The Last Word (03.31.2010): Unpaid and Working Hard
Interning at Street Sense has its shares of ups and downs. I’ve learned more about the homeless community, politics, service providers and human dignity than I have in my whole life. On the other hand, it can be chaotic and hard-fought. Sometimes the greatest deterrent is being unpaid.
I never really considered myself poor or financially lower-class. We never went hungry in my house, and there was never a real choice between doing one thing or another.
It was only when I went to college that I had a real sense of making tough financial choices. Especially in registration and exam time, the added stress of making payments and taking out loans made me fear ever talking to my father about money because it would stress him out. The excitement of starting or finishing the semester was almost constantly dampened by the knowledge that debt was accumulating beyond control.
When I attended Campus Progress’s panel on financing internships for low-income college students, I went in there looking for a story. I came out feeling hopeful, and more than a little invested in the topic. As I said above, Street Sense has been a wonderful experience, but I came close to never experiencing it because it wasn’t paid.
My semester-long program is half-internship, half-class and I have a paid-for apartment, but transportation, school materials and food are all on my own budget. I have a $40-a-week income from cleaning a house, which I thought would be enough.
What’s striking about this is, as the panel brought up, the slanting allows for high-income students to get into the avenues of power, thus marginalizing those of different backgrounds and perspectives. Low-income students are prevented from rising in influence—and the low-income community suffers from it.
I’m from the middle-class, and the growth that Street Sense has given me regarding the lower-class only emphasizes how much more could be done, how much more those of lower-income have to say. Internships are great things, so let the great things be shared with those who have the potential to do something innovative with them.