2019 Parents Fund Internship Grant Reflections: Natalie Finman

Natalie Finman

Internship Location: Lynnhaven River Now (LRN)

Journal Entry #1:

Hi, my name is Natalie and I am an intern with Lynnhaven River Now (LRN), an environmental non-profit committed to restoring the waterways in the Virginia Beach area.  The organization achieves this goal in the following three ways.  First, reducing pollution, with monthly city-wide cleanups where trash is collected, weighed, and documented.  Second, restoring natural habitat and oyster reefs.  And lastly, my primary area of work, educating and engaging the community. The organization is housed in a building alongside the Lynnhaven Bay and is powered almost entirely by solar and wind energy.  The office area is open and relaxed, and I’ve spent a couple of hours already working on my laptop outside on a large patio running along the side of the building.  I typically meet with my mentor in the morning to touch base on previous assignments or to talk about the next thing that needs to be done.  The staff is quite small; there are typically only about four or five people in the office at any given time.  They have all been very helpful and welcoming and made me feel part of the team from day one.  Currently I am the only intern so I sometimes work separate from the rest of the office, and sometimes I work directly with my mentor.

I have two primary positions, the first of which is as a Pearl Business intern.  LRN runs “pearl” programs which outlines criteria schools, homes, faith organizations, and businesses must meet in order to be deemed environmentally and waterway friendly.  This week, I performed many tasks including organizing and compiling water quality data from 20 different sites around the Virginia Beach area, updating a google map with cleanup sites and the amount of trash removed, and compiling a list of new businesses to mail Pearl Business information.  I enjoy the work and became more familiar with Microsoft Excel, and I look forward to completing more projects that are similar.  By creating graphs and charts from the data that volunteers worked to collect, I play an important role in making that raw data useful, which is very rewarding.

My other responsibility at the organization is working as a media and communications intern.  The first week, my tasks included sending letters to donors to thank them for their contributions, creating informational graphics with Canva to be posted to Facebook, updating the LRN database with new members’ contact information, and brainstorming ways in which to improve the annual update and fundraising letter.  Additional tasks I will be involved with include using google analytics to evaluate the LRN website, and also coding some portions of the website.  I am looking forward to doing more creative work as well as improving my technical computer skills.  The variety of tasks makes each day interesting and has given me exposure to the many different areas involved in running a non-profit organization.

I can’t wait to see what other tasks I get to do throughout the summer.  I am looking forward to occasionally working in the field doing bay cleanups and collecting water samples.  I have learned how important it is to ask questions and work as a team in order to complete tasks.  My goal is to take advantage of each opportunity to learn something new and apply what skills I have to producing work that I know will be used to protect the environment.

Journal Entry #2:

I’ve now completed half of my internship and have learned so much along the way.  Day to day, I’ve continued to update excel charts and graphs with water quality data as new data comes in, create graphics for Facebook about special days, events, and campaigns, research google analytics, and participate in field activities such as clean ups, bird walks, and boat trips.  These past two weeks we have started preparations for a Fall Festival that will be held in October.  I’ve created multiple promotional graphics and calls for vendors and will be working with my supervisor to strategically schedule posts between now and when the event happens.  I’ve met my goal of asking questions and have learned lots about the local environment, and about wildlife concerns.  My goal for the next couple weeks is to ask more questions about the business strategy and functioning of a not-for-profit organization.

Attending our monthly staff meeting was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had thus far.  It gave me lots of insight into the operation of the organization because I heard updates from each of the staff members and learned about the other activities happening that I’m not involved with directly.  For example, I learned about the children’s education program Science Preschool Adventure Time (SPAT, also the name of baby oysters), and the grant guidelines that LRNow has been working to satisfy.  One grant stipulation was to add 40 new Pearl Homes this year, and already over a hundred local residents have become Pearl Homes, so the surplus numbers start to count for next year’s requirement.  I learned that my work researching and compiling a list of new and established businesses will be used to satisfy another grant requirement of sending out a mailing to 1,000 local businesses.  By attending the staff meeting I saw how each individual effort is coming together to accomplish the bigger goal of education and community engagement.

One feature unique to our June meeting was the attendance of representatives from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).  Their organization is compiling a database of information about Virginia waters and wildlife, climate change, flooding, and more, for public use and education.  They have been visiting organizations to gather their input about what information citizens are looking for and how best to display that information.  I did not give an update so this was the portion of the meeting in which I was able to participate and offer a suggestion.  This conversation showed the importance of large bodies such as state-wide organizations working together with smaller, local organizations.  I have a newfound respect for the power and influence of local organizations.  While large groups are known by more people, local groups can most closely connect with you to meet your needs and make change.

Surprisingly, my favorite activities have been those in which I’ve gotten out into the field and engaged with our volunteers and community members.  It’s motivating to talk with people who are intensely passionate about the environment.  I enjoy the office work and see its importance, but the tangible connection to the community has made the experience even more worthwhile.  I aim to continue connecting with people within the organization and with those in the community over the next couple of weeks.

Journal Entry #3: 

As my time at LRNow draws to a close, I realize what a transformative experience interning here has been.  Prior to receiving this position, I had a mild interest in environmental activism and sustainability, but now I am certain that it is a career path I want to pursue.  I have learned the importance of protecting the environment, but more importantly, have seen how that change can take place, and the impact it can have on a community.  For example, the Lynnhaven and Chesapeake waterways were too polluted to harvest and consume oysters for nearly half a century.  However, with the establishment of protected oyster reefs and new pollution policies, oysters are now safe to be consumed, the fishing and crabbing is flourishing, jobs again have been created, and it is safer to swim and go boating.

Since the halfway point of my internship, I have completed my data entry tasks for water quality data and new members, created a total of 73 informational graphics for use on social media, compiled a list of 1,813 local business contacts, and organized 159 Pearl Homes by their watershed and address in Excel.  In addition to these main tasks, I created a google form for volunteers to submit their hours, reviewed photos, helped set up environmental activities for the SPAT preschool program, and created an Excel spreadsheet in an attractive format for displaying sponsorship information.  While I did not work on a single, overarching project, I feel very accomplished because I was able to help in a small way with lots of different projects.  This allowed me to see the many different sides of LRNow in the short time I was here, and I feel like I gained a good understanding of the operation of the organization.

Throughout the summer I have gotten to know the other interns better and have been inspired by them and their aspirations for the future.  An atypical task we worked together on was helping to transport a young Osprey bird to a rehabilitation site when it was brought to us after being rescued from the water.  Occasions like this where I get to interact with wildlife, participate in a bird-walk, or help at a clean-up, remind me of the real goal in all of our work: to protect the waterways. Being surrounded with reminders of this and other similarly motivated people is inspiring and is one of the reasons why I hope to continue to work in the sustainability sector.

In my last week, I had the opportunity to meet with the Executive Director of Lynnhaven River NOW.  Over her 15 years with the organization, she has grown it from a small staff of three to the multi-faceted organization it is today.  It was fascinating to hear her story and perspective as the manager of a non-profit.  She shared some of the interpersonal skills she uses to find the best position for staff, network and reach out to other organizations, and pursue new avenues for expansion.  Overall, we agreed that climate change is a major threat and that there are many business opportunities available to change the fate of the planet.  This experience has inspired me to find those opportunities as I move forward in my business career and I am so thankful to the LRNow staff for giving me this opportunity to learn and grow.