BY: VICTORIA TALENTINO
For the past two summers (2016 and 2017) I have interned at Voices of September 11th in New Canaan, CT. It has been the best experience for me both personally and professionally. The mentoring that I have received from the co-founders is something I could never learn in a classroom.
Personally, it has shown me the resilience of our communities/society has in times of tragedy and that support comes from everywhere; it doesn’t matter your race, socioeconomic status, political or religious beliefs, there are people who care and want to help. This is exactly what Voices is and what they do.
Since I have been working at Voices, it has made my future career goals much clearer; I have decided to attend graduate school to become a clinical social worker. My focus is to work and counsel survivors and the family members who have lost loved ones in a mass tragedy such as 9/11, Newtown Shooting or the numerous other terrorist attacks.
Voices of September 11th is a nonprofit organization established to help in the healing of communities, survivors and families of a mass tragedy. They provide mental health services and other programs that help communities to prepare and respond to a mass tragedy and advocate for those in need by creating new public policies. Most importantly, they make sure no one ever forgets the victims of 9/11.
Voices is a small organization so the typical working day is full of many different tasks, which I really enjoy. Most days I work on updating the 9/11 Memorial website. I work with the summer interns in creating the new 9/11 video which is presented at the beginning of the year at New Canaan High School. As part of the 9/11 Memorial website and for the intern video I work with the team interviewing the victim’s family member on organizing stories of their loved ones, putting together their keepsakes and photos to add to the website. Also, I am working with the social workers on the WTC Health program which I am doing research on ways to get information out to those needing these services. This year I have become more involved in attending meetings involving the business side of the organization. Learning what is involved in running a nonprofit organization has been quite interesting and surprising to me. I have learned that they need to generate money as any other business to stay in business but the majority of the funds goes towards the programs and very little goes towards the administration to keep the organization running.
This leads me to one of my most important responsibilities; the creation and updating of the 9/11 Memorial Website. This website is for families to provide Voices with photos keepsakes and stories of their loved ones so that they will always be remembered. This also plays as a healing process for the families to create a tribute to their lost loved ones.
Another one of my responsibilities which I really enjoy working on is organizing the Annual September 11th Event. I help research the venue and food for the event. As part of the group, we meet and decide on the various speakers to attend.
Since Voices is a nonprofit, some of the funds for the organization are generated through charity events. Last summer, I organized a Bowling Night Event to generate donations from past interns and local organizations to raise funds. We advertised through sending out a mass mailing, posting signs in town and posting on social media. I also worked on developing the Fall Event which is a larger event that reaches out to corporations, other charity foundations and sponsors.
One of the biggest challenges Voices faces is being able to communicate out to the community regarding the outreach programs such as mental health support, medical insurance and other social services available. I am currently researching and analyzing the best communication tools to use to inform 9/11 survivors, responders as well as people who just lived or worked near the towers that they may be available for medical benefits through the WTC Health Program. There are great programs available, but many communities are not aware of them. Some ideas are posting on Web MD, bringing brochures to doctor offices and mass mailings.
My long term goal is to become a licensed Social Worker so that I can work more closely with the survivors or victims’ families of mass tragedies. My goal is to help them through their trauma, grief, bereavement and post trauma mental illness. My goal is for them never to forget, but for them to understand their different life and possible different family structure after the tragedy and to work with them to accept this and move forward. I don’t see this as simple and it should not be taken lightly, but this is where a program in resilience as Voices has established comes into play. It provides a long term model of research, education and counseling to accomplish these goals. I want to be a part of this kind of program; counseling those people within the community.
I never thought that I would want to be a social worker; I always knew I wanted to work in the field of terrorism. Working at Voices exposed me to the long term aftermath to the survivors and victim’s families. I realized this is where I want to focus my career goals.
The most valuable skill I have learned working at Voices is to listen. Listening is so much more important than talking, listening is how we really learn and try not to make the same mistakes. By listening we can develop programs to help communities prevent terrorism and provide them with tools if a mass tragedy does happen. From a practical perspective I have learned that teamwork and a collaborative effort do make the greatest impact.
To work at an organization like Voices, you need a passion to want to make change but yet have a strong determination and patience since change does not happen quickly. You need to be willing to learn on the job as there is not much “formal training”, you most definitely need to be self motivated and put yourself in the middle of the work and just jump in. You can learn as much as you want.
I know the goal in the internship is to grow as a future professional, but for me I feel like I grew more as a person which I believe will help my professional growth. I have learned not to judge, to be more understanding of others’ beliefs and values. Also, I have learned how to take something awful and turn it into something good. This is my future professional goal: to help victim’s turn their life into something good after a tragedy.
Victoria Talentino is a Political Science student at the University of Delaware expecting to graduate in 2018.