Program Coordinator Gemma Cardenas understands the benefits of The Well Community’s internship program firsthand, not only from her role in supervising the students who participate, but from her own time as an intern. “It gave me the opportunity to apply everything that I had learned at school,” she recalls, adding that serving at The Well was vastly different from merely hearing about mental health in a classroom. “I learned so much from being here, so much more than from a textbook. It gave me a lot of confidence as well.”
Gemma also gained a sense of direction through her internship. When it began, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after graduation, but was pursuing counseling. However, as she served alongside a graduate student who was earning a master’s degree in social work, Gemma realized that she would like to work in this field as well.
Throughout her internship, Gemma looked forward to spending time at The Well, and leaving when it was over was difficult. “I missed what I did here,” she recalls. “I realized I wanted to be in a place like this.” She returned several times to volunteer, and when she heard The Well Community was hiring a new staff member, she asked if she could apply.
Now, Gemma works with the volunteers and interns who give their time at The Well. As she supervises those who come through the internship program, she enjoys both learning from them and sharing her own story, which she says helps put interns at ease.
The Well Community typically hosts one to three interns a semester, though as many as six have served at once. Interns are typically social work or psychology majors from UNT Dallas or UTA, though The Well has welcomed students from other fields of study and schools as well, such as one of the current Master of Social Work interns from the University of Southern California.
Interns help with the regular programs at The Well, as well as assist with special projects and events, such as fundraisers and spiritual retreats. Each has the opportunity to share his or her unique skills and knowledge under the supervision of staff. Some teach members about topics such as handling stress and anger management, while others lead activities like art classes, meditation sessions or devotions.
“It gives students a professional setting where they can apply their knowledge,” Gemma says. Being involved in cases management gives them valuable firsthand experience, as well as a better understanding of what working in their field of study will be like. For some, an internship opens doors to a job after graduation as they learn about other nonprofits and are able to network.
Gemma also sees the interns gain confidence and and a deeper understanding of mental illness through their time at The Well—particularly their time getting to know Well Community members. For many, it’s their first experience in an environment like The Well, and the relationships interns build give them a new perspective on mental health. “They see that it’s so different from what they’ve heard or learned in class,” says Gemma.
Interns aren’t the only ones who benefit, however. Members also gain much as they learn from students’ skills and knowledge and are blessed by connecting with them. While it often takes a bit of time for interns to gain members’ trust, by the end of each semester both interns and members form a bond, and it’s always hard to say goodbye.
But, as was the case for Gemma, students’ experiences at The Well don’t end when their internships are complete. Gemma shares that all who’ve been part of the program since she was an intern have come back at least once to serve, and her former co-interns are still returning regularly to volunteer. “If we need help, we know we can count on them,” Gemma says.
Members also benefit from interns’ work as it bolsters The Well Community’s capacity to offer programs and assistance. Since The Well operates with a small staff, the help interns provide increases its ability to serve members. Gemma explains, “We’re able to complete more when they’re here.”
Internships at The Well Community are truly a win-win situation. As Gemma shares, “The internship program benefits The Well, but at the same time it benefits those who come here by giving them a place where they can gain experience and skills.”
Serving at The Well Community, whether as an intern or as a volunteer, is an excellent way to gain a deeper understanding of mental illness while blessing those who deal with mental health challenges. Contact us to learn more about how you could lend a hand.