College students everywhere seek experience that equips them for the “real world” after graduation. But students at Christian Brothers University want more than just an internship.

So many of them have a real desire to make a difference in the world, supporting causes they care about. That’s why using their knowledge and talents at non-profit organizations suits them perfectly.  Unfortunately, many non-profits work on a tight budget that doesn’t allow hiring summer interns.

CBU’s Nonprofit Internship Community Experience (NICE) program provides for just such experience. It provides funding to non-profits so that they can hire students for the summer, partnering in a unique way. Students from CBU served at several organizations from June 1 until the end of July in a variety of ways, from clerical work to coding, from research to raising money, from digging in the dirt to delving into data. On August 2, students gathered in the University Theater (or joined virtually) to recap their summer, telling stories about what they had learned – not just about the organizations they served, but also about themselves.

And they were paid for their work.

Funds for these summer jobs came from donors with a vision for drawing students into the non-profit world, a vision which prompts them to support the NICE program. They know the value of organizations dedicated to preserving quality of life, and they know money is often scarce – so they give.

With a budget made of these donations, CBU’s Career Services Director, Amy Ware, matched 33 students with positions at non-profit organizations across the Mid-South and beyond: Advocates for Immigrant Rights, American Heart Association, Bartlett Police Department, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club of the Carolinas, Boys and Girls Club of Memphis, Christ Community Health Services, Code Crew, Crystal Bridges, Delta Health Alliance, Downtown Memphis Commission, Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, Hope and Healing, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Child Advocacy Center, Memphis Tilth, Museum of Discovery, Museum of Science and History (Pink Palace), National Civil Rights Museum, Overton Park Conservancy, Persevere, Refugee Empowerment Program, Shelby County DA Office, Shelby Farms, St. Francis of Assisi, Thistle & Bee, Transformations Autism Treatment Center, Volunteer Odyssey.

CBU Student Collin Duncan work at his desk at the Downtown Memphis Commission.

In some cases, student roles directly required the skills and knowledge associated with courses of study. For example, Collin Duncan, an accounting major, spent his days putting to use his business skills, assisting the CFO of Downtown Memphis Commission in a number of bookkeeping tasks and learning tricks of the trade from her expertise. His work ethic and attention to detail earned Duncan the respect of the staff, and his cheerful, friendly demeanor made him a natural fit among them.

I have the perfect spot for you.

Amy Ware, Career Services Director

Matching a business major to a CFO makes sense, but it seemed a stretch when, just days after finishing final exams, Edgar Grenados, a Computer Science major, went to work for the Bartlett Police Department. The department had asked Career Services Director Amy Ware if she had anyone who could create for them an interactive app that would help them better serve the community. She contacted Grenados, saying, “I have the perfect spot for you.” Everyone in the precinct agreed. Grenados endeared the first responders both with his charm and with his computer skills and his eagerness to learn. Riding with patrol officers and completing some of their training gave him a clear vision of their needs – so much so that he recommended components of the new app that officers had not thought of on their own. He became one of them, one of their family, a techie among cops.

Some interns found work that only tangentially connected to their studies. Nursing major Emily Patton didn’t practice nursing at the Memphis Child Advocacy Center, but she did develop a richer understanding of human frailty and the need for true kindness. Raising funds for and stocking the center’s Teddy Bear Wall made real for her the struggle of children in trouble, prompting her to take on more than she was asked to do by initiating a fundraiser which brought in enough money to purchase 99 bears for the wall, blessing 99 children recovering from the pain of their world.

CBU Student Emily Patton

In the same way, Robin Noel, a Communications major found herself making granola and soap and small talk with the ladies at Thistle & Bee, ladies healing from human trafficking and sexual abuse. “Nothing was off the table,” Noel said. “I wanted to be sensitive when I talked to them, but they were always very open with me and gave me some great life advice.” Whether she ever mixes another batch of oats & honey or not, she will always remember a new perspective on life:  she thought she was going there to help them, but they taught her much about herself and about the world.

Having discovered a love for non-profit efforts, Noel credited senior Nathan Peden for piquing her interest in the NICE program. Peden, who had interned via NICE in the past, encouraged her to give it a try, to stretch her wings a bit, to find herself. And he did the same. Ware placed Peden this summer with Christ Community Health Services (CCHS), certain that his public relations and human resources skills would fill a need they had. In fact, before the end of July and the internship, Peden’s creative initiatives and passion for his work had found such favor with his supervisor, Michael Vitali, that Vitali offered the intern a job. “I just want people to love their work. I’ll never be a doctor,” Peden said, “but I can help make their work more enjoyable.” At this rate, he will do just that.

As these interns got a better look at what organizations can do when they focus on the needs of others, they saw what “Enter to Learn, Leave to Serve” really means. Many of them recognized that they had become an incarnation of the motto.

And their words to those who fund the program, who paid them for these life-changing experiences? Every time:  “Thank you.”

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