A perfect pair
Nikki Wright splits Hess Fellow summer advocacy internship between two agencies
Nikki Wright came to Birmingham-Southern to become a teacher. For her, that means learning not only how to teach, but how public policies affect the classroom. This summer, she is helping Alabama's children through her Hess Fellows Advocacy Internship.
Nikki Wright (on right) is shown at the Alabama
Partnership for Children office with her supervisor,
Robin Mackey. The partnership is located in Montgomery’s
Wright, a rising senior elementary education major, has two offices and two bosses. She is working as a full-time staff member at VOICES for Alabama's Children and Alabama Partnership for Children—both in Montgomery. Since May 21, she has divided her time weekly between the nonprofits, which are about a 30-minute drive apart.
"As an education major, I've become personally and passionately invested in this cause because I've had the opportunity to go into schools and see the drastic and debilitating lack of resources available to so many children across our state," she says. "And there are so many other issues like health and safety. Alabama currently is ranked 48th in the nation for the well-being of children."
Established in 1992, VOICES for Alabama's Children works to influence policy that affects children. It was the first organization to document the conditions of children in each of the state's 67 counties.
At VOICES, Wright's main focus is helping the organization with its recent launch of "The Alabama Children's Movement," an effort to convince the state legislature to devote more resources and legislative attention to children's issues. She already has conducted substantial research on children's issues, recruited supporters, gathered the opinions of supporters, and created and analyzed a survey distributed to the movement's leadership team.
"I've become a walking encyclopedia of initiatives for change, and I still have much to learn," Wright remarks. "My favorite part about the movement has been my freedom to exercise creativity through both art and thought. I've designed the movement's logo, sketched the website, and even drafted some op-eds for VOICES."
Alabama Partnership for Children or APC was founded in 2002 and works to develop, design, and implement a unified approach for improving outcomes of children from birth to age five in the state.
Nikki (second from right) is pictured at the VOICES
office with (from left) Rhonda Mann, her supervisor;
Amber Crawford, media director; Linda Tilly,
executive director; and Kristi Gash, a co-worker.
Wright's emphasis at APC has been on its Parent Cafés initiative, a vehicle for parents to have their own conversations about keeping their families strong based on a set of protective factors that help prevent child abuse and neglect. She helps facilitate Parent Cafés, while strengthening the advocacy and policy impact of these events that take place across Alabama.
"The meetings are structured conversations between groups of 10-25 parents concerning the issues of their specific communities," explains Wright, who travels to the meetings even on some weekends. "We try to get families to recognize a need, analyze what can be done, and then work toward doing something about it. Topics that have come up include getting more dads involved in the community and finding ways to increase parental resilience after hard times."
Birmingham-Southern's Hess Fellows work at leading advocacy organizations around the country, tackling a broad range of issues. The three-part Hess Fellows Program includes pre-internship seminars focused on preparing students for their advocacy work, an eight-week summer internship, and an advocacy project on the campus following the summer internship.
Kent Andersen, director of the Hess Center for Leadership and Service at BSC, says that the program, currently in its seventh year, is selective and competitive.
"We placed 14 students this year," he notes. "The program is open to all students. We try to match them with agencies in a way that fits with both the student's goals and the agency's needs. This year is the first time we've split a student's time between two agencies. Given Nikki's background in education, it seemed like a really smart thing to do, and I think it's working extremely well."
Wright, a first-generation college student from Pell City, Ala., says she felt a calling to be an educator and to work with children.
"Education is just a good fit for me because I never could pin down my interests or passions to one area," she says. "I like to learn and explore new ideas."
Her involvement on campus includes participation in the Distinction in Leadership Studies program and volunteer for the college's Bunting Center for Engaged Study and Community Action. Wright has extended her devotion to education and the well-being of children to other volunteer and community work. She spends a lot of time each semester shadowing teachers at local schools to gain more experience in the classroom. During spring break each year, she volunteers at MorningStar in Brunswick, Ga., a home and school for children who have been neglected or abused.
Wright plans to attend graduate school after BSC to further her studies in education, and will apply her internship experiences to her future work in the classroom.
"It's all been very rewarding and exciting," says Wright. "My hope is that my work this summer will enable VOICES and APC to get more accomplished than would have been possible without me. I want to leave these organizations knowing that I've been part of the beginnings for something great for our state and its children. I believe that a child just needs one person to care about them and to invest in their well-being for them to succeed in life."
For more information on the Hess Center for Leadership and Service, visit www.bsc.edu/academics/hess.
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