This summer I had the opportunity to work as a Youth Ambassador through No Kid Hungry for Children’s Hunger Alliance in Columbus. My position as a YA consisted of overseeing four open summer meal sites at elementary schools around Columbus. These meal sites were open to all children ages 1-18 and not only gave kids free breakfast and lunch, but provided them with activities, programming, and nutrition education throughout the summer.
I had many new experiences and opportunities this summer. I was working with populations who experienced varying levels of poverty and instability in their home lives. I was exposed to many parts of Columbus that are starkly different from Ohio State’s campus. Working at these summer meal sites really introduced me to the levels of food insecurity many residents of Columbus face, and how vast of a problem it is in both this city and the country. I became more comfortable working with diverse populations, as well as children who have faced trauma and violence, and act out because of it. Beyond everything that I was exposed to, I also gained a great deal of experience working within a professional organization. My organizational, communication, and problem-solving skills were all challenged and improved through this opportunity. I learned I work well under pressure, like to problem-solve, and like to work with others.
Although it was a great summer, our program definitely faced some challenges along the way. As I mentioned previously, many of the kids who came to our open meal sites came from quite unstable families and neighborhoods. Because of this, they often had bad behavior, didn’t listen or participate, and were even violent towards one another. In order to maintain a safe and fun program, we had to implement much more structured programming and bring in more staff as the summer went on. I had to learn to be patient with these kids and understand that the trauma and violence that they’ve experienced is what is causing them to act out. These kids really opened my eyes to what many families and kids endure when living in an unstable environment. Although our program could not solve all of their problems, or the issue of poverty and food insecurity as a whole, it allowed children to have a safe, welcoming, fun environment to spend their summer days at.
Some of the relationships that impacted me this summer were those with my coworkers. I was in charge of supervising many of the site staff at the different schools. When issues arose between staff, with timeliness, or with solving on-site issues with kids, it was my job to mediate and solve these issues. As a college student, it took a great deal of self-empowerment to feel comfortable and confident with this level of responsibility. I learned how to communicate effectively, with kindness and patience. When situations arose that were out of my control, I had to know when to move to a higher-up individual to help me solve the problem.
This internship gave me a lot of great experience working within a public health organization. I feel confident seeking out employment post-graduation because I know that I can handle working within a professional organization of this kind. It also confirmed for me that public health is the right field for me. I am eager to work towards positive change, and dedicate my time to doing something that I know is making the world a better place. Being able to work with diverse populations and in unfamiliar communities is a skill that I know feel confidently that I have, and will benefit me greatly in my future endeavors.