Last Day!

Wow, summer flew by!

The past couple weeks have been really busy because I was doing final touches on my Youth Homelessness Report. We are directed to get first and second edits and I never realized how beneficial it is to have a second set of eyes reviewing my work. My peers’ comments were so useful! It reminded me of Freshman Year’s seminar class at Dickinson.

It’s surreal that the internship is already over. Overall, NCH gave me an incredible experience. Looking back at all the opportunities I had, I am so thankful for all that I have learned. I have made so much progress on where I want my career path to go and the steps that it will take me to get there. I have gotten so used to waking up, walking 10 blocks to work, and “living” here from 9-5 with a group of people who are like a close-knit family. My internship coordinator just pulled me aside to ask my about my experience here and genuinely wanted feedback on how to improve the intern program. It is comforting that we can be honest with one another.

I had decided in the beginning that my last post would be advice I have for interns, based on my experience so here it goes. Originally when I first got here, my reaction was similar to this guy:  …but now, I feel that I am more prepared for the work world.

Nine Points for Non-Profits—

1.  it is imperative that you can work independently

2. you should work on something you are extremely passionate about

3. take advantage of all the opportunities your internship site offers

4. make connections with everyone you meet

5. thoroughly understand the organization’s mission

6. find ways to benefit the organization and use your time well

7. understand that there can be dull moments but things always tend to pick up

8. appreciate the “liberal arts school” focus that allows you to utilize/learn various skills

9. Form good relationships with your coworkers

On that note, it’s been a pleasure writing about my experiences here at NCH. If anyone is interested in learning more, please let me know because I’d love to talk to you more about the Coalition, living in DC, or interning in general. I’m no expert, but I’d be glad to share more of my experiences!




I Should Really Learn to Speak French…

…When I am going to an event at the French Embassy! The other week, I went to an event entitled “Le Monde Diplomatique Debates – WDC : “Is the United Nations in Decline?” and it turned out to be an amazing debate, however getting there was not easy! I speak about zero French and finding my way around the French Embassy, where the event was held, turned out to be a challenge- but definitely a fun, worthwhile one. One of my goals while in DC had been to take advantage of all the information and networking opportunities that is offered in such a driven city, and this was my start off point. The panelists included great thinkers, speakers, and voices in international politics. Five accomplished speakers took part in the debate that was structured into four different questions about why/if the UN is in decline. Among these were Kemal Dervis, Charles Kolb, Anne-Cecile Robert, James Traub, and Michael Shank. Dervis was the former administrator of the UN development Programmme, and is current vice president of the Brookings Institute. Kolb is the President for the Committee for Economics Development. Robert is a journalist from the French paper, Le Monde Diplomatique. Traub writes for the NY Times Magazine and has written 5 books on foreign policy and national security. Lastly, Shank is the US Vice-President at the Institute for Economics and Peace. Listening to each panelist’s different views and opinions on the UN was fascinating and helped get me thinking. Coincidentally enough, it sort of felt like observing a Dickinson political science class because it was so engaged and thought provoking.

On another note, at work at NCH this week, I had the opportunity to continue my youth homelessness research, and complete updates on the Youth Homelessness Fact Sheet. I also went to the Covenant House in DC to take a tour and learn more about the foster care system, since it is such a huge factor in homeless youth. The Covenant House, much to my surprise, was very organized and structured. They offer tutors for youth, GED programs, interview training, and much more common life lessons, along with food and shelter of course.  The House’s success gave me faith in humanity and reassured to me that homelessness is an issue that can be defeated with the efforts of people. To quote Gandhi, “we must become the change we want to see in the world.”

Hope everyone has a great weekend! -Til next time.

10 Most Useful Items to Donate

  1. Food

Obviously, food is a basic necessity. Call your local homeless organization and ask what type of food they are in need of. Foods high in nutritional value are preferred.

  1. Fast food coupons/grocery store gift cards

Instead of handing homeless people cash, it is often a good idea to give them gift cards. This way, people can get food as their leisure when they are hungry. Coupons and gift cards are beneficial in that they allow the person to get food that meets their dietary needs.

