Written by Colleen Abel – summer intern
Temporarily transplanting myself to Springfield, VA from central Florida for two months this summer has been an interesting and growing experience for me. I had never truly felt like Lakeland was a small town until I arrived here and saw how things in the DC area are constantly in movement. Back home where the only businesses open past 10 are Walmart, Steak n’ Shake, and Denny’s.
Currently, I am a Senior Spanish Major at Florida Southern College, the Clinic Coordinator for the Lakeland JFON Clinic, a Spanish tutor, and an immigrant and farmworker rights supporter with various groups from the area. Before arriving here in Virginia at the beginning of June, I left the country for the first time and spent a month in Xela, Guatemala studying Spanish. After a mere 4 days at home in Lakeland, I left again to drive up here to begin my second adventure for the summer. I’ve never been in this part of the country before, so in addition to work, I’ve also spent time in DC being a tourist to see various national monuments, Smithsonian museums, and the Capitol Building among other exciting sites. I’ve even made some new friends!
Despite all of these differences, one thing that I’ve found very comforting during my time away from home is the similarity of the atmosphere of the NJFON office to working with the Lakeland JFON leadership team. As the Clinic Coordinator I always had the privilege of working with a great leadership team every month to plan clinics for the clients that came to us. They were very supportive of me and helped me grow and develop my leadership skills and were always willing to help with anything in order to prepare for the monthly clinics. Similarly, the NJFON staff has welcomed me and I have continued learning different skills that will ultimately help me when I start searching for a job after I graduate college in December. Rob has taught me how to do grant research and let me use my skills in Spanish to make a new JFON brochure. I met the NJFON board members in June, and the Just Neighbors staff (a similar organization where Rob worked before he came to NJFON).
I’ve also watched the process of the Immigration Reform Bill unfold here. That has been particularly emotional because I have so many friends that will be affected by it, but it’s been heartening to see the staff calling our legislators to advocate for fair and compassionate reform. Overall, I am beyond happy to be here, and I’m so thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to work with Linda, Melissa, and Rob, and I hope that these skills I’m learning here will be useful for my work back home as the Clinic Coordinator so I can help better the services we provide to clients there.