The Willow Rapid Re-Housing Center’s New Beginnings Internship Program

A Jump Start, The Westhab Way.

Throughout our lives, we are faced with challenges and obstacles along our personal journey, and sometimes we wish we could hit the restart button. Sometimes, a helping hand and some support would make a world of a difference. The Willow Rapid Re-Housing Center’s New Beginnings Internship Program, which began in late 2017, was designed with both of these things in mind: to provide a helping hand to the men living in the shelter and to motivate them to make a new start.

It worked for Maurice, one of the early graduates of the program. Maurice, like many shelter residents, had some hard luck and made some poor choices that eventually caught up to him. When he heard about the New Beginnings Internship program, he wanted to give it a try, but he wasn’t sure if he’d make the cut. When he found out that he had been selected for the program, he was excited. He recognized the opportunity to “get his life together.” Shortly after enrolling in the program, Maurice found a job working with computers. “Participating in the program gave me a shot of confidence, and I used my work experience as a Willow intern on my resume, which helped a lot.” Maurice has since moved out of the shelter, returning to the community.

New Beginnings Internship Program participants like Maurice are identified by staff and then interviewed. Once selected, they attend an orientation about the six-week program’s expectations and rules. Finally, based on the participants’ skills and work history, they are given assignments and begin receiving a stipend. The majority of the interns will shadow staff from the maintenance department, with the work assignments ranging from sweeping and mopping to light repairs. They work in five-hour shifts, usually beginning at 9:00 a.m., from Monday to Friday.

Another intern, Paul, said that prior to participating in the program, his motivation wasn’t what it used to be: “A lot of the time, my energy was low. But when I started the program, it motivated me to report on time, do my assignments, and to stop living in the shadows.” Paul said it felt good getting up in the morning to report to his assignments. He became more engaged with people. When other shelter residents asked how they could get involved in the program, he told them whom they should speak to. Paul added that “Success felt good,” and he is currently using his new-found confidence and energy to seek employment.

Paul’s success in the program demonstrates how individuals who are homeless can, with the right support, rise above the barriers they face and begin to look towards their north star. But it is important to keep in mind that success is not always measured in the end game but by understanding that the path is sometimes the goal. Westhab’s success has been to assist the participants along their path, providing them with the tools—such as problem-solving on the job, learning to deal with responsibility, and working on a team—necessary to be a motivated and competitive job seeker.

According to Charles Beasley, Westhab’s New York City Employment Coordinator, the internship program is very valuable—it gives Willow residents an opportunity to gain work experience and also the opportunity to launch themselves back into the workforce. He notices a change in the newly-minted interns he sees working around the building: “They look happy, with a very big change in attitude and new-found focus on their work assignments.”

Samuel is a good example of this. When he was first accepted into the program, he was excited, but he wasn’t sure he was up to it. However, his painting assignment gave him a renewed belief in himself—he saw that he was able to report on time and carry his assignments through to completion. Samuel said the key to his success as an intern was to work hard, ask questions, show up on time, and be open to learning. Coming out of the other end of the program meant success for him and gave him a renewed sense of self.

With all of the success of the program, there are still challenges. One challenge, as technology continues to progress and integrate itself into every conceivable work task done by humans, is to find ways to prepare our interns for the ever-changing work environment. We’re up to the challenge, and, as we have in the past, we are tapping into the collective expertise and many talents of the Westhab staff to come up with solutions. We are working on being out in front by taking creative steps to try to begin solving tomorrow’s problems today.

In the meantime, program staff continues to work with the interns towards the goals of permanent employment, independence, and securing permanent housing. Vivian Hunt, one of Westhab’s New York City job developers, has high praise for the New Beginnings Internship Program’s success in motivating its participants to achieve these goals. She notes, “It’s as though their lives receive a jump start.”


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