JFS Perspectives

Friday, March 06, 2015

JFS Interns Are Awesome!

Guest Blog Post By Audrey Friedman Marcus

Every August, like migrating birds, a new group of interns is accepted by Jewish Family Service (JFS) to work with and learn from staff, serve clients, and grow and develop their skills. This year, a total of 17 interns are working at the agency. They come from various educational institutions in the area, including the University of Denver, University of Colorado Denver, Denver Seminary, Metropolitan State University, Colorado State University, Naropa University, and Newman University in Colorado Springs.

At JFS, interns engage in the same valuable work as the agency’s staff. They gain academic credit and hands-on experience while receiving supervision and coaching from experienced staff members. Treated as valued employees, they are integrated into the workings of JFS, and serve clients in important ways.

Department heads who supervise interns extol their abilities, willingness, contributions, and accomplishments. Jennie Creasey, JFS professional senior services coordinator, a former JFS intern herself, relates that her department has hosted 45 student interns over the past 15 years. These budding professionals complement the hardworking staff in Jennie’s department by helping to meet the needs of clients.

Shelly Hines, Family Safety Net director, was also an intern at JFS before joining the staff. Interns in her department work one-on-one with clients who are all living in poverty. Through the food pantry and its diverse clientele, they also learn about cultural issues. One of the many benefits of interning at JFS, states Shelly, is the wealth of experience they can get in a safe, supportive learning environment at a well-established nonprofit organization. They also benefit from the opportunity to attend staff meetings, community meetings, and trainings. What’s more, interns keep the staff on their toes by bringing their education to the agency and sharing new things happening in the field with staff.

Coordinator of the JFS KidSuccess program Melissa LaLonde supervises the school-based counseling department. Currently, seven students are interning in her department, two of whom Melissa supervises. Because of the interns, KidSuccess can reach many more children and families.

Jessica Shouse is program manager of vocational programs at SHALOM Denver. Besides the eight vocational specialists she supervises, her department has two interns. “Interns are an integral part of the team, just as staff is,” Jessica reports. “We’d be lost without their extra support.” Among their many responsibilities, interns interview clients for various assessments and employment plans, file and compile reviews, and conduct annual reviews to be sure all information is current and accurate. Interns also help clients on the work floorand offer counseling as needed. All of these tasks represent skills necessary for success in a competitive job market.

But let’s hear what two current interns have to say about the program:

Matt Edwards is a second-year graduate student who will earn his Master’s of Social Work degree (MSW) in June from the University of Denver (DU). On Mondays and Tuesdays he attends classes at DU, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays he works with students at Samuels Elementary School as part of his internship. At Samuels, Matt puts his classroom learning into practice with a regular caseload of young students who are struggling emotionally. Every Friday, he’s in the office where he does paperwork and meets with his supervisor, Melissa LaLonde, whom Matt has found to be very supportive and always available to him. He loves learning from her, and appreciates knowing that he is not alone. “I don’t feel like an intern,” he declares. “I am treated on a par with staff.”

Melissa LaLonde has a supervision meeting with Matt Edwards.

As an undergraduate, Annie Zarlengo chose aerospace science as her major, but a seven-year stint as a volunteer at a hospice pointed her instead toward social work. She is now in the first year of the MSW program at Metro State University. The integration of course work with practical experience working with seniors in her internship has been invaluable for Annie, and she finds the four hours a week of supervision by Jennie Creasey and care manager Laura Harter, as well as the group supervision she receives, helpful and supportive.

According to Annie, Jay and Rose Phillips Senior Solutions Center staff is both encouraging and welcoming. She spends a minimum of 16 hours a week seeing six clients on a regular basis, one of whom is a Holocaust survivor. Isolated and needing socialization, each client faces challenges, such as mental or physical illness, and it is up to Annie to find the resources to help them.

Annie Zarlengo meets with care manager Laura Harter for supervision.

As part of their responsibilities, Annie and the other two interns in the department organize a “Lunch ‘n’ Learn” event each semester, inviting a guest speaker or panel of experts to talk about a relevant topic for social work professionals in the community. In every way, she concludes, her internship is phenomenal. “I won the lottery with JFS,” says Annie.

It’s easy to see the enormous benefits of the internship program at JFS. Interns receive practical experience while being mentored by seasoned staff. At the same time, students also learn about the important work of JFS, a vital agency that serves the entire population. Clients receive the dedicated attention of young people who care. And JFS accomplishes more due to the work of these bright, talented, and enthusiastic students. It’s definitely a win-win situation.

Audrey Friedman Marcus is a volunteer writer for JFS. She was cofounder and executive vice president of A.R.E. Publishing, Inc., for 30 years before retiring in 2001. She also founded the annual Fred Marcus Memorial Holocaust Lecture and authored the book Survival in Shanghai: The Journals of Fred Marcus 1939 to 1949 (Pacific View Press).