Walking in Circles: A few moments that capture my experience as Youth Engagement Intern at APA

On the first day of my internship, I circled around and around the block. Work started at 9 and it was currently 8:15 a.m.  I continued to glance down at the address punched in my phone and then up at the impressive row of buildings in front of me. I knew I was in the right place—just the previous week my supervisor had pointed in the general direction of the place over a breakfast—but I didn’t know exactly where I was supposed to enter.

When someone used to ask me who I work for or what I do, I could confidently and concisely tell them America's Promise and Intern for Youth Engagement. If, however, they were to inquire further and ask what America's Promise did, I would hesitate. I would circle around and around searching for the answer. I knew the mission statement, the work I did every day, the projects people were working on but I couldn’t put the pieces together.

I don’t know much about love but I do know I really enjoy helping kids. So when volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club became a part of my internship, I was elated. Each week, we planned an activity and provided a snack. On the last day, one of the boys was looking downtrodden. I went up and asked him what was wrong and he said, “I’m in love.” I tried to respond, tried to walk around and around searching for the right advice, but what did I know?

While working on 100 Best Communities Projects, I began to learn about many communities that were implementing programs and policies to improve the lives of youth. I had to judge communities’ efforts, summarize applications, create an archive and produce an article specific to youth engagement. I would walk around and around the subject of what it was that truly was at the foundation of this initiative. But when I looked at it all, I couldn’t quite put my finger on the hidden theme.   

It took me a month to finally decide the topic of the issue of the Impact Network Monthly youth newsletter that I would be editing. I was initially worried about who I would contact to contribute articles and if I had chosen a ‘cool’ topic. I didn’t know how successful I would be but I charged ahead. I had to walk around and around searching for the perfect set of cohesive messages- including mine- to bring it all together; to tie it in.

Equipped with the knowledge that free food would attract any college student, my co-intern and I began planning the 2nd annual Intern Open House. We wanted something big; something that would move the audience and inspire action. Both of us walked around and around searching for the perfect combination of guest speakers, raffle prizes, and speed networking questions. How much mingle time in the beginning did we need? How would we end the event? Would people attend?

With over 40 applications for two positions on America's Promise’s Board and Trustees, I was overwhelmed. There were some that evoked a personal story and others that were more informative. I learned that, like in any job market, connections were very important. All the young people were very involved, dedicated and a members of well-known organizations. But in walking around and around each response, I couldn’t quite pick two that stood above the rest.  

Ultimately, my experience here has been full of “walking around and around”. Nonetheless, I can now say I have come full circle. I eventually figured out the right building to enter. If you were to ask me for my elevator speech, the words would roll off my tongue. If you asked me about love, I would tell you that it knows no bounds. The Five Promises now have become my mantra when assessing the needs of youth in 100 Best Communities and beyond. I learned that the success of a newsletter doesn’t necessarily depend on the profiles of your authors but the passion and strength of the message. Funnily enough, we needn’t have worried as the “Call me Maybe?” Pandora station was a more than adequate introduction -and ending- to the networking event.  And I can tell you when I apply for my next job; I now know the importance of overall cohesiveness in marketing yourself as the best candidate.

The story of youth and youth engagement is a circle. Children circle around and around their parents, friends, schools, and teachers gaining information about personal safety, effective education skills and healthy practices. And although they don’t know exactly how to navigate life or where to go, they do know the places and people who will care; who will support them and look after their needs. The beauty of this circle is that it doesn’t necessarily have an ending but it does have a target; one that everyone at America's Promise continues to work to hit the bulls-eye.