I sat down with the SSA Interns last week at the close of their first few months as a cohort at CCHE. Lois Chen, Keyira Jones, and Shambhavi Sharma all come from different social work backgrounds but their time at CCHE has put their previous experiences to work in a different, challenging way. 

Keyira is the PrEP Engagement Specialist at CCHE as well as a student in her last year at SSA. The structure of the internship is one in which students engage in fieldwork during the course of the curriculum, so during her internship, Keyira works on building out CCHE’s quality assurance team, and bridging the data management team with direct service workers. During the week, Keyira works at CCHE in the direct service part of the organization. She recently transitioned to research, but uses her direct service experience to inform programming needs, as well as the needs assessments about staff. She tells me that working at CCHE full-time made her very familiar with where the gaps are, where people need support. 

Lois is also a second year at SSA and comes to CCHE with experience at LIFT-Chicago, where she provided one-on-one consulting services to clients on the South Side. At CCHE, her work consists of program assessment and program development, as well as working on the IPS Initiative with the team at CCHE committed to provide employment support to people with mental health issues.

Shambhavi was at CCHE for a month on exchange from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, India, where she is pursuing an M.A. in Social Work in Community Organization and Development Practice. The practice is heavily community-driven back home, where she is able to work with clients face-to-face. Shambhavi’s month at CCHE was spent understanding how social work works in an American context, and on the development side of an organization rather than a service-provider side. Like Lois, Shambhavi was involved with the IPS initiative, which she notes does not have a parallel at such scale back home, but is particularly exciting for her because she sees how important stable employment is.

Though Keyira, Lois, and Shambhavi come from distinct backgrounds, they all agree on one fundamental aspect of social work — that their work in direct service and on the ground has informed how they do the development and program management in their respective roles. Keyira talks about how she is part of a “new” program (the internship) while still knowing “how things go” at CCHE as a full-time employee. Lois’s experience in China and Chicago doing direct service work has informed her grant-writing skill building as well; she personally finds doing policy-level work more fulfilling and impactful but recognizes the importance of knowing what’s going on with real people. Shambhavi echoes this, as well; she was excited about the space she was given to contribute and grow, and thankful for the opportunities to engage directly with clients in order to make her development work more robust.