At Family Services of Westchester, Summer Interns Get “Real Hands-On Work” Experience

July 28, 2011

PORT CHESTER – At a large non-profit like Family Services of Westchester, which runs more than 50 social service and mental health programs, interns are not spending their day at the copier or coffee machine. Instead, they are helping to plan events, recruit volunteers, create newsletters, run counseling groups and even help find foster care parents for children with behavioral problems.

“We try to pair our interns with programs that match their areas of study or interests,” says Gerry Goldberg, Director of Volunteer Development and Outreach. “It’s a win-win situation as the students gain great work experience and our Program Directors receive the assistance of capable young volunteers.” This year’s six college interns came from Cornell, NYU, Lehigh, the University of Texas at Dallas and Oneonta. “Our college interns this summer were particularly outstanding with their open minds and hearts and strong work ethic,” notes Susan B. Wayne, president and CEO of FSW. “Our staff and program participants really benefitted from their energy and enthusiasm,” adds Wayne who first worked at FSW in 1995 as a social work intern from Columbia’s graduate program.

Jenna Walterdorf, a rising senior at Cornell, got to work with five different programs at FSW, from managing a socialization group of children and older adults at My Second Home, an intergenerational adult day program in Mount Kisco, to handling intake questionnaires from individuals seeking mental health counseling from FSW clinicians in Yonkers. “It was really interesting to see all the different services that FSW provides,” notes Walterdorf. “The experience solidified for me that I wanted to pursue a graduate degree in psychology or consider social work. In the past, I have worked in research labs, but I realized after this experience that I am a people person and need to take that into account.”

David Spaugh, a rising senior at the University of Texas in Dallas, says his past experience in sales was beneficial in recruiting mentors and donors for FSW’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program. “This experience helped me polish my sales skills. You can’t be afraid to ask for things. Sometimes you will get a rejection, but you have made that connection for the future.” Spaugh, a Big Brother in Texas, assisted with event planning, recruitment and the creation of a newsletter for mentors. “It was so good to work for an organization that has a positive impact on people’s lives and not just the bottom line of a corporation.”

Courtney Jackson-Harris, who will graduate from Oneonta in December, pounded the pavement, attended events and called doctors’ offices and graduate programs to find foster care parents for children with behavioral issues as part of her internship with FSW’s Therapeutic Foster Care program. “I was so happy to have this experience. The staff was so sweet and welcoming,” says Jackson-Harris. She points out that the work was heartbreaking at times, though, as she encountered a seven-year-old who was so sad he was suicidal and a three-year-old who had one parent in prison and another addicted to drugs. “It was an eye-opener, and the experience made me appreciate my family and in particular my mother, even more.” The internship also helped Jackson-Harris realize that working with teens rather than young children might be a better fit for her.

Three other interns received hands-on work experiences at FSW this summer:

  • Susannah Lawrence of NYU conducted scientific research on the benefits of socialization for older adults at My Second Home and helped write stories for the agency’s newsletter;
  • Rachel Rabinowitz of Cornell helped execute a recycling program at Mount Vernon High School and set up a Sustainability Day at White Plains High School through FSW’s Youth Councils; and
  • Sarah Binstock assisted FSW’s Development Office with upgrading the agency’s data collection ability and with promotion, fundraising and grant research projects.

Founded in 1954, Family Services of Westchester runs more than 50 programs that benefit 30,000 people a year. With a staff of 450 people and 350 volunteers, FSW operates out of six offices across the county. For more information about the organization’s mission and programs, check out its website at www.fsw.org.
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PRESS CONTACT: Colleen D. Gardephe (914) 937-2320, ext. 136, cgardephe@fsw.org
VOLUNTEER CONTACT: Gerry Goldberg (914) 937-2320, ext. 134, ggoldberg@fsw.org