When I started graduate school, my very first class was a social policy class. It sounded a little boring, and I couldn’t imagine enjoying it. Much to my surprise, I loved the class and I loved learning about the social policies that affect the well-being of all people. I wanted to learn more and experience what it was like work for an organization that helped shape these policies. For the past 8 months, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of doing that as an intern at Michigan’s Children.
I remember the first day of my internship. As with any first day at a “new job,” I was excited and more than a little nervous. Would I do well? Did I really know enough about social policy? I spent the following days reading everything I could about issues affecting the welfare of children. In staff meetings, I heard legal terms that were new to me and discretely (I hope) scribbled them down, so I could look them up later. The following weeks and months were an exciting time as I tried to learn everything I could about policy work and advocacy.
From the first day, I was treated like a member of the team, not “just an intern.” The work was challenging, but I loved every minute of it. Not only did I do research, analyze policies, and make recommendations, I also had other great opportunities such as attending House and Senate appropriations meetings, meeting with people from other organizations, and talking to individuals in the community. Additionally, I had the pleasure of working with Courtney, another very talented social work intern at Michigan’s Children.
During my time there, I learned so much from Michele, Matt, Bobby, and Kali. Valuable things that I’ll remember and carry with me throughout my social work career. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned.
1. Change takes time, and often a very long time. When advocating for better policies, sometimes you have to start with small requests and continue to build on small changes to get the big changes you really want.
2. Doing your research is critical. To analyze policies to determine their potential effectiveness and offer recommendations, you need to know the facts about the issues.
3. Networking and building relationships with individuals and groups in other agencies and organizations is essential. The more people you bring to the table with a shared goal, the more power you have to affect change.
4. This most important thing I’ve learned. It is crucial to talk to the people directly affected by the issues. Reach out to community members in diverse populations and listen to what they have to say. They are the experts on their own experiences, their needs, and how to best address those needs without creating more barriers.
In addition to learning about policy work and advocating for positive change, I learned many things about myself. I can do so much more than I ever imagined, I have good ideas, I love meeting people and building relationships, and I am passionate about advocating for children and families. The world should be a safe place for children and youth where they feel loved and have opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive. Part of creating that world is ensuring that parents and grandparents also have the supports they need.
My time at Michigan’s Children has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my graduate school education both professionally and personally. Now that I’ve graduated and am ready to begin my professional career, I leave the organization knowing that I’ve made 5 amazing, extremely knowledgeable and talented new friends whom I will never forget. It has been a joy and a privilege to work with them and learn from them.
Sherry Boroto, MSW is a former intern at Michigan’s Children.