as a volunteer, and it’s only been a week since my internship formally ended. REACH is special in a million different ways, and capturing that into words is nearly impossible. If you want to understand what I mean, you’ll just have to see for yourself.
If you are interested in interning or volunteering with REACH, contact Lauren Montanaro at email@example.com.