Teens learn ins and outs of nonprofit business
by Staff Writer
CHARLOTTE – You have to start small before working your way to the top.
That’s the lesson two North Mecklenburg High School students are learning as they spend their summer interning with the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools Partners.
The Bank of America Student Leaders program selected Charlotte resident Imani Dixon and Cornelius resident Chrissy Rujiraorchai, both rising seniors, to spend eight weeks working with the nonprofit group, which provides impoverished students the opportunity to participate in educational summer camps.
“You don’t realize how many small things go into running an organization like Freedom Schools,” Imani said. “There’s always a need for someone to answer phones or to run to the store.”
Throughout their paid internship, funded by Bank of America, the teens have become all-purpose employees. Sometimes they work from Freedom School Partners’ Charlotte administrative offices in Dilworth or spend time at one of the organization’s 25 campsites interacting with children.
Families pay $35 for all of their children to attend camp, although sites in Charlotte’s most impoverished areas offer the camp for free. The goal, Imani and Chrissy said, is to make sure students don’t lose academic progress during the summer.
“The most impoverished students can lose about a third of their education during summer break,” Imani said.
One of the first tasks assigned to Chrissy was to escort children from classrooms to testing sites, where administrators tested the kids to measure their academic achievement. Freedom School Parnters will test students again at the end of the summer program to see if they retained their achievement levels throughout the summer.
“My job was to make sure they weren’t nervous and relax them as they walked over to testing,” Chrissy said. “I realized the connection I made with the kids today at the camp’s Field Day when they were so excited to see me.”
The girls don’t have plans to enter the nonprofit sector – Chrissy wants to work as a political engineer after college and Imani wants to pursue marketing – but they said the skills they’ve picked up working at a nonprofit will come in handy as they pursue careers. They’ve learned that even seemingly insignificant tasks are crucial for a company or organization to operate and the importance of clear communication.
“It’s so easy for things to get lost in translation,” Imani said, “especially over the phone.”
Imani also has a special family tie to education. Her grandmother, Susie Johnson, served as the first African American principal in South Windsor, Conn., and has overseen several Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. She retired from University Meadows Elementary School less than two weeks ago.
In addition to work experience, the girls and three other Charlotte teens involved with the program have attended Bank of America sponsored workshops that include team-building and financial literacy and will attend a national leadership conference in Washington, D.C. They’ve also spoken with high ranking officials, such as Bank of America’s N.C market President Charles Bowman and Gov. Bev Perdue.
Bowman said the program addresses the national teen unemployment rate of 24.6 percent. North Carolina ranks eighth in the country for teen unemployment, according to the Employment Policies Institute.
“Summer jobs provide more than just a paycheck to young people,” Bowman said. Connecting these outstanding leaders to work experience helps them gain additional skills and build their network as they develop further as leaders, while helping to strengthen Charlotte during a time when an increased number of people need assistance.”