Honoring Our Heritage, Nurturing Our Mental Health: A Black History Month Reflection
By Jessica Orenstein As a young Black woman, this Black History Month feels particularly poignant. It’s a time when we celebrate the richness of our ...
By Breanna Georges
Last spring, I found myself searching for a meaningful internship program that would amplify my academic pursuits at The New School, where I’m studying Culture and Media, Gender Studies, and Race and Ethnicity Studies. Now, as I approach my final year as an undergrad, I am so grateful that I chose the 2023 Summer Internship Program at The Jed Foundation (JED).
I applied to JED because the organization is dedicated to youth mental health and suicide prevention. I hoped that spending my summer with the leading nonprofit in this field would give me the opportunity to think deeply about, and improve my commitment to, mental health advocacy as social justice work.
I feel strongly about the need to support youth mental health, because of my own journey. As a teenager, I struggled with anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, and PTSD. I often felt hopeless and I didn’t feel like I had a real sense of direction or purpose in life. It was hard to imagine myself having a successful and fulfilling future. But with years of therapy, medication, a strong support system, and motivation to get better everyday, I’m happy to say I’m in a much better place.
One of the things that really kept me going was a passion for social justice. As a queer, mixed-race woman, and the child of immigrants, there were so many social and political issues I felt connected to and wanted to learn more about.
I am happy to say I nurtured my commitment to these causes during my time at JED.
One of the many things that pushed me to apply to JED is the “It’s OK to Say Suicide” campaign, which aims to destigmatize conversation around suicide. The campaign taught me that having conversations about suicide and mental health is actually helpful to people who may be struggling, not harmful. It’s normal to have reservations, but resources are available to guide people through these conversations—and that is so comforting.
After I found this campaign, I knew I wanted to be a part of JED’s mission. That night, I applied for the Editorial Communications Internship.
This year was the largest cohort of interns ever hosted by The Jed Foundation. Over 800 students applied, and only 17 were chosen–including me! The program spanned 10 weeks, from June through August.
The entire summer was informative and rewarding; it was everything I hoped it would be. But one thing that I could not have anticipated was how much I would gain from my own peers. I was impressed that they were all as passionate about mental health advocacy as I am and that commitment showed in their Passion Projects, which are a new element of the JED Summer Internship Program.
Previous intern cohorts spent their summer working on a collective single group project, which they presented together toward the end of their time at JED. But, because we were the largest intern cohort to date, working on a single project together seemed like it might be more difficult. Plus, JED wanted to ensure that all interns could dedicate their time to issues they’re truly passionate about.
But that didn’t mean working separately, either. Because collaboration is one of JED’s core values, we were given the opportunity to work together–just in smaller groups. First, we aligned with others in the cohort who shared our interests. Next, we began to figure out projects that would benefit our own professional development, highlight our existing skills, and contribute something tangible and meaningful to JED.
For example, I wanted to talk about the unique college experience of first-generation students. For my Passion Project, I worked with Gabriella Fonesca, the Brand Communications Intern, and Eden Getahun, the Human Resources Intern, both of whom are also first-generation students.
We collaborated with the team working on Set to Go, a JED program focused on helping youth transitioning out of high school. As we moved our project forward, we continued to check in with the rest of our intern cohort to see how their projects were progressing. There was always so much support and open communication—not just between interns, but from the internship management team.
I’m so glad I had the chance to work on something that meant so much to me, personally, and that my group’s lived experiences helped inform resources for future teens and young adults.
I wanted to include some of the voices of my peers in this piece, to best represent the JED Internship Program by asking them some questions.
What have you learned at JED?
“I learned the ins and outs of what development and funding looks like for a nonprofit organization, such as how to seek out corporate sponsors, writing proposals and pitches to companies, donor research, and the logistics that go into planning fundraising events,” said Rachel Harris, who interned with Development. “I greatly increased my knowledge of the mental health and suicide prevention sector, including how to create comprehensive resource documents, conducting and disseminating research, and ways that I can implement and improve mental health resources and programming on my campus.”
“JED has been the best learning experience, being fresh out of college. It has taught me that professional life doesn’t have to be unenjoyable. JED provided such a positive work environment for their employees and it is a workplace many wish to be a part of.” — Gabriella Fonesca, Brand Communications Intern
What did you learn from your fellow interns?
“I have learned so much from my fellow interns! They have taught me so much about building relationships in virtual work environments, something I struggled with in past experiences,” said Eden Getahun who interned with Human Resources. “I often get anxious when I hear everyone saying the burden falls upon our generation to right the world’s wrongs, but working and getting to know my co-interns has given me a renewed sense of confidence in my generation.”
“My fellow JED interns have been so kind and have quickly and seamlessly created a community. It’s shown me how a small comment of support or motivation can make a huge difference in the group’s dynamic and can bring us just that much closer. I’ve also learned so much from the life experiences and journeys that my fellow JED interns have shared—stories about strength, finding community, and finding yourself.” — Brook Turner, Government Affairs Intern
What part of the internship taught you the most about mental health and suicide prevention, our High School Programming Intern, Jose Caballero, who was also this year’s Student Voice of Mental Health award recipient, wrote: “JED’s programming has shaped my perspective on what schools can do to strengthen the ways they address mental health on campus by using the JED High School and JED Campus programs.”
“JED is one of a kind! The comprehensive approach sets it apart from other nonprofit mental health organizations. No matter what background you may have, there is a space for you in the impactful work of JED!” — Christina Lewis, Higher Ed Outreach and Promotions Intern
I hope that this reflection on our time together this summer will also be helpful to prospective future interns who want to explore the wonderful opportunities at JED!
Wrapping Up My Time at JED–For Now!
Through professional development sessions, interns are invited to make connections with JED staff across various roles, levels, and departments. We got to see a big-picture operational view of the organization, and we were made to feel like part of the community at JED. I know that we will continue to carry this experience along our educational paths and into our future careers.
Six months ago, I wasn’t sure exactly where or how I would spend my summer. Even when I started at JED, I couldn’t have known the impact this experience would have on me. As I look back on my 10 weeks, I can now say that my internship with The Jed Foundation has given me more hope and motivation for my future: personally, academically, and professionally.
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You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.
If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.