Although the state of our country seems dismal at times, passionate people are stepping up to make a difference
Editor’s note: Morgan Williams recently completed her spring internship with the Coalition on Human Needs. Morgan, who is studying Economics and Global Poverty at the University of Maryland where she is a junior, shares with us her thoughts and experiences as a CHN intern.
For 19 years, my mother worked with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities at a New York chapter of The Arc. I was privileged to observe my mother as she created a caring, passionate, and professional culture for the organization’s residential program that was driven by and for the clients they support.
Some of my earliest memories are spending my weekends in the group homes she worked in. In a sense, I grew up surrounded by kind, compassionate women who made me laugh and taught me that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not any different than the rest of us. Although I do not mention it to her often, my mom’s career in non-profit organizations has undoubtedly influenced my aspirations. Spending countless hours with her assured me that I must pursue a path that has meaning, a path that will allow me to touch people’s lives.
When I began my education at the University of Maryland, I sought after this goal, but I lacked direction. I was overwhelmed with the broad array of potential career paths until advocacy serendipitously fell into my lap during the fall of my junior year. While searching for classes that would equip me with an understanding of social policies, I enrolled in a Political Engagement and Advocacy course for the Federal Fellows program and a Child and Family Policy course for the Karabelle Pizzigati Initiative. Mentored by accomplished advocates, my eyes were opened to the meaningful, exciting work being done in Washington D.C., and I wanted nothing more than to be a part of it.
When I started my internship at the Coalition on Human Needs, the country was in the midst of a government shutdown. As the impasse continued, SNAP and housing assistance programs were threatened. Yet, when I browsed mainstream news websites, I did not see articles written about thousands of families in fear that they may not receive rental assistance for the next month, or SNAP recipients whose benefits were dispersed weeks earlier than usual. However, I did see dozens of articles about drama and bickering between political parties. Aside from feeling frustrated with media companies, I felt proud to work for an organization that provides the public with real news that affects the most vulnerable people among us.
The effects of the shutdown made me quickly realize the value of the work CHN does. By working with our coalition members to elevate legislation and regulations that affect low-income populations, we yield measurable results. As of today, more than 1,500 comments on the rollback of protections against payday lenders were submitted using CHN’s online portal. When we support our members and host webinars or Tweet Storms, we amplify our message in a multitude of ways, reaching thousands of people with each email or post.
Throughout the past four months, I was treated like a co-worker, not a coffee-fetching, copy-making intern. I developed tweets and graphics for Tweet Storms and Tweet Chats, assisted with the development of our FY19 Budget Table, joined Richelle Friedman for meetings on the Hill, covered various briefings and events for social media, and had the opportunity to write about policies I care deeply about for the Voices for Human Needs blog. Each day I developed a greater understanding of social policy and felt lucky to work alongside advocates who shared a common purpose.
While we worked on the #AdvocatesApril social media campaign, I had the privilege of gathering stories and advice from accomplished advocates within our network. Each interviewee inspired me with their drive to protect populations that are vulnerable to budget cuts and rule changes. Although the state of our country seems dismal at times, I remain optimistic, knowing there are passionate people stepping up make a difference.
I am incredibly thankful to the CHN, the Federal Fellows office, and the University of Maryland for making a semester-long internship in Washington, D.C. a possibility. The hands-on experience provided me with real-time analysis of new legislation, and of course the budget process. Undoubtedly, I learned more during my time at CHN than I could have ever learned in a classroom, and for that, I will be forever grateful.