My Summer with CARECEN

To be honest, I was extremely nervous the first day of my internship. I was in a new, unfamiliar place. Columbia Heights was a noisy and busy area full of traffic and people. As I navigated the streets to find CARECEN, the Latino Resource and Justice Center, I felt like a lost fish swimming against the current of people pushing past. As I turned the corner onto Columbia Road, however, my eyes met brightly colored murals on the sides of buildings and I started to feel at ease, admiring the beauty of the art. This was a community of families and people, and I was going to a place whose mission is to help and serve others. I entered the office, heart pounding with nervousness and excitement, took a deep breath and reminded myself that this was an amazing opportunity.

During my internship, I was responsible for an array of duties including answering telephones, drafting and passing out fliers, placing five hundred or more phone calls for any department events, documenting intake information, researching housing policy within the DC area and, most often, general housing counseling for low income clients.

The most exciting days were those in which I helped clients address their issues. Being able to translate information, transcribe letters or research information to help them find solutions to their problems felt like I was making a difference. Some days I saw several clients, while other days I saw only one or two. Each day that I spoke with clients and helped them address their issue was a great day, making me feel like the work I did was valuable.

In addition to serving clients, I enjoyed learning about the rich history of the community. CARECEN was originally created to serve as a resource center for Central American refugees fleeing civil war and violence in the 1980s and 1990s. Clients told me about their experiences in their home countries, why they left and about their lives in DC. Others told me about their plans to visit their home countries and about their families in the US and abroad. People opened up to me and shared information about themselves, their histories and families in ways I will never forget; the entire summer with CARECEN was an experience I will never forget. I was given the chance to be a part of a community rich with history, stories, families, beauty and compassion while serving Latinos, speaking Spanish the entire time and gaining professional experience.

Paula Billingsley ’14 is pursuing a double major in Government and Hispanic Studies. She spent the summer working with CARECEN, the Latino Resource and Justice Center, learning about all things Latino within the Columbia Heights area, practicing her Spanish and gaining first-hand insight into DCs non-profit sector. On campus she is a member of the Latin American Student Union, Health Outreach Peer Educators, Development Ambassadors, and a social sorority. She has been a Sharpe Scholar and Resident Assistant in the past as well as a member of different volunteer service organizations.

About International W&M

The Reves Center for International Studies promotes, develops, and supports the global dimensions of learning, teaching, research, and community engagement at the College of William & Mary
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