2007 PFIG Recipient Kathleen Gilchrist
College of Arts & Sciences
Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law
2008 Graduation Year
Internship: Children's Defense Fund in Washington, DC.
I am a rising fourth-year majoring in Political Philosophy, Policy and Law. This summer I am interning in the Office of the President at the Children’s Defense Fund. I first became interested in the CDF after a relative told me about his experience at law school with the President and Founder, Marian Wright Edelman. Mrs. Edelman was the first black woman to pass the bar in Mississippi and directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Jackson, Mississippi. In its 34th year, the CDF provides a voice for needy children who are unable to participate in the political process. After applying to their internship program, I interviewed with the Special Assistant to the President and was subsequently placed in their office.
From this internship, I hope to gain exposure to a successful non-profit and learn how it succeeds and thrives. Additionally, I would like to learn more about the child advocacy work in general. I’d like to understand what the most pressing needs for children are, who are the neediest, and what concrete actions can be taken to address and potentially solve these issues. The CDF is currently focusing on child health care legislation so I would like to learn more about current proposals and how a group goes about promoting their agenda. Lastly, I would like to gain experience working in a professional environment with a diverse group of co-workers.
Notes on the first week
I have now been at the CDF for a little under two weeks. Everyone has been very warm and welcoming, and I feel comfortable asking questions when I am not sure about an assignment. I have worked on several different things so far, some have been more mundane (mailing out invitations) while others are more interesting (proof reading a letter to Oprah). I think it is important not to consider oneself above the “boring” office work; without people to send out information, answer the phones, and make copies, organizations such as this could not exist and the good work that they do would not happen. Doing these things when I am asked to makes me appreciative of staff at all levels and understand all the pieces that it takes to get out a message that people are passionate about.
One long term project I have been working on is to help organize the Young Adult Leadership Training Institute which will take place from July 16 – 20 in Tennessee. The goal of the institute is to inspire and assist youth, ages 16 – 25, in pursuing child advocacy in their communities and colleges. Each day there will be intensive training sessions informing students about the various policy debates and providing them with organizational skills and specific ideas they can take back to their community. One such program, Student Health Outreach (SHOUT), strives to assist families in signing their children up for CHIP and Medicaid. In preparation for the week, we are sending out registration forms and informational packets, recruiting students from around the country to attend, and straightening out logistical issues. All the CDF interns in DC are invited to the event, which I look forward to as a way to learn more about child advocacy and get to know the fellow interns.
Things at work have become progressively busier and better over the last few weeks. Recently I have been collaborating with a few CDF staff to coordinate the Young Adult Leaders’ Training program which begins this Monday. The conference, now in its third year, is held at the Haley Farm near Knoxville, Tennessee. Our first task was to outline how we wanted the week to progress and brainstorm the best ways to get youth excited and prepared to initiate child advocacy programs in their communities and on their campuses. Features included in the week are experts explaining the crisis of child health care, examples of programs in place at different colleges, and workshops that will provide the tools to develop local advocacy groups. After this was completed, we compiled a program for all the participants including schedules, speakers’ biographies, and information about the CDF’s Movement Building programs.
In addition to this work, all the interns have been asked to do some lobbying on behalf of a bill sponsored by Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Va), the All Healthy Children’s Act. This bill would combine current the Medicaid program for children and SCHIP, which is up for reauthorization, into one program to provide states with the funding to cover children with all necessary medical care up to 300% of the federal poverty level. Although it is nearly impossible politically to pass a bill this comprehensive, the Children’s Defense Fund is pushing certain principles that we hope to incorporate into any reauthorization of SCHIP. I spoke with my Congressman Bob Goodlatte, as well as legislative assistants at Senator Webb’s office and Senator Warner’s office. No one, as I expected, committed full support of the bill but it was interesting to hear their perspectives on health care and have my voice heard as a constituent. I have also had the chance to attend several hearings, seminars, and book discussions which has been a great way to explore other areas of interest outside of what is going on at the CDF.
Attending the Young Adult Leadership Conference with the CDF was certainly one of the most interesting aspects of this internship. I was expecting a week of learning how to organize in our schools and community to advocate for an expansion of children’s health care. Additionally I was hoping to get more information about the policy debate surrounding SCHIP. I quickly realized though that the week would not be at all what I had expected. Instead of recruiting college students, the majority of the attendees were in high school. It was 90% African-American and primarily from Louisiana and Mississippi. While at times I was frustrated by the lack of attention and focus from the high-school students, it was a very valuable experience to be in the minority for a change. It was also eye-opening to see the frustration and anger from some of the youth; many of them have experienced significant discrimination and hardship, especially since Hurricane Katrina. The week highlighted the fact that race is still an important issue that we all have to face.
Additionally, it was a great experience to see YALT through from the beginning to its completion. I gained a solid understanding of what works and what does not work when training and energizing youth for activism. The first important and seemingly obvious lesson is that it does not work to integrate high school and college students into one program. Also, the objective of the training program should be established before any planning begins. Once this has been accomplished, the various sessions should be put together with a logical flow working towards the agreed end. The last important lesson is the need to ultimately be flexible and expect the unexpected. This week was an invaluable experience for opening my eyes to issues of race and culture, as well as teaching me important lessons about organizing for change.