The summer after my junior year in college I spent doing an internship at 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing center in the Mission District of San Francisco. It truly changed the way I prioritize, think and view life.
I found out about the internship this way: My mom, younger brother and I all read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers Pulitzer nominated memoir. We then drove up to Chicago to hear him speak at the Art Institute. During that talk he spoke a lot about the new writing center he had just founded for kids in the city. He talked about how the interns made it run and all the fun field trips they did. And how there was a store in the front that sold pirate supplies (lard, peg legs, wooden planks, eye patches...). So I went home and started reading about it on their website. And then one day I saw that they needed interns. All you had to do was send an email with your experience, talents and availability.
I still remember coming back from class and checking my answering machine and hearing the message that they wanted me to come out and take on one of the internships. I jumped up and down and screamed with excitement. And then I prayed, "God, if You want me to have this internship You need to make it happen for me."
And before I knew it I had a place to stay for the whole 4 months. My first 2.5 weeks would be spent with my professor's cousin. The rest of the time I would be living with a widow and her 5th grader, who went to school with the daughter of one of my professor's cousin's coworkers. (Did you follow that?) And in a city with incredibly high rent, I was being paid $50/week to cat sit for the woman while she and her daughter were gone. They also left me grocery money and bought my bus pass. And on top of it all, they are two of the kindest people I have ever met in my life.
I spent my summer working with amazing people. I met authors and directors. I worked with adorable children and interesting teens - encouraging them all in their writing skills and trying to foster in them a love for reading. I created programs, helped with fundraisers, worked with grant-writing and grew to love the city. While I was there I learned a great deal about myself: that am smart, hardworking, talented, good with people. I learned that I can be very different from others but still gain their respect and friendship. And I learned that I have a lot more courage than I ever dreamed I did.
The night before I left for SF I told my younger brother and his friend Matt that I just wasn't going to go. I was scared and nervous. I was going to a strange city (me a country girl) where I knew nobody (and I have at least one relative on every page of my high school yearbook). As I was ranting and raving Karl, my brother, told me it was going to be okay, I'd do great, I needed to go. But Matt looked me in the eye and said, "Bonnie, if you don't go to San Francisco you're the stupidest person I know."
He was right. And so I went. And I'm a better person because of it.
This was all inspired by an article I just read about Dave Eggers having just won the TED Prize for his work with education.
Check out 826 National and see all the good work they've done. Maybe there's even a center near you that you can get involved with.