Last week marked the end of our time at Active Minds, and to say that our experience this semester has been unique would be an understatement. When we accepted our offers, none of us were expecting a global pandemic to occur in the middle of the semester, but that’s exactly what happened.
Despite having to abruptly pack our things and leave DC, it did not mean goodbye; it meant “See you on Zoom,” and we continued on with our internship. Before the end of the semester, we took some time to reflect on our experience amidst this unprecedented time.
Read on to learn how each of us will remember our Spring 2020 Active Minds Internship:
I had no idea what to expect when I accepted an offer as a graphic design intern at Active Minds, but I had never been more excited for anything in my life. I am a fine artist; I had only taken graphic design for the first time the semester before, so I was nervous that I might not be experienced enough for the position I had so quickly jumped at. I am so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to broaden my artistic abilities and simultaneously had the privilege to learn so much about mental health, which is something that is so important in my own life.
Active Minds has the most supportive and friendly staff and they made all of us interns feel so comfortable and welcome. They always let us know that our opinions mattered and they were always willing to teach us anything we did not know how to do. Although we had those amazing DC moments in the office and at National Conference, these last few weeks working remotely have been equally inspiring and I have learned just as much as I had in person. Sticking with my internship has provided a lot of stability in my transition back home. It has helped me keep a consistent routine and really pushed me. I’ve been able to create graphics that other people can relate to and see that what they are feeling is okay and they are not alone. This semester has changed my life in a very positive way and I cannot wait to implement what I have learned back at home when this all passes. I cannot thank the Active Minds team enough for the impact they have had on my life.
Coming into college as a business student, I soon realized the work my classes were setting me up to do wasn’t as fulfilling as I was hoping it would be. By the time I realized that, it was too late to change my major, so I got involved with student organizations and took internships that aligned more closely with my career goals and passions. Mental health awareness is something that’s always been important to me, and when classmate and former Active Minds intern Ilana Davis introduced me to the organization during the fall of my senior year, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to intern here.
Through my work on the communications team, I was able to further develop my content-writing skills, and I got to do that while reading many stories from my fellow students and sharing my own via the blog. We like to say that “your voice is your power” at Active Minds, and I saw that firsthand with both my work and that of students all across the country. When our National Conference was nearing, I enjoyed being a part of the preparation for it, and those two days genuinely changed me. I finally got to put faces to names of some of the students whose work I had edited, as well the Active Minds remote staff from across the country, and I learned so much from all of the breakout sessions I attended. Hearing the keynotes from Frank Warren and Zachary Levi, two important male voices in mental health advocacy, was especially important to me and I’m really glad that I got to hear them, especially with what was ultimately in store just three short weeks later.
I always felt like I was part of the Active Minds family, but I truly felt that as we had to make the sudden transition to working remotely because of COVID-19. Throughout the process, the entire staff was very supportive, and I never felt like they didn’t have my back as I watched everything I was looking forward to about my senior year disappear. Our weekly lunches over Zoom helped me maintain the connections I had made before we went remote, and were the highlight of each week for me. While it was sad to have to leave the office and go remote for the rest of the semester, continuing my internship was one of the most important parts of keeping some sense of normalcy and staying positive through all of this, especially since our work has helped and will continue to help so many people like me navigate this time we’re in.
Although the semester and my college career as a whole didn’t end the way I wanted them to end, I couldn’t be more thankful that Active Minds was a part of it. I want to thank everybody, from the office staff to the remote staff to my fellow interns for making this semester the awesome experience it was, and for making Active Minds the organization it has been and will continue to be!
As a public policy and political science major, I was eager to explore the federal government in the flesh during my semester in DC. As a typical college student studying government might, I toured the Senate, participated in a foreign affairs simulation at the State Department, and took classes taught by renowned political science professors in the nation’s capital. I checked these activities off my bucket list, but I did so much more than that.
I wanted to intern at a non-profit organization to understand the U.S. government from the perspective of interest groups. Interning at Active Minds has certainly facilitated this goal of mine: it’s shown me the critical impact of collective action on those vulnerable to social injustice; the power of individuals uniting to make a widespread difference in Americans’ lives; and the way that passion is spun into action, which not only brings people together but lifts them up.
