Andi: The Price We Pay

On Thursday evening at 1:00am, five adults sat in the hallway on the 7th floor of the Holiday Inn in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. Having visited Temple University and Arcadia University, we recently sent 13 teenagers to their rooms for the night. While we heard giggling and game playing, we held a staff meeting – we figured we would be monitoring the halls anyway; we might as well be productive. We already knew that the morning – and our visit to Villanova University – would come far too soon.

Five weeks into her eight-week internship, Andi, a rising sophomore from Harvard, offered significant input as we assessed the contributions of each adolescent participant in our summer program. Beyond leading groups during program sessions, she has also been working on significant infrastructure projects for the organization. Specifically, she is creating a catalogue of the thousands of children’s books we own and leading the matriculation of our donor records to SalesForce.

Most beautiful, Andi introduced us to a tradition – paper plate awards – as a goofy way to end our summer program. She had the kids laughing and, equally important, she showed them that we had recognized and appreciated the uniqueness of each individual participant.

Yet, some people are surprised by a simple truth: Andi gets paid.

Washington DC is home to thousands of unpaid internships. Interns get experience, they get access to real responsibility, and they add value. Many organizations don’t pay because they don’t have to – they never have difficulty filling the positions.

And, to be clear, Andi might have worked for free. We never asked. We didn’t anticipate having an intern this summer. It was only through the strong recommendation of a friend that we came to benefit from Andi’s hard work.

So, why do we insist on paying her? It’s the same reason our summer program included a philanthropic component and our end-of-summer celebration was catered by DC Central Kitchen. Money has power, and our decisions about spending it make a difference.

Unpaid internships are often transformative experiences, but they can only go to those that can afford to work for free. They serve to perpetuate privilege. And, for that reason, they have no place at Reach.

In a matter of years, we may begin to have Reach alums return home from college looking for summer opportunities. They, most certainly, would not have the ability to work for free. We want them to have the same opportunities for professional learning as more privileged young people.

Andi has, without doubt, added value to our team. We expect that future interns will do the same. That’s why we’ll pay them.  By doing so, we will ensure that no aspect of our operations perpetuates the privilege that forces our participants to play catch up in the world of work.

Thanks to Andi for her valuable work. And, thanks to you, as always, for reading.

Mark

Posted in Ed Reform Notes, Funding, Updates |

2 Comments

  1. Jen
    Posted August 4, 2013 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Very nice article Mark, it was nice to meet Andi she was fun to talk to and it was so great to get to meet some of “your kids” on Thursday! I enjoyed talking with them very much.

  2. Dana
    Posted August 4, 2013 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    As being a member of the Reach Incorp. I can say I really enjoyed spending my summer with Andy. From the time I been with reach which is when it first started at my school Andy was the most enthusiastic person I met. Whether it was 3am or 2pm she kept me laughing. Mr. Mark the decision you made by having and as a intern was the BEST decision you could have ever made!! I hope she is there to bring energy to the upcoming Reach tutors next year since I won’t be able to spend my senior year with you all.
    -Congrats ANDY.!!