Thursday, July 13, 2006

"I Have Certainly Learned How Important The Work At Family Service of Rhode Island Is"

Recently, a Lincoln School senior, Lauren Van Schepen, did a short internship at Family Service of Rhode Island.

Her internship particularly focused on the agency's Afia Center. The Center provides a range of services to persons living with HIV/AIDS, and is located at the Mathewson Street Church in Providence.

Lauren, 18, is the daughter of Kris and Randall Van Schepen of Cranston, Rhode Island. She will be attending Wellesley College in the fall.

She wrote the following article after the conclusion of her internship:

Armed with three years of what I considered rigorous high school training at Lincoln School, I felt more than equipped for my task ahead – writing an article highlighting the Afia Center, Family Service of Rhode Island’s HIV/AIDS facility in downtown Providence. I had written essays for years, edited for almost as long, and had recently completed the most dreaded essay of all time – the college admissions essay. I could do this, no question. I was determined to decide whether or not non-profit work was for me, and was sure I would come out of my brief two and a half week internship with new direction and focus, much more guided in respect to my future. I am so thankful that “career exploration” was not the only direction my work took.

As confident as I had convinced myself I was, the prospect of an internship frightened me. My ability was not in question, but my motivation. Did I really want to do this? The planning was fine, but as the first day approached I wondered if I should have considered staying on campus, reveling in my last days as a high schooler. My first day at Family Service of Rhode Island only made me more apprehensive. An acronym-filled meeting, mentions of fingerprinting, and constantly ringing phones led me to believe there was something happening here I had absolutely no understanding of. I wondered how I would keep DCYF, CPC, DMH, and RIPEC all straight when the only acronym that I could recall was SOS.

But it only took a few questions to start the gradual demystifying of Family Service of Rhode Island, and for me those questions were in regard to the Afia Center. Begun in 2003, the Afia Center for Health and Wholeness is housed in Mathewson St. Church. Unanimously chosen by clients, providers, and organizers, the church was approached about hosting the Center. After meetings with the congregation and discussion about the nature of AIDS, the congregation agreed to open its doors. Soon, however, it was clear that the relationship between the members of Afia and the church was more than a simple issue of housing. Many members of Afia have begun to attend Sunday morning services at Mathewson St., and members’ weddings and funerals have taken place in the church. With each interview or casual conversation I learned more about the good Family Service workers and volunteers were able to do in Afia Center members’ lives. The recurring theme, however, was how much the Family Service of Rhode Island workers learned in their service.

Going to the Afia Center only convinced me more fully of this important aspect of the center. When you enter the church it is soon apparent that this is not a place divided by knowledge or health, where one group has the answers and the other waits to be enlightened. The Afia Center is a place where each person benefits from the presence of every other, and all social constraints are left behind. The divisions any outsider might anticipate were nonexistent, and the care and treatment that was directed toward the members very obviously extended to the volunteers and workers as well. This was a place with no acronyms, no fingerprints, and no distracting phone calls. This was the personal connection made possible by the work I had seen in the office, the result of hours of acronym-making, fingerprint-taking, phone-call-making people. As I left I remembered how many people I had spoken to who had visited the Afia Center, not letting the distance between office and center keep them away from seeing the results of their work.

I feel as though I have been able to reap all the benefits of the work done at Family Service without having to do any of it myself. I was able to see firsthand the amazing community relationships that are formed surrounding the agency’s programs, and also the encouragement those programs provide to their clients. Although I have not ended this internship with a clear direction for my future studies, I’ve learned something much more valuable about the importance of each individual, and the importance of learning from those around us as well as sharing what we know. And although I was not able to cause a visible change at Family Service of Rhode Island, perhaps someone will read this article and be motivated to volunteer, or provide funds for a struggling program, or simply become more aware of the issues surrounding them here in Rhode Island. I may never be able to remember what the acronyms stand for, or be able to be on three phone calls at once, but I have certainly learned how important the work at Family Service of Rhode Island is. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, someone else mistakenly hangs up on someone, or has an accident with a pesky rolling office chair, and that’s all right. There is always something to learn, as well as to teach, and perhaps in my own learning I had more to offer than I realized.