Hi, I’m Vincent and for the last several months I’ve been an intern at Hospitality House. To be honest, I’ve never written a blogpost before, and really struggled to come-up with a specific topic/title for this. Of course, I could go the “Interning in a Pandemic” route, and just list the changes from what I did at HospHouse before and after the coronavirus. But would that really sum-up my experience there? Sure, it would be factual, but I don’t think it would really relate how I perceived my experience. Instead, I am just going to tell you about me and my whole internship: share my thoughts, feelings, and such. And perhaps, whoever reads this will be more informed in the decision to intern, donate, volunteer, or apply.
It all started in the late summer of 2019. Some would say a simpler time. Remember? People were closer together—in the most literal sense, and at the grocery store, the nose and mouth of a passing stranger were in clear sight. It's really the little things we miss most, isn’t it? Anyways, in that late summer of 2019, I was a desperate, intershipless undergraduate psychology student just looking for any organization to take me on for school credit. Frankly, my options were slimming by the week—I think I might have been too nervous in interviews—and I was beginning to think I would never find an internship, or graduate for that matter. Not two days after my last rejection from the last site that agreed to an interview, I received an email from HospHouse to schedule an interview. What luck! I thought maybe this was the one; however I didn’t get my hopes up. I mean, can you imagine my insecurity? All I had wanted to do was provide work in exchange for school credit. At the time, it seemed like a no-brainer to me to really just let anyone come intern for some free labor. The day of the interview I was filled with anxieties of my previous interviews and what had gone wrong. Was it the way I dressed? Was it my timid voice? Was it my hair? Was it my face? (Keep in mind masks weren’t of the day’s fashion back then—I had to show the whole thing!) Regardless of all that, the interview went great; the interviewer even said he would answer one of the questions the same way I did. I got the internship.
Fast-forward to January 2020, I was getting ready to be one Hospitality House’s brand new interns. I was excited. Though to be honest, I was excited to get that fancy degree in one of those shiny frames. In fact, I actually dreaded the thought of the actual internship. After all, I already worked forty-plus hours in a restaurant, and now to add an eight hour internship plus a two-hour class. But what kept me going was the thought of that piece of paper, hung up in my living room, so that everyone could see how much debt I incurred and silently bemoan my waste of an education as I continued to work scooping mac and cheese late into the evening (can you tell I hadn’t thought much of my future?—perhaps this is where I failed in my interviews).
I was assigned to the food pantry and kitchen area. At first I thought, “Great! More kitchen work,” but actually, my first couple days weren’t so bad. There were so many tasks that I got to do: all different—I always thought of interns as coffee errand-ers, but here I was building panels, cooking, reaching out to student volunteers, creating spreadsheets, and laminating. Laminating! I couldn’t believe I was laminating, at work? Truly it was the coolest thing to me. I had never really done anything like that in a work environment. I felt like a young professional. The only work I’d really ever done consisted of mopping, sweeping, cooking, and washing dishes. It was strange for me to exit that mentality. I can’t count how many times Keith, who oversees the food pantry and kitchen, told me to stop sweeping and start thinking—thinking!—about ideas and projects to improve the food pantry. I would think and think of ways that I could reorganize or add to the food pantry to make it seem more ‘grocery-store’ like, and when I would tell Keith he would say, “Great. Do it.” before quickly turning back to his task at hand. Slowly, I was realizing that I had agency and didn’t need to rely on the approval of a manager for every task at hand. I could do what I thought needed to be done.
None of this I was used to, but I was starting to love it. I looked forward to going there. And I thought Keith’s job was the coolest job in the world. I mean, he essentially did what I did in a restaurant: made sure people had food to eat. But in Keith’s job it wasn’t for some restaurant’s profit, it was for people that needed it; relied on it. And at HospHouse, nothing had to be perfect but rather it was a simple equation: people need food and you give them food. As I spent more time there, I noticed that every basic function of HospHouse was like this. There was nothing pristine, sterile (although much more sterile now), or robotic. The essential service they provide is food and shelter, a home. That is exactly how interning felt, with all the mundanity and excitements of maintaining a home of your own, but for others who don’t have one. And in the food pantry where clients don’t necessarily live there, but come to supplement grocery needs, it felt like visitors. Offering as much as you can to all that come.
Before I started my internship Todd, the Director of Development (and one of the warmest, friendly people I have ever met), told me, “This [internship] will probably change you.” I didn’t think much of what he said then, but now it's funny thinking of the certainty of his prediction. Of course it changed me. I mean I cringe now at the thought of saying this, but my whole life I have been fed negative propaganda about those who are homeless and never even gave it the one thought. For what? Closed-mindedness? To avoid appreciating what I had? Certainly, I was closed-minded coming in, I couldn’t even imagine a job that didn’t revolve around sweeping and mopping!
To conclude my ramble, Todd, if you’re reading this, you were right, it did change me; and to anyone reading who is looking to intern or volunteer somewhere, I cannot recommend Hospitality House more. I’ve had a whole lot of fun, so much so that I’ll be continuing to volunteer regularly even though I’ve completed my internship(and degree!—thank you very much). Maybe I’ll see you there. Thanks for reading, bye!