Beyond the Coffee Run: An Internship for Change

As an intern, Melissa Fontana wasn’t making coffee; she was making a difference. Using the interpersonal and communication skills she learned in her classes, Melissa developed meaningful relationships with students supported by the HALO Foundation.

Hometown: Highland Park, IL

Major and Minor: Communication studies major, business minor

Internship title and company: Youth development intern at The HALO Foundation (Helping Art Liberate Orphans), a non-profit based in Kansas City that supports young people in orphanages and learning centers worldwide.

Melissa, second from the left, with her supervisor Aubony, second from the right, and two graduating professional development students

How did you find out about this internship? I found out about this internship through internship and volunteer websites including Indeed, and VolunteerMatch.

What were your responsibilities? As the youth development intern, my main focus was enhancing HALO’s new Professional Development course. Workshop topics included resume and application process, interview skills, money management and higher education. I enjoyed facilitating the workshops by working closely with volunteer instructors, making connections with students, and keeping track of their goals and progress through reports and performance analysis. Some of my daily tasks included updating the job board, proposing incentives to course graduates, planning future fieldtrips, and contacting potential instructors.

What advice would you give students who are considering an internship? It’s never too early or too late to find an internship, especially in the non-profit sector. Since non-profits typically have small staff, and rely heavily on volunteers, if you show the right passion and creativity they won’t turn away your help!

What was your favorite part of the internship? One of the things I enjoyed most about working at a non-profit was knowing that my responsibilities directly impacted the students I worked with – it wasn’t just busy work. Getting to know each student on an individual basis was so rewarding. It was incredible to work with youth from all walks of life, and different places from Congo to Kansas City. When I work with HALO students, I try to respect them in all areas. It’s so important not to underestimate, belittle, or make assumptions about students. Being aware of my implicit biases play a huge role in being able to form good relationships with students and has been emphasized throughout Leadership Communication 201 & 202.

How did your major and your time at KU prepare you for this internship? My communication studies classes have strengthened my decision making and problem solving skills. Being able to identify and work through adaptive challenges has strengthened my interpersonal, public speaking, and intercultural skills. The philanthropic community of the greater KC area is so warm and welcoming. There are endless opportunities to gain hands-on experience through volunteer work in the community. I have enjoyed assisting with special events for Newhouse Shelter and Catholic Charities on top of my work with HALO.

What do you want to do after graduation? After I graduate in May, I plan to travel Europe for a few weeks and enhance my Italian speaking skills. Next fall, I plan on attending graduate school for counseling- hopefully at DePaul in downtown Chicago. With a degree in counseling I hope to continue to empower underprivileged/underserved children in the Chicagoland area close to home.