2019 Parents Fund Internship Grant Reflections: Paul Reynolds

Paul Reynolds

Internship Location: Intervarsity Christian Fellowship’s Richmond Justice Program (RJP)

Journal Entry #1:

This summer, I am participating in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship’s Richmond Justice Program (RJP). This live-in program in the East End of Richmond focuses on developing community engagement skills in both work and personal environments. During each day, interns go to work at various nonprofit community organizations to learn formal community development skills. In the evening, interns attend various programs, workshops, and lectures by local leaders to deepen our understanding of the community we serve. Additionally, interns are challenged with living in houses with several other RJP interns on a strict budget and without personal electronics in order to encourage interpersonal and communication skills.

The first 4 days of RJP were orientation days preparing the interns for general community engagement. Every day we got to meet and hear from several local leaders in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, being encouraged and inspired by their years and sometimes lifetimes of experience giving back to their communities. The fifth day of orientation was orientation at the actual work site to which each intern is assigned. In addition, all the program interns were able to attend several community events, including the 10th anniversary celebration of the Robinson Theatre, a community center in Church Hill.

The site at which I will be working throughout the rest of my time in Richmond is the Neighborhood Resource Center (NRC) in the Fulton neighborhood of east-end Richmond. Specifically, I will be working with the NRC’s financial opportunities center (FOC), which offers career and finance coaching to local residents. The bulk of my day-to-day will be spent with short-term clients: people who need one-time assistance filling out government forms, navigating websites, or need their resume reviewed, etc.. This job will allow for me to spend a lot of time with a variety of community members, which I very much look forward to.

Outside of work, I live with four other RJP interns and one Intervarsity staff member. Everything is done “in community” during the program, including budgeting, cooking, eating, commuting (if necessary for a specific work site), learning, resting, and (perhaps most importantly) conflict resolution. For example, my house team shares a $5 / diem / capita allowance ($210 a week for 6 people), which is used for a week’s food and transportation (housing is paid-for).

Overall, in terms of goals and expectations, RJP is so different from any other internship or job opportunity I have ever had in the past that I almost don’t know where to begin. At my work site, I am excited to be able to get personal with adult community members that I would otherwise likely not run into, and especially excited to really get to work with them to help meet their needs. My primary goal for work is simply to become increasingly knowledgeable about the government benefit and aid programs and their respective forms. Additionally, I look forward to becoming more comfortable working with adults in general, especially with computer skills. Outside of work, in the internship programs afternoon sessions, my goal for the summer is to be able to explain to a layperson about Richmond, as a case study for community development, including its history, current issues, why they are issues, and what is being done / what can be done / what vulnerable residents want done to improve any one of the many problems.

Journal Entry #2:

Halfway through the RJP internship, I only have more and more reasons to say that I am glad I chose to do a nonprofit-based live-in internship. Because a person typically spends more time at home than at work, the live-in component of the internship has shaped my vocational experience at the NRC financial opportunities center in terms of the actual context of my life, needs, and desires for the future.

A lot of my extra time has been spent practicing simple but impactful community-building exercises like eating with other people for every meal of the day, sitting on a front porch to relax instead of in private, walking everywhere I can, budgeting to spend time and money on and with community institutions, and looking for every opportunity to engage a neighbor. Such practices have and will hopefully continue to transform my belief that all human beings are valuable into an actually experienced practice of treating all people as if they are as valuable to me as I am to myself. This internship has really encouraged me to drop some social blinders in terms of who and what I really see around me with regards to, for example, history (specifically racial history and how it continues to shape the other things that I will list), homelessness, poverty, trauma, physical space, and civic engagement, to name a few things. Intentionally trying to engage people around me and being held accountable to do that has also helped me push past some personal excuses for why I am not more active in honoring people around me such as introversion or physical exhaustion after long days.

Furthermore, exploring race in different aspects of life alongside people from a variety of socioeconomic and racial backgrounds has been incredibly impactful to me. First, simply by allowing me to think about and acknowledge some of the reasons that my social and academic influences and pursuits render people unlikely to build relationships with people that are different from them. Secondly, and possibly most importantly, exploring social injustice as a part of a diverse group has allowed me to experience first-hand the very important emotional and experiential differences between people of European descent in this country (like myself) and people who do not meet that description.

Some of the topics and issues that we have specifically discussed and physically explored so far at RJP include: redlining and city planning, the history of Richmond’s slave trade, the history of the Christian Church in America with regards to race, mental health services for underserved communities, housing policy and affordability, poverty & trauma, and money & power.

In terms of what I’ve been doing every day from 9-5 at RJP, my experience has been truly unique as well as challenging. Working at a Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) means that I work with a lot of people in really tough situations, with many of whom society has not been kind. I get to navigate government websites with people who have never used a computer before, draft resumes with people deeply self-conscious of their reading level, and help maintain the office of a nonprofit whose ability to service their community is in the hands of wealthy donors unaffected by the well-being of the service recipients. These experiences, obviously, have only deepened my first-hand experiences with issues of race, injustice, and differing emotional responses those topics.

Additionally, I am grateful for the opportunity to spend my time at the Neighborhood Resource Center working and learning under incredibly driven and accomplished black community leaders - voices that, realistically, are not elsewhere in my life very available. To hear their stories and receive their encouragement, I think, to me, means more than that of any other business professionals or academics I have so far met. Shout out NRC and WORKS staff and volunteers.

Journal Entry #3:

My experience at RJP was difficult. I had never done anything so deliberate and intensive with implications for so many aspects of my life. Consequently, from my time as a financial coaching and community development intern, the most valuable things that I learned had very little to do with financial coaching. I want to share three things that I have contemplated as a result of participating in RJP:

First, the most difficult part of the internship has been simply sharing so many things with so many other people, including space, money, food, time, etc.. I wrote in my first post about all the structures and responsibilities for an RJP intern, and, at the time, I will not lie, I thought it was going to be easy. “I already live with a bunch of people when I’m at school, so sharing space shouldn’t be that hard,” I thought. But aside from space, I have been learning just how little else I entrust to others for fear of losing independence. For example, I had never shared an income with anybody, let alone five other people at the same time. This act of faith in others was harder for some interns to take than others, and I certainly had a few things to learn about patience and humility through this exercise of sharing. I think everybody could learn a whole lot from even a small amount of not being in full control of the so many things that we all believe we control.

Secondly, I thought, honestly, that if I learned anything from this internship that I would learn it on my job site. That has not necessarily been the case. By far the people I learned the most from have been the other interns. I learned from them to lose control of my belongings from them, yes, but I also learned a lot about conflict and some other seemingly foundational aspects of relationship with others. After 7 weeks with five other people and very few distractions, there has most definitely been some conflict – that should not be surprising. Or is it? Conflict has actually been something I have been pretty good at avoiding through the course of my life, and let me just say that I believe it invaluable to essentially be forced into a social pressure cooker to make me confront some of myself that would normally prefer avoiding conflict over building deeper relationships.

Lastly, I want to talk about something that I did get from my actual work site at the Fulton NRC financial opportunities center, which – strap in because this is going to sound corny – is joy in service. I would like to say that I have been joyful because my time spent volunteering has been wildly rewarding and I saw many lives impacted because of wonderful community resource. But, alas, as so often happens with service, things were actually very slow and my efforts could only go so far. But, at the same time, the people who did come in to request assistance were wonderfully joyful. They were happy to have somebody there for them, and, as residents in the neighborhood in which I was serving, they were incredibly inviting. In other words, it was very encouraging to see a community welcome in transient outsiders, leading to me to learn a lot from the people I want to serve about actually receiving hospitality more than giving service.