  1. Can opener

Canned foods are one of the most commonly donated items through food drives and collections. They have long expiration dates and are extremely useful, but what good are they if they cannot be opened? Consequently, a can opener can definitely be useful to a homeless person in need of food.

  1. Blankets/ sleeping bag

            A clean used or new blanket or sleeping bag is also a useful item to donate. The winter months can be brutally cold, and homeless people struggle to find warmth. Blankets get dirty and with the high cost of laundromats, homeless people are in constant need of blankets and sleeping bags.

  1. Rain pancho/gear

We’ve all been caught in an unexpected rain storm before and know how miserable they can be. Homeless people are caught in these infinitely more than housed people, and so rain gear can be very helpful.

  1. Hand warmer packets

Since hands and fingers have little mass, a lot of surface area, and are located far from the torso, they are susceptible to getting cold fast. Hand warmer packets are valuable in that they can save someone from frostbite or other dangers that come with the winter season. 

  1. Sports/Book Bag

A compact sports bag is easy to carry and fit belongings in. These lightweight bags can be useful in aiding the homeless who travel long distances to get to shelters, search for jobs, find food, etc.

  1. Umbrella—a small, compact one that can fit in a sports/book bag

Being under the protection of an umbrella can be essential to staying dry from rain, cool from heat, or keeping belongings safe. These can fit into the sports bags and be readily available to the homeless during their travels or days on the street.

  1. Clothing/ long johns

Obviously, clothing, like food, is a necessary item. Coats, pants, and shirts are all useful and needed, but keep in mind that underwear, socks, hats, and thermal underclothes, such as long johns, are needed too! Gloves and scarves are helpful in keeping hands and ears warm in the winter.

  1. Toiletries

One of the easiest ways to donate is by gathering unused hotel toiletries or travel-sized toiletries. These items include hand sanitizer, soap, toothbrushes, shampoo, towelettes, razors, lotion, deodorant, band aids, cough drops, etc. These daily use items that are often forgotten are essential in providing proper hygiene to the homeless. 

Getting Personal

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to one of the key founders of the organization and I was moved by his story. Michael Stoops, one of the directors and community organizers at the National Coalition for the Homeless has been with the organization for FORTY years. His passion about the homeless issue surpasses any type of passion I have ever encountered in my life. Michael has been critical in the development of the non-profit organization. He helped write the Mckinney Vento Act, worked on homeless voting rights issues, developed the Speaker’s Bureau here, and helped form the Street Sense, which is a newspaper largely written by the homeless in DC. His involvement in social justice issues has been influences by his Quaker religion, homeless grandfather, and Kennedy’s inaugural address which called for what we, as citizens, can do for the country. His passion led Michael to get involved in service learning and volunteering, especially with VISTA, whom he served for for 4 years. What really inspired me about Michael’s story is that he believes that to understand the poor, you must live with the poor and be poor yourself. So, throughout the 70s and 80s, Michael was without a salary and lived on the streets. He then saw a need for an advocacy group and created NCH. Even through the NCH’s financial crisis, Michael slept in the office everyday until he could get the organization back on its feet. That is true commitment in my eyes. Michael said that on his grave, he hopes to inscribe “Michael Stoops used to help homelessness when it WAS an issue.” His story is inspiring and I appreciate him in a whole new light.

On another note, I spent the past week here continuing my youth research, but focusing my attention on writing an article for Woman’s Day magazine on useful donations. The magazine had asked for information regarding items that are considered helpful/not helpful donations for those in need. The post following this one will have some of my findings. I had the opportunity to speak to three members of the Speakers’ Bureau to get advice from the perspective of a member of the homeless/ previously homeless community. What I found to be a common consideration among the people I spoke it is something I wish people would do more often- Homeless people want to be acknowledged and given eye contact. They, more than anything else, want to be made to feel “human.” Steve Thomas, from the NCH Speakers’ Bureau was formerly homeless and advocates that, “those that find themselves experiencing homelessness are people too. Homelessness can be but ONE bad decision away and no one is immune.” I really enjoyed writing this article and researching this topic because it shed some light on homelessness in a new perspective. It gave me a chance to deviate from my normal youth homelessness research and instead delve into ideas on HOW to help the homeless in the short run.

