Nonprofit Organizations: Shaping College Students

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Graduating college is a big deal. The diploma you receive represents the hundreds of hours you spent in class; the thousands of hours you spent studying. More than that, this piece of paper represents all of the knowledge and experience you have acquired throughout your education. So, what do you have to show for it?

Almost all fields of study require some sort of real-world work experience. Whether through an internship, co-op, student teaching or clinical rotation, these programs are designed to give you the tools and experience to enter the job market prepared for life beyond the classroom setting.

Being a Health Communications major, I found myself struggling to decide which type of working environment would best suit me. I've always had a passion for health and helping people, yet quickly determined that I'm predominately right-brained and would struggle to achieve the levels of math and sciences required to be a medical professional.

In my search to find a suitable internship, I happened upon the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Its mission is simple: "granting wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy." The light bulb went on. I knew this was something I needed to be a part of, as it perfectly aligned with my health interest and desire to help people.

What I originally thought would just be something to put on my résumé, has changed my life. I've been a part of and experienced firsthand the immense power of a wish. I've driven to low-income neighborhoods and been welcomed into tiny homes by families with huge hearts. I've listened to parents share their journey, as they struggle to care for their terminally ill child. I've seen sick children's faces light up with the arrival of a new playhouse, motorhome or princess dress to wear to Cinderella's Castle in Disney World. These wishes are not simply a nice thing; they are truly a life-altering experience for children who have spent much of their childhood confined to a hospital bed.

In our everyday college student life, we get so caught up in studying, stressing and socializing that we forget to appreciate the small things in life. We take our health for granted—staying up late, eating junk food, indulging in drinks on the weekends. We ask, What's in it for me? How can I get ahead? We are so concerned with ourselves that we are often oblivious to the thoughts, feelings and situations of those outside of our campus boundaries.

Working with sick children has really put things into perspective and allowed me to reassess the "all about me" attitude so many of us develop. It has encouraged me to take that energy and focus it outward, doing something to positively affect someone else's life. Working for an organization whose sole focus revolves around enriching others' human experience has inadvertently enriched my own, and proven to be rewarding in a way I did not expect.

Make-A-Wish is not the only organization devoted to a social cause; virtually any nonprofit typically offers similar experiences. Unlike working an internship with a for-profit company, I was doing more than grabbing coffee and filing papers: I was doing something that made a difference in the world.

Through this internship I've had the opportunity to contribute to the inner workings of the organization and enrich the lives of children all over Michigan. I strongly believe an experience like this is invaluable in shaping who I am and has benefitted me as a future job candidate and overall person.

Students looking for work experience within their major are often unaware of the value of working for a nonprofit organization. I would highly encourage those searching for the right internship to look into working for a nonprofit. It is more than a résumé builder: It's a life-skill builder that future employers will respect and appreciate.

JennaJohnstonJenna Johnston attends Grand Valley State University, where she is studying Health Communications with a minor in Advertising/Public Relations.

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