As an incoming Programs intern at Active Minds, I did not honestly know what to expect. I couldn’t visualize the tasks I would be given, the people I would be working with, and, most importantly, the impact that I as an intern could help make on others. From day one, I was welcomed with open arms by the entire staff at the national office. Ever since that first day, I have encountered nothing but friendliness, thoughtfulness, cooperation, and genuineness. From the careful guidance of my supervisors, I gained ample experience working with spreadsheets, digital platforms, communication, and general professionalism. I had the opportunity to help prepare for and attend the Active Minds National Conference, which allowed me to put faces to the names I had been contacting and make new connections with students from across the country. I got to hear from students how Active Minds changed their lives, and in those moments, I realized that I was not only learning about government through the lens of a non-governmental organization, but the value of the type of work I had the opportunity to contribute to at Active Minds.
Even in my own short lifetime, the culture around mental health has changed drastically. Elementary school health class taught me the importance of eating whole, balanced meals and exercising regularly. Never did it teach me the vitality of emotional and mental wellbeing. Growing up, I had thought of mental health as affecting a subset of the population that did not include me or the people close to me. My mom is a psychologist and clinician who works with veterans affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which somehow reinforced to me my notion that mental health affects people unlike me, such as those who serve our country in combat–a feat I have never experienced. But as I entered high school and college, I realized that mental health affects everyone–directly or indirectly–including me. I do believe that the culture around mental health has evolved in the past twenty years, but I also know that it has a long way to go before the public perceives it as deserving the same level of attention as physical health; I’m still waiting for the day when the words “depression” and “anxiety” don’t spur any judgement or negative connotations whatsoever.
I’m glad that my internship experience at Active Minds has broadened my perspective in this regard. It has shown me that many people share this longing for promoting discourse on mental health, and even devote much of their lives to removing the stigma that lingers around it. I’ve fulfilled my goal and curiosity of experiencing non-profit work, but much more than that, I’ve learned how lucky I am to be part of a caring community that dedicates their livelihoods to improving the lives of others. Even in the midst of COVID-19 that has led us to remote work, I continue to be grateful for my opportunity to help others, particularly during these stressful and difficult times.
So here’s a big THANK YOU (in all caps!) from me to everyone who makes up Active Minds: the amazing office staff and my wonderful supervisors, my incredible fellow interns, and all of the students and faculty across the nation and around the world who have shown me hope, encouragement, and love over these past few months. I wish everyone health and safety during this unprecedented time, and I know that by continuing to work together and support one another, we will make it to the other side of this pandemic, stronger and more united than ever.
This past January, I arrived in Washington D.C. with an amalgamation of busy thoughts— bursts of excitement, curiosity, and underlying anxiety were most strongly felt. I made the decision to spend my last semester of my undergraduate career thousands of miles away from my college home in Berkeley, California… and frankly, I didn’t know what to expect. This was my first time leaving a place of familiarity without a crutch, without someone I knew beforehand going with me. I love the potential for exploration, the hustle-and-bustle culture, and the daily demonstrations of city life (like subway-riding); these are aspects of life that my small-town self was not raised with. I came to Washington with the expectation that I would indulge in a place that felt like mine— a beloved place to add to my growing list of temporary homes.
I quickly learned the difference in atmospheres when comparing our nation’s capital to my home in California. These changes, however, were embraced with open arms. It still surprises me how smooth this transition was for me. When I reflect, I know that a tremendous factor in my acclimation to D.C. was the community my coworkers in our National Office had established.
From the first day I walked into the office, I felt nothing but warmth and support from the Active Minds team. My coworkers were quick to introduce me to the productive yet fun environment that exists in our workspace. I remember when I met Robyn, our Chapters Manager, and instantly felt comfortable with him as my internship supervisor. Robyn and others eased my inevitable anxiety with beginning a new internship in a new city, and valued my many questions and ideas. I never felt belittled or shut down because of my role as an intern; rather, my student perspective was always appreciated. This rang true even despite our challenges with the interns’ abrupt departure from D.C.
I have gained so many tangible skills through my time working with the programs department that I know I will incorporate in my future as an educator. The experiences I shared with my team, however, are what I value the most. The collaboration to host an incredible national conference, the weekly Chipotle Thursdays during lunch hour, the trips to the storage unit in Maryland in preparation for Send Silence Packing… reminiscing about these moments brings me so much joy. This experience has become a reference point for my future in many ways. I hope to find the same sense of familial bonding not only in my future workplaces, but within other social circles of my life, too. I hope I can bring the same positivity and light to these communities, just as all of my coworkers did for me.
I feel so privileged to have experienced so much kindness, guidance, and love the past few months. I cannot thank the Active Minds Team enough for making me feel so welcomed and heard. While I am sad to be leaving, I couldn’t be more grateful to have been part of this team. Thank you to the office staff, remote staff, and fellow interns for giving me a senior term I will never forget!