Happy Monday 🙂

Thoughts on Homeless Youth Discussion at the Hill

“Homeless” Youth Doesn’t Mean “Bad” Youth
            The “Voices of Youth-Discussion on Homelessness” briefing at the Senate Dirksen Building on June 19, 2012 featured 13 currently and formerly homeless youth who participated in a facilitated discussion on various issues regarding their lives. I was impressed by the candor of the youth as well as their ability to speak about their experiences dealing with homelessness.
One thing that I noticed among all the youth was their appreciation for all the people involved in bringing them to where they are today. They never gave up and kept fighting for a better future. One of the female youth from the discussion made a clear point to help the audience understand that homeless youth do not choose to put themselves in situations that lead to homelessness. She argued that they are not “bad” youth, but rather struggle with a variety of issues including family problems, neglect, abuse, etc. They feel as though they had no choice but to leave home.
It was impressive to see how intelligent the youth are and their dedication to academics. I cannot even imagine having to worry about finding daylight to do homework to get good grades, while dealing with homelessness. The kids from the facilitated discussion were able to overcome this obstacle, among many others that interfered with their success. They all came from different backgrounds; some had to take care of their siblings, some were raised by a single parent, some were abused, some were in foster care, and the list goes on. Each of the youth had a different, yet similar, story to share ranging from one extreme to the other.
It was inspirational to know that whether people were there to pick them up, or put them down in some cases, each youth kept fighting for the future they believed they deserved. Each of the currently or formerly homeless youth has wonderful goals in mind that involve helping others who are struggling in the world. The discussion really was an incredible reflection of a misrepresented segment of our population.

InternsROCK! week in DC

Every morning, we start the day by gathering at 10 o’clock to share news stories that we find regarding homelessness. It is a great time for the interns and staff to get together and update each other on our work, while talking about relevant topics about homelessness in the news. Polices and issues about the issue change or are in the process of being changed every week. Fundraisers and new housing projects seem to be very reoccurring issues. I never realized how prevalent the topic of “homelessness” is in American news until I started interning at the National Coalition. What concerns me is how such a well-known issue is still not close to being resolved. I see the staff and interns at the NCH work diligently everyday to find information, attend meeting, and push the homelessness agenda- but people are still stuck on the streets.
Last week at work, I learned a very important lesson- the importance of initiative in a workplace and taking the research I have done hence far to write articles, blogs, and reports. Thanks to the guidance of Amity Fox from the career center, I have taken all the work I’ve done from last week and started compiling it into interesting questions and topics that can be covered by the NCH Newsletter, which is sent out to the membership list. Currently, I am in the process of editing the Youth Homelessness Fact Sheet and editing work done by my fellow interns. It is nice to see how well we can all work together with our strengths and weaknesses to get tasks done effectively and efficiently. I can definitely draw from research skills I’ve learned through the variety of classes I have taken at Dickinson. Learning how to formulate an argument, write an opinion piece, and do policy writing have all been skills I have used at the NCH. Tomorrow I will be going to the Hill to attend a briefing called, “Voices of Youth- Discussion on Homelessness.” It should be a great addition to my research to get insight from youth who have previously suffered from homelessness. I’m excited to hear what they have to say!
On another note, this past week was InternsRock in DC, sponsored by the Washington Center (TWC). Since there are SO many interns that invade the city in the summer months, TWC gets participating restaurants and shops to give discounts to interns in the area. We also had free admission to the Newseum, which usually charges $30 a person. I definitely recommend going there if you’re in the area! This week, I’ll be going to the French Embassy to attend a seminar on the UN.

I hope everyone had a great Father’s Day! Happy start of the week! 🙂

Another Busy Week!

