2007 PFIG Recipient Galina Boyarinova
College of Arts & Sciences
2008 Graduation Year
Internship: Virginia Organizing Project in in Charlottesville, VA.
I have worked with the Westhaven Coalition, a grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of public housing residents in Charlottesville, for over two years. During the year, I organize and run several volunteer programs in the public housing communities for both kids and adults. In the summer, I was hoping to stay involved and help organize the 10th annual Westhaven Community Day, an event that not only fosters a sense of community in public housing neighborhoods but also serves as a health and activities fair. The Virginia Organizing Project (VOP), a state-wide organizations working to bring long-term positive change, has collaborated with Westhaven Coalition before so this internship allowed me to stay involved with the Coalition as well as work with other issues, such as predatory lending.
Through this internship, I will be working on several projects. First, I am helping organize the Westhaven Community Day. My responsibilities include coordinating the volunteers and helping set up the Bingo game, which Westhaven residents don’t take lightly. Secondly, I will be conducting a small-scale research study on the disparities in health care access in Charlottesville. Through the study, I hope to investigate some of the barriers to health care that are experienced by low-income residents. Finally, I will also be working on other VOP campaigns. In the first few weeks, all interns were helping with anti-predatory lending campaign in District 58. We talked to many residents about the down-side of pay day loans and encouraged them to contact their state representatives about the issue. Through my work with VOP, I hope to learn how to be an effective organizer and how to bring sustainable positive change to our communities.
Over a month into my internship, the Westhaven Community Day planning is becoming more hectic. My responsibilities on the planning committee include anything from recruiting local “celebrities” to sit in the dunking booth to planning the design of the volunteer T-shirts. We usually try to adhere to the weekly agenda but things do not always go as planned. A few weeks ago the Westhaven community was shaken by a deadly shooting. Although none of the people involved were residents of the site, the community as a whole was affected by the event. As a result some of the Community Day planning was stalled. Many Westhaven employees took time to speak with the residents and the press, while the rest of us concentrated on planning a community block party to bring a positive event to the neighborhood. Afterwards, the Community Day planning was resumed.
At the main VOP office, I was able to work on several different campaigns and projects. The best thing about working in a small office like VOP is that I get to interact and learn from all the employees. Predatory lending campaign still remains one of the largest projects for the interns, however I am also working on a project about online fundraising, which includes increasing name recognition of VOP on the internet as well as networking with other non-profits online. Finally, I am well into the research study on the health care access disparities in Charlottesville. So far, most of the interviews were conducted within the immigrant communities, demonstrating a dire need for translator services in health care institutions. While some large establishments like the UVA hospital provide free interpreter services, many others do not. The result is that many patients must travel as far as North Carolina to meet with a health professional with an interpreter present. Many of these patients who live below the poverty line naturally find the transportation costs a burden. As a larger variety of low-income residents is interviewed, other issues are expected to surface.
With my VOP internship drawing to a close, I am able to reflect on the accomplished work and the many things still left to do. First, the Westhaven Community Day, which I helped organize, was a spectacular success. As the volunteer coordinator for the event, I was excited to have both community members and UVA students work together to make this event successful. However, the most important things was giving Westhaven, which was home to the first murder of the year, an opportunity to show that this community has a lot to offer and it’s a neighborhood like any other. Based on the press coverage of the event, Westhaven was finally able to show its good side.
My research project regarding discrepancies in access to health care among low-income Charlottesville residents is still being completed. As of now, having interviewed mostly low-income Latino residents, I am amazed at the barriers they face when accessing medical care. Many simply do not know about the medical and interpreter services available to them. Others worry about legal implications of accessing medical care especially since many lack health insurance. Other interview participants also noted that the reason they are hesitant about accessing health care is because of past negative experiences. I am planning to conduct more interviews before drawing any conclusions; however education people about their rights as a patient and various assistance programs seems to be a necessity.
Because of the door-to-door canvassing that the interns did for the predatory lending campaign, I was able to build on my interpersonal interaction skills as well as learn many legislative and grassroots issues involved with pay day loans. The predatory lending campaign will continue after my internship is over and I hope to stay involved with it and other VOP issues.