This post was written by Thomas ‘Mac’ Barreca, who spent Summer 2019 with us as an intern and is the last student to participate in the Cornell University Blumenthal Internship Program. This internship program was started and lead by WCA Lifetime Achievement Awardee, Karen Blumenthal, and her husband 20 years ago and is a model of how to encourage student leaders to consider a career in nonprofit organizations. Mac’s studies in industrial labor relations brought a new perspective to our staff and he was a willing accomplice in our many, diverse summer projects. Mac will be missed, but we are sure we will see his name in lights soon enough.
When I first arrived at WCA this summer, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had never been around advocacy work before and had not studied it. When I interviewed for the internship, I tried to make that as clear as I could but, as it turned out, experience wasn’t necessarily required. I learned quite quickly that the most important things needed to succeed here at WCA are passion and a great attitude. (And, frequently, lots of coffee.)
My summer started out totally crazy from the first moment. With the preeminent release of WCA’s report on child and youth homelessness, I had to dive headfirst into an issue I knew next-to-nothing about. The rest of the staff was incredibly helpful and, in no time at all, I was helping to edit and revise the report. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel an immense amount of pride when the report finally went out. In addition to the content, I got to revive some graphic design skills I had not used since high school to help create the cover page.
While much of my summer was spent trying to get WCA’s report out, I think the largest portion of my time was spent helping to develop WCA’s newest initiative: Project 2020. Project 2020 is a youth-focused voter and civic engagement program that is intended to educate young people and inspire a group of voters that has historically been the worst at voting in local or national elections. Through Project 2020, WCA is partnering with youth-serving organizations in numerous communities across the county, trying to get youth from all different walks of life to voting booths and rallies. My roles in Project 2020 included assisting in the development of the curriculum, creating a presentation to be shown during the first training session, designing training materials, designing a flyer, drafting the Project 2020 webpage for WCA’s website, and more! Project 2020 has been so much fun to work on because as a member of the 18-24 voter group, it makes me so excited to be actively trying to increase our turnout.
In addition to all of the behind-the-scenes work on Project 2020, I was also front and center at WCA’s launch of Project in August at the Westchester County Youth Bureau’s ‘Invest Fest‘. WCA was invited to host a fun activity related to civic engagement for kids of all ages from all over Westchester County. While we originally planned to be playing our game with kids age 13 to 17, children who were as young as 6 years old came to our table so we had to quickly improvise. Considering the subject matter and purpose of the game, you would think that we totally crashed and burned. On the contrary, even our youngest participants were super-active and engaged in the game. Our Project 2020 game split participants into two groups: the ‘residents’ and the ‘local leaders. Each group discussed among themselves about how they wanted to prioritize activities to help Westchester children be “healthy, safe, and prepared for life’s challenges” upon graduating from school and then the residents had to convince local leaders to distribute the county budget to a number of youth-serving programs the way they wanted. It was incredibly poignant to hear a 7-year-old discuss how important college readiness programs are to make sure all kids have a chance to do what they want with their lives.
When I begin to think about what comes next for WCA, there are some big things on the horizon. Homelessness has been adopted as an official issue area and will really take-off around the start of this school year. Project 2020 is currently recruiting partners and looking for youth groups to be trained leading up to the 2019 local elections and, of course, the 2020 presidential campaign. Seventeen-year-olds are getting pulled out of the adult justice system this October, and New York recently passed landmark pre-trial reforms that will positively impact justice-involved juveniles and adolescents.
On the downside, I am well aware that I will be the very last Cornell Blumenthal intern that WCA will have. With longtime advocate Karen Blumenthal’s retirement, the intern program will be ending following this summer. WCA was 1 of the 2 organizations to accept interns the very first year of the program, so I will be the caboose of a 20-year train of fantastic interns. This sentiment was made really clear starting my very first day, and all summer I have been worried about capping off WCA’s proud history of great interns. As my summer comes to an end, I’m happy to say that I think I ended the Blumenthal intern era with a splash! Hopefully, the WCA staff will miss me just as much as I’m going to miss them.