The National Coalition for the Homeless brought in another busy week, as 7 more lovely interns joined the team. This week, we all were assigned topics in homelessness to divide up the work in a productive manner. I am helping with the issue of youth and homelessness, so my posts will probably be centered around that specific issue now. It is crazy to see the difference in percentage of homeless youth in America compared to homeless adults.1 in 50 kids in America are homeless! There are so many organizations in DC aimed specifically to help young, homeless people! As my research progresses, I hope to meet with as many of the organizations I can to uncover a potential response to the question I am most concerned about: WHY there is such a high percentage of homeless youth in America and possible solutions to decrease that number. Other interns are working on issues of LGBT rates in the homeless population, civil rights for the homeless including voting rights, and the factor of race in homelessness. I can’t wait to see everyone’s end findings! On a side note, I was in charge of gathering blurbs from all the interns about why they chose to work at NCH and it was really interesting to see that the majority of us are from suburbs where homelessness isn’t a part of our everyday experience, which led us to NCH to explore how real the issue is and how we can help. Additionally, this week, the Career Center emailed me back with suggestions on what I hope to get out of my internship and it was extremely useful! As a word of advice, I would say to do this before every job/internship you have in the future. Sitting down and writing out exactly what I wanted to get out of being at the NCH and how to get it really helped me set my focus.

The excitement never seems to subside here in DC. I ventured off on a walk into Georgetown (the town) with interns from work and survived the scorching heat-37 minute long line into Georgetown Cupcakes…but believe me it was worth it!  I also went down to the waterfront and decided it would be a good idea to dip my feet into the Potomac River, known to be extremely polluted and unclean. During this week, I also went with interns from my dorm to the Jazz in the Garden show, which happens every Friday from 5-8:30. It was PACKED! I was shocked by how many young people came directly from work to enjoy the weather and, as is very common in DC, network with the other people there. In appreciate of Gay Pride Month, DC held a Pride Festival in DuPont Circle the other day. It was fantastic! The parade definitely did a good job of getting the idea of “equal rights for gays” out and made it an enjoyable experience at the same time. I’ve attached pictures below!


From the Suburbs to the City

Hi! My name is Jesica Ray and I am a rising junior at Dickinson College. I am a Law and Policy major and enjoy working with non profit organizations committed to bringing change to the world. Consequently, that was exactly what I was looking for in my internship search for summer 2012. I chose to work at the National Coalition for the Homeless because I felt I would be a good fit for both its mission and the experience the organization could offer me. After all, a quote I’ve lived my life by…

“If you give me a fish, you have fed me for a day- If you teach me to fish, then you have fed me until the river is contaminated or the shoreline is seized for development- But if you teach me to organize, then whatever the challenge, I can join together with my peers and we will fashion our own solution”

…is a quote the office has framed near their front entrance. With the help of the Dickinson Career Center’s Internship Grant, I was able to accept the internship and move to DC for the summer!

Being in DC thus far has been the exact change I was looking for. So far, I have had a week to get accustomed to the city and a full week of interning at the National Coalition for the Homeless. There is so much to do both in the city and at the Coalition. The city offers world-class museums, festivals, events, and so much more on a daily basis. I would go as far as to say there is never a dull moment in DC. It took adjustment getting used to reading metro maps and walking long distances to get from place to place, but it was all worth it. In the first week of work, I’ve had the opportunity to meet all the wonderful staff at NCH, help with numerous research projects, and attend a meeting at Capitol Hill. It has definitely been an exciting adventure! The first day, I was immediately assigned to a project on the paradox between hunger and obesity. It sounds odd putting those two words together, right? Well, I learned that there are many factors involved in “hungry” people being obese, including lack of nutrition in cheap food and lack of exercise. What is most useful is that the NCH’s executive director, Neil Donovan, offers the interns feedback and assistance on all of our work. My next research project is about young African American men and the reasons they are disproportionately represented in the homeless population in America. I’m really excited to get started on the research for that project because it is a topic that, according to online searches, hasn’t been looked into in much depth yet. Also, my Africana Studies class from Dickinson has gotten me extremely curious and interested in the struggles different groups of people face in America. The other interns come in Monday, so it’ll be nice to have other people my age with shared passions around the office. I look forward to writing about the highlights of the upcoming week! Happy weekend 🙂