The Loma Prietan - March/April 2012

Chapter Interns Give a Lot, Get a Lot

by Nafeesa Ahmed

Chapter Interns Jessica Gonzales, Dwight Brown, and Jacqueline Vance take a moment to enjoy the winter sun outside the Chapter office. Photo: Megan Fluke
Chapter Interns Jessica Gonzales, Dwight Brown, and Jacqueline Vance take a moment to enjoy the winter sun outside the Chapter office. Photo: Megan Fluke

“I love coming to the office! It's a very positive place to be in,” says Jessica Gonzales, a fifth-year Environmental Studies major. Jessica is a Community Outreach Intern with the Chapter and gushes over her work: “I enjoy the people and their enthusiasm in making our world a better place … it's such a great feeling to know that people care about not only our environment but also our communities and each other.”

The Chapter offers two part-time internships: the Community Outreach Internship and the Sustainable Land Use Internship. These unpaid positions are open to motivated, friendly, and creative individuals who can volunteer eight to 12 hours per week for four to six months. The work includes supporting Cool Cities Teams, recruiting and engaging new volunteers, organizing outreach events, and analyzing smart growth projects. Since the internship program began in spring, 2010, the Chapter has recruited nearly 40 interns, whose combined work has been equivalent to that of a full-time staff person, often more.

Kim Thai has been a Sustainable Land Use Intern since last fall and plans to pursue a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning. She describes the work culture at the Chapter as “very relaxed, but also very high-energy, with community members and Sierra Club volunteers participating in many planning processes simultaneously.” Another intern, Dwight Brown, adds that everyone he’s met at the Chapter office has been “very welcoming and encouraging.” Brown is a graduate student at San Jose State University (SJSU).

Interns are sometimes awed at what they are able to achieve in their work with the Club. As a graduate student in Environmental Planning at SJSU, Jacqueline Vance joined the Sustainable Land Use intern team last fall. She excitedly notes that, “I had the idea that it would be near impossible to influence developers in the projects proposed in local counties. Now I realize that many professionals in the field respect the Sierra Club's comments and suggestions, and often incorporate them into their decisions.” Jessica Gonzales echoes these sentiments: “It has been great to see how I can get involved in the governmental decision-making process via public comment, letters to city councils, and letters to the editor.”

The interns’ hard work and dedication has paid off for the Chapter. In 2009 the Chapter had five active Cool Cities teams. Now there are nearly 20 active teams and environmental community groups that the Chapter is building and supporting. Thanks in large part to the efforts of the interns, the Sustainable Land Use Committee was able to participate in 18 local planning processes in 2011, compared to fewer than 10 in previous years. The Chapter also gained visibility through interns’ letters that were published in local media.

Kenneth Rosales, the Chapter’s Conservation Conservation, sums up the internship program as “so enjoyable and inspiring, especially because many interns continue to work beyond their terms.” From her words, we can conclude that these internships are definitely “nice work if you can get it!”

Nafeesa Ahmed is a Chapter member and serves on the editorial board of the Loma Prietan newsletter.