Summer internship instills empathy, direction

Out of 600 applicants, fewer than 75 were chosen.

The summer internship is a coveted part of the undergraduate education. For junior Caroline Pittard, a position at Youth Villages was more than a line on her resume.

“I wasn’t before, but now I’m interested in working with kids, maybe foster kids or kids that have been abused,” she said. “It helped confirm my career goals: that I want to do something with counseling or clinical practice in some way.”

Youth Villages, a private nonprofit organization that helps emotionally and behaviorally challenged children and their families live successfully, offered Pittard a position in Memphis, Tenn. this past summer. 

“I worked in one of the residential cottages,” she said. “We’d pick them up from school and sometimes have recreation therapy in the gym. I’d basically help supervise. They always need an extra pair of eyes.”

Having interns on site is beneficial for the staff as well as the children, according to Allison Hinson, university relations recruiter at Youth Villages.

“They’ve got this energy, they’re so excited, they’re so motivated,” she said. “After you’ve been in any job for a while it loses its luster, and some days you need someone there to have that excitement, to boost you up again.”

Pittard’s experience at Youth Villages was both educational and rewarding.

“It was cool to see a couple of them improve in the short time I was there,” she said. “I could see some of them going further in their treatment. I learned that I’m not as soft-spoken as I thought I was. Working with boys, you really have to step up and they need to respect you, so you can be cool with them but you have to make sure they know you’re the leader, you’re in charge.”

Pittard said that her firsthand experience with at-risk children was an important part of the learning process.

“I want students to know that whether it be through Youth Villages or through any organization, it’s very important to get that experience while you’re in college,” Hinson said. “Most of our interns realize that they love it and they want to come back and work for us, but there are definitely some that say ‘I loved this, but this isn’t what I want to do with my life,’ and we respect that. We are excited about that because we’re helping college students realize what they want to do.”

Although she said she was thrilled to work in the counseling field, Pittard faced trials that ultimately made her experience more rewarding.

“Most challenging was learning a professional sense of empathy because a lot of the kids had pretty hard stories,” she said. “But by the end of the 10 weeks I was there, I felt a lot better about being able to go into a situation where it’s a sad story, but they’re there to get help so you have to look at it that way. I feel like it really helped me learn that, especially for the future.”

In addition to working with troubled children, Pittard took advantage of the opportunities in Memphis.

“It was great living in Memphis, being able to explore the city on weekends,” she said. “We went to museums, saw great fireworks shows and went down to the river. And the barbecue was amazing.”

After a summer at Youth Villages, Hinson said interns have the experience and contacts needed to transition into the professional world.

“My favorite part is having the interns,” Hinson said. “I love to get to know them so when they do graduate and they are looking for a little guidance in the field, they feel comfortable enough just to give me a call and talk to me about what they want to do, so I can help them out in any way.”

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