An anonymous benefactor's $1.25 million gift is helping to get students from the Johns Hopkins University out of the classroom and into the community.
The Community Impact Internships Program at the school's Center for Social Concern marked its third summer this year with 50 students working at local nonprofits and earning a stipend of $4,000 each.
Vissagan Gopalakrishnan, 21, a rising senior at Hopkins, spent his eight-week internship at 901 Arts, which brings art and music to young people in Baltimore's Waverly community.
He worked about 35 hours a week, leading a singing class and preparing his students, who are in grades 2 through 6, to perform at WAVEscape, a Waverly-based arts festival. He also revamped the nonprofit's website before completing his internship at the end of July.
"It's really been a very happy experience," said Gopalakrishnan, who is a double-major in East Asian studies and molecular and cellular biology. "It gives me a lot of hope."
The internships began with a five-year grant from an anonymous donor, said Abby Neyenhouse, assistant director for Community and Nonprofit Internships for the CSC. Recently, she said, the same donor promised an additional $1 million for four more years.
The program, which started with 25 students and grew in the second year to 50, is available to all Hopkins undergraduates. Neyenhouse said each year, she receives about 140 applications and invites about 80 students for interviews. Eight interns are also given extra responsibility as mentors who check in regularly with an assigned group of fellow interns, earning an additional $1,000 and providing an extra layer of support and communication for the program, she said.
Neyenhouse said the key to the program is finding the right student interns for the participating nonprofit organizations.
"I think the strength is in the matching," she said, adding that she thinks carefully about making connections that are best for the students and the nonprofits, and let the students "hit the ground running," she said.
For example, Gopalakrishnan leads an on-campus a capella singing group, so he was eager to share his love of music with the young people at 901 Arts.
"He's been just a dream," said Sarah Tooley, the director of 901 Arts. "He's really been super-outgoing, really humble, totally open to whatever our needs are; he's been very giving of his skill set."
Though 901 Arts works with other Hopkins interns, "the intensity of this program is what makes it different," Tooley said of the Community Impact Internships, noting the students receive a relatively generous stipend and work full time instead of just a few hours a week. And since it's in the summer, they are not distracted by schoolwork, she said.
Frances Loeb, another intern, is a psychology major who gained firsthand experience by working with Martha's Place, an addiction and homeless recovery program for women in Baltimore.
Loeb, 20, a rising junior, sometimes works as the house manager, overseeing activities and making sure the eight women in the center are following rules. She also helps them write resumes, set up email addresses and apply for jobs.
But perhaps most exciting thing for her was the opportunity to lead a group therapy session. "As an undergraduate, it was probably the most hands-on clinical experience I could have had," she said. "It was on resentment. That was a really cool experience for me."
Pen Panico, 21, a rising senior and an English major is working for Equality Maryland, spearheading a project called Transforming Maryland Businesses, which is asking companies to fill out surveys about policies and acceptance of trans-gender people. He is also involved in creating public service announcements "just talking about why it's important to be trans-allied," he said. The videos, part of the "Telling Our Stories" project, can be seen on YouTube and on the Equality Maryland website.
"It's definitely a challenge, but it is very interesting," said Panico, who worked last semester as an intern for Congress. " I think one of the things I enjoy most about it is it's really taught me a lot about what it means to do nonprofit work."
He said working for Equality Maryland is "very fitting for me," because "I'm very interested in LGBT advocacy and working for this community."
He added: "Something that's really important to me is making sure I'm not just having fun in what I'm doing but that I'm helping a community I feel connected to. ... Working for Equality Maryland has been very rewarding for me."