Opinions, Column

Finding Inspiration in Nonprofit Work

As I prepare to leave Boston College for the summer, I realize that the list of things I will miss about this school has grown each day—even though I will only be 20 minutes away during break. I will miss Harmony Bowls from Eagle’s Nest, one of the only things for which I will wait in an enormous line. It’ll be strange not walking past Gasson on the way to class and fighting the urge to Snapchat that beaut. I’ll long for the English classes that have helped me develop as a writer. I’ll even miss Roncalli and all the times its proximity to my classes afforded me extra minutes of sleep. Most of all, I’ll miss my friends who have made my experience here all the more worthwhile. Interning in Boston this semester has already reserved a special place of nostalgia and appreciation on my list, even though I still have a week left in it.

I started working at GrubStreet at the beginning of January, literally the day after New Year’s, because I was that excited to start working there. And no, GrubStreet is not a restaurant. It is a nonprofit creative writing center that serves as a supportive community for teen and adult writers. It’s a hidden gem along Boylston Street, camouflaged within the strip of buildings that make up Emerson College’s campus. It shares a building with Steinway & Sons Pianos, and its fifth floor nook comes alive every evening with aspiring writers, piano music, opera singing, and the view of the electric glow of the Boston skyline past the Common.

It’s really the simple things that make me appreciate how lucky I am to work there, such as watching the sunset as I’m working, having constant access to a Keurig, and playing with an employee’s dog. As my time at GrubStreet is winding down, I want to reflect on the things that I’ve learned from working at a nonprofit that have made this semester the most worthwhile one I have experienced at BC.

Through this internship, I have met so many different people, which bolstered the idea that nonprofits are founded on a sense of community. I felt constantly empowered as an intern because Grubstreet’s culture understands that each person’s contribution is invaluable. I was trusted with responsibilities that were designed to not only further our organization’s mission, but also to challenge me. I loved the sense of sincerity that dominated GrubStreet’s atmosphere. Even the smallest tasks I performed—going grocery shopping or printing out instructor materials—were met with genuine appreciation.

I also felt that my higher-ups and fellow interns took the time to get to know me as an individual. Getting to meet like-minded individuals, people who are passionate about literature and writing, people who wanted to know what my favorite book was, people who wanted to know what I was learning when I was not at GrubStreet, made me feel welcomed and supported at work. The people I worked with were generally older than me, even the interns, and being able to find friends and mentors among them allowed me to grow, learn from my mistakes, and practice collaborating with others.

My title at GrubStreet is “Young Adult Writers Program Intern” or “YAWP Intern,” which means that I primarily work with teens. Sometimes the job is as unglamorous as the job title itself. I’ve had to lug bags of groceries from Downtown Crossing back to work in preparation for our Saturday events for teens. I’ve had to scour the Internet for gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan pizza delivery options to feed 40 hungry teenagers. I’ve had the heartbreaking task of sending rejection letters to the many talented teens who applied to our Fellowship program.

Yet going to the teen events was one of those things that never failed to take my breath away. At the end of each event, we would hold an open mic for the teens to share anything they have been working on in their YAWP classes or in their spare time. I saw that these teens cared deeply about the issues in today’s world, and they channeled this passion through their poetry, prose, and voices.

I remember greeting the students when they first entered the building, feeling as if I had said something wrong when they seemed to shrink away from me. But these students came alive during these open mics. Their voices ached with the pain they felt from the oppression of gender norms or the discrimination they faced due to the color of their skin. They shook with joy and relief as their fellow YAWPers snapped their fingers as they poured their souls into their poetry. I’ve learned that the so-called “angsty teenager” is not an annoying trope—rather, it is an individual who deeply feels the injustices of the world and strives to make sense of them.

The most important thing that I’ve learned at GrubStreet is that you can be inspired by anyone. I learned about passion from the shy teenage girl who nervously trekked to the open-mic podium to deliver an amazing poem about standing up for what she believed in. I learned about dedication from a phone call with a woman who was looking for a consultation and could not stop talking about a picture book that she has been toiling over for years. I learned about kindness from the Youth Programs Manager who has been nothing but patient and earnest with me.

Nonprofit work is not always glamorous, but it makes you keenly aware and appreciative of the little things. Working at GrubStreet has made me appreciate the city in which I’ve spent the last 19 years of my life that much more. Strangely enough, working at this company has made me much more appreciative of BC as well. I don’t always return from work in high spirits. Sometimes, my days absolutely suck. The printer jams 50 times in an hour. An angry pizza place worker yells at me through the phone because he thinks I’m calling from GrubHub. Yet, whenever I return to school, I’m comforted by the fact that I can tell my roommate and friends everything I had gone through that day.

Most of all, working at GrubStreet has made me love people and the stories they have to share. Looking back at this semester, I wouldn’t trade anything for the often unglamorous, unpaid, but completely worthwhile experience of working at a nonprofit organization.

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor

April 30, 2017