2014 PFIG Recipient Carly Spraggins

Career Administrator

Carly Spraggins
College of Arts & Sciences
Government & Media Studies
2015 Graduation Year

Internship: Children's Defense Fund in Washington, DC.

Notes on the First Week

This summer I have the incredible opportunity of working with the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) as a Communications Intern at their national office in Washington, DC. CDF is a non-profit research and child advocacy organization dedicated to championing policies and programs that improve the lives of America’s children. I am working with the Communications Team on media relations, public messaging, and online publications that support the broader mission of CDF.

I began my internship with a unique and very independent project. I attended the Brady Campaign National Summit on behalf of CDF. The Brady Campaign is a non-profit organization that advocates for laws to prevent gun violence. At the conference, I heard fascinating speeches and testimonials about gun violence as a public health problem that disproportionately affects children. Speakers ranged from gun violence survivors to Actress Julianna Marguiles and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi! I was excited to be able to participate in meetings between Brady Campaign advocates and Senate staffers at the Russell Senate building on Brady’s Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. In addition to taking notes at these meetings and the conference, I took pictures and drafted tweets for the CDF Communications Team.

Since becoming immersed in the CDF office I have become even more excited for the weeks ahead! A typical day in the Communications department begins with compiling news clips. I read through major media outlets and compile stories that relate to CDF’s policy interests – federal and state budgets, poverty, health, gun violence, social justice, child welfare, and education. These are circulated within the CDF office so that everyone is up to date on current events related to our work. I, then, work on a variety of projects including writing Tweets and Facebook posts, uploading content to the CDF website, editing CDF reports, and working on media relations tasks for CDF events. 

My supervisors, co-workers, and fellow interns at CDF are incredibly passionate about CDF’s mission and I am learning from them every day. From an academic perspective, I am expanding my knowledge of children’s policy and the intersection between advocacy and politics. Additionally, I am using my time in the Communications Department to learn hard skills related to media and communications. I hope to take advantage of the many different connections CDF has in Washington, DC. The entire CDF office is very encouraging of interns to take on opportunities to attend events and speeches throughout Washington and I plan to take full advantage of those, as I know they will add great value to my overall internship experience. 

Midway

The first half of my internship with the Children’s Defense Fund has been a whirlwind and more fun than I ever could have imagined. I’ve continued to gain experience in the daily tasks of compiling news clips, creating social media content (shameless plug to follow @childdefender on Twitter!), and copy-editing reports and have learned about the research and work of CDF’s other departments in the process. Additionally I’ve worked on other more long-term Communications projects, such as research on best practices for digital tools like pop-up ads and widgets and updating press contact lists using media monitoring software.

I’ve also enjoyed and learned from a variety of special inter-office events. The CDF national office has enjoyed a number of “Movie Days” where we’ve viewed fascinating civil rights films including “Freedom Summer”, “The Children’s Crusade”, and “Neshoba: The Price of Freedom”. My fellow interns and I have also enjoyed amazing discussions at our brown bag lunches with CDF leaders including MaryLee Allen, Director of Child Welfare & Mental Health, and Marian Wright Edelman, Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund! I was impressed by how open and honest they were answering our questions and it reinforced for me what an amazing office environment CDF has developed.

I’ve also had the opportunity to attend a number of out of office events including a Hamilton Project Conference, where former President Bill Clinton was the Keynote Speaker and a Center for American Progress Panel on the Civil Rights Act featuring civil rights icon and former UVA professor Julian Bond! I also worked as a volunteer at a symposium on Black male achievement in higher education co-sponsored by CDF and the Educational Testing Service. The panels covered law, programming, and emerging research and featured a number of policy leaders including David Johns, Director of the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for African Americans, and another UVA professor, the Curry School’s Benjamin Castleman!  

Far and away the highlight of my internship thus far has been our recent trip to Tennessee for the 20th Annual Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. Hosted at CDF’s retreat center Haley Farm (which once belonged to Pulitzer-Prize winning author Alex Haley), the Proctor Institute brings together social justice advocates and faith leaders for education, networking, and workshops on children’s issues. Not only was the farm absolutely beautiful but I was able to speak with and listen to amazing leaders like Mrs. Edelman, the Reverend Otis Moss Jr., and leading non-violence strategist for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Reverend James Lawson. It energized me to learn as much as I can in my final weeks at CDF and remain a life-long child advocate. 

Final Reflections

My summer at the Children’s Defense Fund was an unforgettable and inspiring experience! My final weeks in the office emphasized just how valuable the work of CDF is and how much it will influence my future career aspirations. Throughout my internship, I continued to have daily responsibilities of working on news clips, copy-editing, and updating press lists. On a few occasions I was also able to research and draft briefing materials for CDF President and Founder Marian Wright Edelman.

The CDF Summer Intern class also took a number of off-site visits within DC in the final weeks that I found particularly valuable. First, we spent a day volunteering at one of CDF’s Freedom Schools. Based on the model originated in the Freedom Summer of 1964, the CDF Freedom Schools are 6-week summer reading programs that provide meals and academic enrichment to over 12,000 students at over 200 sites across the country. We visited the Freedom School that is hosted at the DC General Shelter, a homeless shelter in Washington.  At DC General, we were able to see the Freedom Schools model of literacy through culturally-relevant materials in action. I sat in with a class of 4th graders as they read the book “Lincoln and Douglas” and was so impressed with how seamlessly a reading lesson was used as a starting point for discussions about African-American history, from slavery to desegregation.

I saw that experience come full-circle at a panel I attended with a few of my fellow interns later that week. We attended a discussion with Life magazine photojournalist Matt Heron and civil rights activist Dorie Ladner, both of whom were on the ground in Mississippi during the original Freedom Summer of 1964. Particularly as a Communications intern, I loved hearing about Mr. Heron's experiences and the important role that the media can play in social movements. We were able to thank them for the work that they had done and discuss with them and the audience how the legacy of Freedom Summer was at work in CDF Freedom Schools today.

We also spent a day meeting with our representatives and Congressional staff, lobbying for the Strong Start for America’s Children Act and extended funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Along with fellow UVA student Ulrike Salifou, I met with legislative assistants,  Senators Warner and Kaine, and got to discuss the work of CDF with Congressman Robert Hurt, who represents Charlottesville!

The knowledge, experiences, and connections I have made this summer were greater than I ever could have imagined. The entire office and the Communications team in particular made me excited to come to work every single day. I look forward to opportunities to work for or with the Children’s Defense Fund in the future, knowing I will always be a part of the “CDF Family”. I know that the lessons and values I have gained from working with the Children’s Defense Fund will stay with me as a pursue a career as a child advocate, whether that takes shape in communications, policy, or advocacy.   Thank you so much to the Parent’s Committee and UCS for funding this incredible opportunity!