2020 PFIG Recipient Lauren O'Neil

Jessica Meyers

Journal Entry #1

This summer I was fortunate enough to secure an internship with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia working as a Communications and Policy Intern. As someone interested in the many intersections of housing policy, criminal justice, health equity, political accountability, and public affairs, the Virginia Interfaith Center’s four pillars of racial justice, social justice, environmental justice, and economic justice drew me to the organization. In February, after many email correspondences and phone calls with the Communications Director, we decided that I would act as a liaison between communities throughout Virginia and our statewide elected officials with the hopes of bringing real concerns to the table. I would travel between communities, document their policy concerns and needs, draft legislative requests, and work with Virginia Interfaith to steer policy based on the concerns. However, because of Coronavirus, my internship was turned upside down. Unsure of what roles I was going to play and how I could be useful during this time, I went into my internship extremely nervous.

Now a week in, I’m so grateful for the ways in which the Virginia Interfaith Center rapidly transitioned to remote working and is still serving communities. In order to still hear Virginia residents’ voices, my boss came up with the idea of a weekly broadcast in both Spanish and English where we facilitate discussion amongst key Virginia policy experts, nonprofit advocates, and community members. I’m excited to see the reach of these broadcasts and how I can help my boss with publicizing and enriching the broadcast. So far, only two broadcasts have been done but we are already receiving feedback and appreciation from communities across Virginia for our work to continue to disseminate state policy information, which is incredible!

The biggest blessing of working for the Virginia Interfaith Center is that I am treated as a valued, equal part of the communications team. Since every staff member at Virginia Interfaith puts on many hats,  I have been able to meet and work with every staff member in the office, even though I only directly work with the Communications Director. Instead of making copies or filing memos, I am able to do realtime work editing legislative proposals, publishing a weekly roundup of information, and running publicity for our growing broadcast. I am excited to see where this summer takes me, and know that if the next seven weeks are anything like the first, I’m in for a treat.

Journal Entry #2

I cannot believe I’m already halfway done with my internship! Working at the Virginia Interfaith Center definitely hasn’t been the experience I expected due to COVID, but the staff have made the experience extremely valuable and worthwhile nonetheless. Since I began working, my boss and I have gotten into a rhythm where I assist her with three main projects and also take on side projects as needed. The three main projects we are working on are the weekly broadcast in both Spanish and English, the weekly newsletter that gets distributed to our base, and a legislative recap summarizing what we accomplished and didn’t accomplish this past General Assembly session. On the side, I also take on small projects that mostly include gathering information. For example, so far I have created a running list of all of our social media tags, tracked all of our broadcast analytics, made sure each broadcast is posted to Youtube and tracked comments, and tracked the performance of our weekly roundup. This set-up means that I get to see both sides of advocacy work: hands-on distribution of information and tracking the distribution of information to ensure we reach as many residents as possible.

As a policy wonk obsessed with the details of social policy, my favorite project I have completed so far has been writing and editing a legislative recap of every policy the Virginia Interfaith Center supported this past General Assembly session. Though I was upset that my internship dates didn’t match with legislative work, I learned so much combing through the Legislative Information System and talking to various staff members about state policy. I learned how to interact with elected officials, how to track bills, and how to create a legislative summary that is informative and digestable. Our main policy topics for the 2020 Assembly were securing paid sick days, increasing the minimum wage, securing in-state tuition, and working for environmental justice. All of these issues are ones I’m extremely passionate about, and to hear staff members and community members give personal testimony about the impact of these issues reminded me what public service and advocacy is all about.

As our broadcast continues to grow, it’s been so fulfilling to see comments coming in from residents across Virginia about how much this information has helped them. So far, we’ve aired broadcasts about COVID-19 resources, health equity and COVID-19, the 2020 General Assembly session wins, the energy burden, and healthcare access under COVID-19. I’ve learned so much about the intersectionality of policies of inequity and the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations throughout Virginia and am so thankful that the work I am doing is actively informing me about the state of our Commonwealth! These past few weeks have simultaneously felt like a year and flown by, and I cannot wait to continue this work for the next month.

Journal Entry #3

WOW! It feels like I’ve been working at the Virginia Interfaith Center for years (in the best way) and I am so sad that it’s over. I truly cannot imagine a better, more enriching remote summer internship! I am so thankful for my body Roberta and the entire staff for making my internship so valuable amidst a global pandemic and a national awakening to racial justice issues.  Ultimately, my three main tasks remained the same throughout the experience, with the broadcast taking up more and more of my internship time. As the weeks passed by, I was given more responsibility with the broadcast including communicating with our advocacy ally organizations, publicizing across all social media, and training broadcast guests for their appearances. Though this isn’t what I expected to do coming into the internship, I realized that community outreach can take so many forms and connecting with residents across Virginia to hear their concerns is so necessary for any advocacy organization.

I came in with a rigid idea and a hope to do direct policy research, and as we had to adapt to remote work and wrap up the legislative session that I wasn’t able to be present for, I was challenged as my perfect, clean view of public service became more complicated and messy. I realized that public service and advocacy are all about working from the ground up, not from the top down, and that constantly switching methods of communication to reach as many populations as possible may be stressful in the moment but pays off in the end. The goal should be to give residents what they ask for, not assume we know what they want and need, and I believe VICPP does this. My advice to anyone considering an internship in public service, therefore, is to always be flexible and remind yourself who you’re serving and why you got into this work!

I’m most proud of my work on the legislative recap and turning our policy work into memos and publications that are easy for the public to understand. This required me to get into the depths of the Legislative Information System, track bills, summarize extremely long bills, and understand complex policy. Though I stumble a bit with the research and understanding all of the small details to each bill, I’m proud of myself for overcoming the obstacles and seeing this project through from start to finish. I spent this summer debating what role I want to play within public service — lobbying, crafting legislation, and community empowerment all interested me — and I now know that I don’t really need to pick just one. All of these sectors of public service are so interwoven that by immersing myself in any one sector, I will get a taste of all of them. This realization makes me so excited to dive into whatever public service opportunity I am given next, and I can’t thank the Parents Fund, Roberta, or the Virginia Interfaith Center staff enough for this experience.