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By Blog Master
Posted: 05/02/2021
Village Interns

It was late August 2020; they arrived on Zoom for the Pasadena Village Intern Orientation program. Crystal Hernandez was seeking her Master’s degree in Social Work at Azusa Pacific University; Anika Renken was working toward her Social Work Degree at the University of Southern California. Both had been assigned by their schools to the Pasadena Village for completion of the University requirements for field placement during their academic year. 

They began under the most difficult circumstances - in the middle of a Pandemic, a time of stay- at-home orders, masks and six feet socialization mandates. The interns connected with the Village office by phone and Zoom.  A computer for the exclusive use of the interns was set up in the Village office. Interns checked in using that computer each work day and used it as a way to communicate with Village office staff throughout the day. They attended Village events on Zoom where they were able to interact with and get to know Village members by sight. Most contacts with individual members with whom they were working were completed by telephone; some were on Zoom. Throughout the entire year,  they never visited the Village office in person, never had any in-person contact with the Village staff or Village members and never had face to face contact with their Pasadena Village Field Instructor, Esther Gillies. And yet, their sense of belonging and their connection with members blossomed over the course of their stay.  

Both women dived into their work with energy and enthusiasm. During the shutdown the Pasadena Village had stopped all Village face-to-face contact between members and with office staff. Concerns by Village leadership were high about the effect of these measures on the membership.   Were members feeling isolated?  Were they suffering from loneliness?  Could we check with each member to determine how they were doing? Could we assess kinds and levels of support that were needed across the membership?  The interns took on the task of reaching out by phone to all Village members, gathering  information on member needs and assisting the SAT (Support Assessment Team) to create responses to the needs identified. 

Crystal was an active member of the Volunteer Coordinating Committee; Anika worked with Dick Myers helping advance the growth of the newly created Communications Committee. Both reached out to members, usually by phone, offering assistance reviewing the event calendar, signing up for events, encouraging and assisting in the use of  Zoom. They attended many educational and cultural activities offered by the Village to its members, including VIP group meetings, the Village Sustainability Task Force meetings, Monthly Birthday celebrations; and, programs offered on Zoom by the Village Movement California. The two interns were the primary contributors to the development of the new office support program – the Telephone Team. 

It is clear that the Village benefited by the involvement of Crystal and Anika. But a big question is, did the interns find the experience beneficial to their educational needs?  The end of their stay at the Village took place the last week of April.  At the Village farewell gathering for the interns on April 19, both commented on “What did you learn?”  

Crystal: “It was remarkable.  It was a new experience.” She felt out of her comfort zone to make telephone calls to people she didn’t know.  Now it is second nature and she was very excited because she knows how to lead a conversation without it feeling forced. 

Anika: “Working with Dick Myers was an exceptional experience.”  She learned a lot about technology and about non-profit organizations. 

Both liked the laptop set up in the office.  It gave them immediate access to office staff and gave them a sense of belonging. 

Esther Gillies notes that our interns have been immersed in learning about older adults, understanding strengths and limitations of the aging process.  They have  developed an appreciation for strengths of older adults while recognizing and responding to some common threats to good health. Further, this year they have had the remarkable experience of learning about flexibility, adapting to new situations, and coping with unforeseen challenges – experiences that will stand them in good stead throughout their careers as social workers.

As the farewell event was coming to a close, Village Executive Director, Katie Brandon, said:
“Our interns learn by doing but we are the true beneficiaries of their work.  We are grateful they were here.  We are sad to see them go.” 

Upon their departure from the Pasadena Village, our interns will have one more field placement experience before graduating.  For their careers as social workers, Crystal, who is already a teacher, wants to expand her abilities to work with young children by working with families and children in a school setting.  Anika is planning to use her social work skills as a geriatric social worker.   

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