United Way would like summer internship program to get bigger

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 733 views 

Michael Fuhrman, a senior at the University of Arkansas, interned for Ozark Literacy Council (OLC), which offers free literacy programs and resources in Northwest Arkansas.

A United Way of Northwest Arkansas (UWNWA) internship program is proving popular enough that organizers are looking for additional corporate sponsors to fund expansion.

The Tyson Summer Community Internship Program is a partnership between UWNWA and Springdale-based Tyson Foods.

Lowell-based UWNWA manages the program. It began in 2019 and allows 22 full-time college students to participate in an eight-week paid summer internship working for other nonprofits in Benton and Washington counties. Students also attend professional development sessions to build business-related skills, including leadership, professionalism, critical thinking, collaboration and interpersonal communication.

Christina Hinds, UWNWA’s vice president of corporate engagement, says nonprofit organizations and students show interest at such a level that expansion is necessary. She is reaching out to the region’s business community to make it happen.

“We had almost 100 students apply last summer; we have 22 slots,” she explained. “The students and the nonprofits apply for the program, and we can only recruit so many nonprofits based on the funding we receive from Tyson. We have more interest than we have slots for.”

Tyson Foods’ grant to UWNWA provides enough funding so that each nonprofit receives $4,200 to pay each intern. The application process for 2022 will keep the program at 22 slots, but organizers are hopeful to offer more opportunities for nonprofits to host interns beginning in 2023.

Christina Hinds

“We’d like to grow and expand this, and [Tyson Foods] is open to that,” Hinds said. “Someone may choose to underwrite a grant that would [fund] 22 additional students, and that would be great. Or they could sponsor an addition to the Tyson program. Both options are available.

“We want to have conversations with [businesses] that may be interested in doing their corporate and social responsibility in a different way than they have thought of in the past.”

To participate in the program, the students must:

  • Be enrolled as an undergraduate student returning to college as a full-time sophomore, junior or senior in the fall of 2022.
  • Must meet all the employment requirements of the nonprofit hiring organization.

If accepted into the program, interns must:

  • Agree to responsibilities of the job and complete all eight weeks of full-time employment — work 35 hours per week.
  • Attend kickoff event and two education sessions
  • Take the Birkman Assessment & attend a workshop
  • Create at least four social media posts about their experience
  • Complete a post-program evaluation form providing feedback to the organization about the program and its impact.

Hinds said most participating interns attend either NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, John Brown University in Siloam Springs or the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Others are students living in Northwest Arkansas for the summer but attending college elsewhere.

Jackie Hancock

“The Tyson Summer Community Internship Program provides an important resource for college students to have experiential learning and real-world preparation,” UWNWA president and CEO Jackie Hancock said. “While building the capacity of nonprofits that are serving the Northwest Arkansas community, corporate partners like Tyson allow the United Way to provide a program that is truly making a difference in both college students’ lives and the community.”

Michael Fuhrman is a past program participant and is now a senior history and psychology major at the UA. He interned for Ozark Literacy Council (OLC), which offers free literacy programs and resources in Northwest Arkansas.

“I spent most of my days assisting the office manager and working the front desk but also got the opportunity to engage with the mission of the council in unique ways,” he said. “I spent time researching opportunities for grant funding, substituting for English teachers and assisting major event planning.”

Fuhrman, an Honors College Fellow at the UA, said the internship helped him better understand nonprofits’ management and organizational side.

“With so many internships with nonprofit organizations being unpaid, the funding provided to us to have the experience was beyond valuable,” he said. “Supplemented with the professional development programming by [UWNWA], I felt truly immersed in the life of a young professional in Northwest Arkansas.”

Hinds said some past participants used the program as a stepping stone to decide a career path. Fuhrman said he’s applying to graduate programs, and some of them are focused on community development and nonprofit work.

“My time with OLC helped me discern these professional goals,” he said. “It also gave me a community of leaders in the Northwest Arkansas area that I turn to often when seeking professional and personal advice. I would recommend this program to any student who has an interest in learning how nonprofit organizations influence our communities regardless of their professional goals.”

Fernanda Alcantara, who participated in the program in 2019 and 2021, is an honors political science and psychology senior at the UA. She interned for Legal Aid of Arkansas and Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas (HWOA).

Alcantara said that while both experiences were different, they each helped her gain clarity about her future.

“It was during my internship with Legal Aid of Arkansas that I knew I wanted to dedicate myself to pursue a career in law,” she said. “My internship with HWOA helped fuel my passion for my culture and advocating for the [Latinx] community. Having grown up in Northwest Arkansas, it was extremely special to intern for organizations whose impact on the community I have witnessed growing up. This program also gives you a view of how the nonprofit system looks like.”

After graduation, Alcantara plans to move to Washington, D.C., and take a year off from school to work in public policy. She eventually wants to enroll in a joint J.D./ Ph.D. program to continue her education in law in Latinx politics.

Garrett Dolan, Tyson Foods’ senior corporate social responsibility manager, administers the company’s community grant program. He said Tyson Foods’ role as grant underwriter is to link students with community needs.

“When you do that, you’re able to give nonprofits access to a labor force they normally struggle to afford,” Dolan explained. “It also gives students meaningful professional experience.”

He said the company would be open to increasing funding for the program.

“For Tyson Foods, putting money into this program is a way for us to demonstrate that we care about the future of our community,” he said.

Dolan said Tyson Foods awards grants for similar programs to United Way affiliates in Fort Smith, Sioux City, Iowa, and Chicago. He believes some elements make the partnership stand out from other internship programs.

“We make nonprofits compete to participate, and the way they do that is through the quality of their job description,” he said. “They have to have a good job description with meaningful tasks and a deliverable and an outcome, and that has to be articulated. United Way then chooses the best 22 of those.”

UWNWA reported $2.79 million in contributions and grants and $2.96 million in revenue in 2020, according to the most recent report to the Internal Revenue Service. Total expenses were $2.94 million.