Students in the Washington Community Scholars' Center program in Washington D.C. this semester include (left row, from front): Angelo Olayvar, Kathryn Swartz, Anisa Leonard, Elsa Hoover, Angus Siemens, Hannah Thomas. (Right row, from front): Elizabeth Friesen Birky, Reh Franklin, Lauren Yutzy, Duncan Ferency-Viars. (Photo by Ryan Good)

WCSC interns work in food access, end-of-life care, zoos and more

This semester, students are mapping racially restrictive deeds, nursing and caring for the most vulnerable patients, improving food access in food apartheid areas, and monitoring zoo animals – all through the Washington Community Scholars’ Center (WCSC). The center, located in D.C. since 1976, is a program of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) and open to students from Bethel College in Kansas, Bluffton University in Ohio, and Earlham College in Indiana.

Ten students, seven of them from EMU, are living together this spring in a COVID-safe “pod” in the Nelson Good House in the Brookland neighborhood. From there, they’ll learn how their academic fields can be applied to the workforce, and explore some of Washington’s cultural and historic attractions.

Elizabeth Friesen Birky, an art history and communications major at Bethel College from Denver, Colo., is an intern at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. There, Birky drafts press releases, marketing materials and social media content; researches media contacts; tracks media coverage; and develops design skills. 

“These tasks and responsibilities ultimately contribute to the general promotion of the museum’s fall exhibition season and virtual public programs,” Birky explained.

Duncan Ferency-Viars, a computer science major at EMU from Waynesboro, Va., is an intern at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Ferency-Viars’s responsibilities include maintaining and updating the zoo’s website, monitoring security cameras, and troubleshooting various tech problems. 

“The most important aspect for me is the chance to learn how to develop, maintain, and update a major web page,” Ferency-Viars said.

Reh Franklin, a social work major at EMU from Harrisonburg, Va., is an intern at DC Central Kitchen, a nonprofit and social enterprise that combats hunger and poverty through job training and job creation. Franklin’s projects this semester include co-facilitating group therapy sessions, creating data tracking tools for mapping the cost effectiveness of corner store programs, and creating and distributing surveys related to food equity, access, and justice. 

“I think my most significant learning experience will be helping to conduct the surveys that will measure the real impact that the coronavirus has had on food access for DC residents,” Franklin said.

Elsa Hoover, a peace and global studies, museum studies, and economics major at Earlham College from Portland, Ore., is an intern at the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development. Hoover’s projects this semester include planning a small business month in May, creating a directory of organizations that support small businesses, and updating a calendar of events for small business owners.

“I think my most significant learning will come from coordinating with other agencies and how to form coalitions to get more done,” Hoover said.

Anisa Leonard, a social work major at EMU from Harrisonburg, Va., and Nairobi, Kenya, is an intern at Voices for a Second Chance, an organization that provides services to ensure successful connection of justice-involved individuals to family, community, and resources. Leonard’s duties include doing client intakes and assessments, assisting clients with obtaining vital documents, developing individualized re-entry plans, and referring clients to other area organizations. 

“I feel honored to walk with clients during this significant portion of their life,” Leonard said.

Angelo Olayvar, a business, political science, and accounting major at EMU from Manila, Philippines, is an intern at the Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. There, Olayvar drafts documents, sets up appointments with members of Congress, assists with research, and coordinates meetings with other faith-based organizations.

Olayvar’s projects this semester include researching U.S.-China and U.S.-Russia relations, researching the role of U.S. arm sales in our foreign policy, and writing blog posts and academic articles on religious freedom, climate justice, and peacebuilding.

Angus Siemens, a social work major at Bethel College from Newton, Kan., is an intern at CASA, which organizes, advocates for, and expands opportunities for Latino and immigrant people. Siemens’s responsibilities include scheduling appointments for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients to renew their DACA status, and referring clients to lawyers to speak about employment, immigration, and housing cases.   

“My job is to respond to these bilingual messages in order to make sure they get the legal assistance they are seeking,” Siemens said.

Kathryn Swartz, a social work major at EMU from Harrisonburg, Va., is an intern at Joseph’s House, which offers compassionate end-of-life care for homeless men and women with HIV and cancer. One of Swartz’s main projects is coordinating information so that the residents and former residents of Joseph’s House are able to be vaccinated as early as possible. Swartz also builds relationships, runs errands, accompanies residents to appointments, gives massages, and provides a “listening ear and very strong backbone whenever necessary.” 

“The biggest personal challenge is to be able to show up every day in a way that respects my own and others’ humanity, while still dealing with the bureaucratic labyrinth that is much of our social net for those most vulnerable,” Swartz said.

Hannah Thomas, a nursing major at EMU from Grottoes, Va., is an intern at Christ House, a compassionate healthcare provider for homeless men. Thomas’s responsibilities include escorting patients to and from appointments, assisting with patient activities, and conducting COVID-19 testing for patients. 

“The most important aspect for me is learning how to take care of our most vulnerable populations, figuring out what they need from Christ House and how I play into that, and how to end the cycle of homelessness,” Thomas said.

Lauren Yutzy, a history education major at EMU from Harrisonburg, Va., is an intern at the Hyattsville Community Development Corp., a nonprofit that offers community-based economic development assistance, community planning and project management services. Yutzy has been doing website maintenance, collecting and updating data, and creating an interactive map for the organization’s “Mapping Racism” project. The project aims to catalog and archive racially restrictive deed covenants and to educate the public about these historical signifiers of racial segregation.

“The most important aspect in regards to the Mapping Racism project is that this supports community learning and community growth while keeping the history of the city’s past in mind,” Yutzy said.

First published 3/18/21

Join the Discussion on “WCSC interns work in food access, end-of-life care, zoos and more

  1. This has been a great group to teach and interact with this semester. We’re leaving on our weekend retreat, Ebeneezers and Cairns, tomorrow morning. I’ve expanded on the Stones of Hope theme we reflected on at the beginning of the semester. I’m looking forward to hanging out, working, hiking, and reflecting with this great group of students this weekend.

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