Real Perspective For True Service | Eastern North Carolina Now | Social work major learns ins and outs of nonprofit with SECU PFI program

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    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Kim Tilghman.


Constance Williams stepped into her first internship at The Blind Center and designed a full summer of activities including gardening for people with blindness or low vision as part of the ECU SECU Public Fellows Internship program. (Photos by Kim Tilghman)

    It's morning, and you place your feet on the ground to start your day. What do you do first? Open the windows to see the sun streaming in? Start the coffee and prepare your breakfast? Jump in the shower? Run through the day's schedule in your head? What part of the day are you looking forward to the most?

    Now consider opening your eyes each morning to darkness.

    You may or may not need assistance in preparing breakfast. You carefully get ready with items placed in specific, routine spots so you know what you are picking up. You have little control over your schedule for the day because you rely on services or others to get you from one location to another. But you hope there will be a chance to connect with someone - maybe take part in an activity.

    Enter East Carolina University junior and social work major Constance Williams. Williams spent the summer as an intern at The Blind Center in Washington, North Carolina. She applied for the position through the SECU Public Fellows Internship Program to gain experience in a field she's interested in pursuing.

    The program places undergraduate students with area government, nonprofit, public or private economic development, or education entities each summer. The partnership aims to address community-identified priorities while also providing opportunities for students to develop leadership, analytical, problem solving, communication, and project management skills, as well as allowing them to network in professional settings.

    This is the second year ECU has partnered with the center as part of the program. The center is a nonprofit organization in Beaufort County that provides assistance, resources, activities, programs, education and more for the visually impaired, their families and others in need. With the help of community partners, the center also provides some meals for participants.

    Tina Jandrow, interim director of the Beaufort County Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, said, "We give our interns a lot of responsibility out of the gate."

    Entering her very first internship, Williams took on the task of bringing special programming back to the center, which was paused during COVID. Williams said she was initially intimidated to host and communicate with members who have vision impairments. She was nervous about saying the wrong thing and wondered if they would enjoy or even be able to participate in the planned activities. She said she asked a lot of questions in the beginning and received a lot of guidance from center staff.

    "They helped me gain confidence and taught me about professionalism," Williams said.

    The summer programming Williams organized included chair yoga, block printing, trivia, bingo, lunch, pottery, crafts, gardening and trips to places like the local estuarium. Williams said the programming was very beneficial to their patrons because it got them out of the house and allowed them to meet with others in the community.

    "It gives them things to do and more people to meet. They love meeting new people and asked me a lot about myself in the beginning. They can't get out of the house that much because they can't drive so we help them schedule transportation to get here," Williams said.

    "Teaching independence is a big part of the center's mission, and the summer programming Constance put together has continued tuning their fine motor skills for independent living," Jandrow said.

    Williams said the experience gave her a glimpse of the different populations she'll be working with in the social work field.

    "You never know who you may be working with. It could be all different age ranges and levels of need," she said.

    As for the operational side of a nonprofit, Williams said she learned volunteers are vital to help provide services.

    "If I wasn't here, they wouldn't have been here. I was able to run the events, which opened it back up for them."

    Jandrow feels the partnership with ECU is mutually beneficial to the organization and the students.

    "We've had a difficult time in this market finding staff willing to come in and work six hours a week," Jandrow said. "Constance has taken on programming. She's developed it, she's designed it, she's implemented it. She's helped our patrons organize transportation. So, that's pretty big."

    "We are employee-seeking as much as anything else. The internship gives us the ability to give them the freedom to see if this is a good fit. If you make a mistake, not a big deal. It's a safe place to learn."

    While The Blind Center offers special programs designed to teach independent living skills for the visually impaired community, the center also provides eyewear, teach and loan adaptive technology, as well as nutrition, finance, and basic household skills training.

    "We will be offering cooking classes for our vision impaired - any level. So, it will be knife handling, kitchen maneuvering, and prep, in addition to the nutritional aspects," Jandrow said. "This will give them the opportunity in a social setting to make and take home fully prepped meals that they can pop in the oven."

    Jandrow said the center's biggest challenges include the need for volunteers and more outreach, but with the assistance of several grants, they will be opening another facility in Beaufort County to help with a wider array of services.

    "There is going to be a huge unconventional job training program and a food surety program coming out of there," she said.

    With new services to reach populations that need help, the center looks to bring on more interns who are able to self-direct and solve problems.

    "We've had an opportunity to grow from them, and they've had an opportunity to grow from us," she said. "I think every one of our interns, when they leave here, are significantly more prepared for the workforce than they were coming in due to the experience."
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