But the organization on the Texas-Arkansas border is small, and does not have the means to hire staff, she said. In fact, she’s the only paid employee.
“I knew I had to build a team of reliable and qualified men and women who were committed to making our organization move forward in a difficult time,” Walker said.
Walker, who is currently working on her doctorate in Education Leadership at Texas A&M University–Texarkana, established a partnership with the university to bring interns from a variety of majors into the literacy council. Not only would she get the help and innovative ideas she needed, but the interns would gain the hands-on experience the university values.
“I reached out to professors of key disciplines that we needed help with most—education, business, and social work,” she said. “We worked on plans to develop programs that could benefit both the literacy council and the learning objectives of the courses students were taking at A&M.”
Myesha Holmes-Thomas and Doneyne Smith are both entering their second year working toward degrees related to social work. The two have worked together on a number of projects at the council. Before this opportunity they were unaware how much their field of study was intertwined with the everyday lives of the clients at the literacy council.
Holmes-Thomas and Smith realized that those seeking services at the literacy council often needed assistance with more than reading, writing, or English language skills.
“When I worked in CPS, we referred people to the literacy council for their GED, and that’s it.,” said Holmes-Thomas, who is earning a master’s in Public Administration. “But, [the literacy council] is so much more.”
As they worked with clients, Smith and Holmes-Thomas saw firsthand how those with low literacy and education levels were unable to fully understand and take advantage of the services and benefits that could help them—from child care and housing to SNAP and Social Security benefits.
“People are unaware they can receive these services,” Holmes-Thomas said.
In this way, Walker created an ideal program to help her provide needed services to her literacy council clients while helping interns gain valuable experience connecting with the resources they need.
Between Smith and Holmes-Thomas, the two have, among other accomplishments, helped a woman get the therapy she needed to gain housing, mentored a young autistic man by tapping into his love of history (while also helping his family file for the disability and Social Security benefits he was entitled to), and helped a homeless man find his own apartment.
They check in on the clients to make sure they’re doing well and develop a judgment-free rapport with them, Holmes-Thomas said.
“Myesha and I both thought [the internship] was helping people with limited reading or [to get a] GED, but [we] realized it’s a lot more,” Smith said.
The literacy council’s interns’ duties vary depending on their majors and courses they’re taking, Walker said. Education majors may help with lesson plans, instruction, and student evaluations. Marketing interns have helped fundraise and promote the literacy council online. And every semester, she said the program brings on social work interns who help connect students with other community resources.
“We work with life skills repetitiously,” Smith said. “A lot of it is listening and giving them the opportunity to talk. Giving them a place to come get computer skills, social skills. Giving them life skills. Not just with kids, but some adults don’t know how to change a car tire or the oil. They might need financial literacy. It’s us asking, ‘What are the things out there that you need help with?’”
A lot of people associate social work with hospitals and Child Protective Services, Smith said, but programs like this show it goes beyond that to help a community.
Both Holmes-Thomas and Smith agreed that the experience they gained would not have been possible without Walker leading the way and giving them the flexibility to adapt as they saw fit and needed.
“She has a genuine love for people,” Smith said.
While Holmes-Thomas has finished her internship, she and Smith are still there for each other. As Smith now guides a new intern, he knows he can lean on Holmes-Thomas for any questions and for support.
Which is great, because Walker said she plans to continue growing and strengthening the internship program. She sees it as the ultimate full-circle learning experience.
“We had an ESL class one night where I had three interns working with a class of students. There was a moment where I looked out and thought to myself, ‘this is exactly what education is about. Every single person in here is learning right now.’ It was beautiful!”
Myesha Holmes-Thomas received an award for Innovative Project of the Year from the Adult Learning Alliance of Arkansas for a project to serve local families through a partnership with the Arkansas Department of Human Services.
Want to know how you can bring interns into your program? Jenny Walker will present the workshop “The Intern Initiative” at the 2021 ProLiteracy Conference on Adult Education. Learn more and register for the conference at www.proliteracy.org/conference.
(Pictured are Christina Brown, Gaby Valle, and Castula Rodriguez, three education majors rom Texas A&M University–Texarkana, working with an ESL class.)