August 30, 2017

The Nation and Community: My Summer Internship at Enterprise Ohio

By: Aaron Henry, Community Development & Policy Intern, Summer 2017

A West Philly native, our summer intern Aaron, provides insight into how his experience with Enterprise showed him more about the world at large and himself personally.

Finding Enterprise

I first discovered Enterprise through job searching while schooling overseas. I considered whether my skills and interests truly were transferable to this position. I had, in fact, never done community development before. I then applied, and a month later I went through the interview process, confirming my answer to those same considerations. When I was accepted, I got excited and stayed excited to have a chance to learn and work actively during the summer. On my first day, Angelina took me around and showed me everyone in the office. I got big smiles, small jokes, focused answers. That afternoon, some staff took me out for lunch. Little by little through the early weeks the pieces of my job and the community development industry came together almost like a small puzzle which you find and, after you’ve placed all the pieces together which you had beside you, you look at the box’s cover picture and realize that there is a much larger, more complex puzzle to be made. In other words, during my first few weeks especially I had a steep and thrilling learning curve.

Enterprise and the Nation

Enterprise nationally promotes quality, affordable housing. I have noticed that this is both a political and moral position: statistics show and confirm the housing issues that our very eyes see in both urban and rural communities. Housing is a primary step for accessing other growth opportunities. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Coalition of Cuyahoga County is one such solution which Enterprise spearheads in Cleveland. EITC policy and development research was one such small puzzle which became a whole world of learning to me. In my first two weeks, I had already begun two different projects for the EITC Coalition of Cuyahoga County. While I was sorting internal data or recalling how national data might fit into our state trends in my office cubicle, I had to keep my eyes on the bigger picture, which was hard. Our fundamental goal was to provide services that promote this quality, affordable housing.

Enterprise and the Community

I am very, very thankful for the staff here. As a non-Cleveland native, I wasn’t sure whether my Ohio-Idaho tongue twister joke would be met with glares, cheekiness, or apathetic amusement. I am an Oberlin Student, so when I came in late May to Cleveland, I felt that Cleveland was neither totally foreign nor very specific and intimate. The staff here were able to answer any questions I had about the area and surrounding towns with care and no too small amusement (so the town of “Min-eur” is Mentor?). In one of my first meetings, when I was living by a slim budget and waiting for glorious pay, one supervisor did not want the wait blessed me that same day to be able to go and check out Little Italy’s famous Mama Santa and Presti’s. It turns out that these kind favors took on a nature of commonplaceness. I saw an evidently high level of team trust and deep dedication in the office, expressed by hard work and light playfulness; it was a very stable introduction to the non-profit world, but more intimately, to the lives of my co-workers who really cared, about the solutions, investments, and policies that would change housing outcomes and lives.

Enterprise and Me

Lastly, I’ve learned a lot about myself at Enterprise. I’ve grown politically, by skill, by dedication, and by moral. The more I do research, I want it to touch me and move me to thought and action. I want to see the world of community and urban development more accurately, looking at streets and houses and wider development projects of the city and be able to analyze what is good and not so good, who benefits and who does not, and ultimately advocate in word and deed. I grew up in North Philly and then West before coming to school in Ohio. In my junior year, my house had a clothing dryer fire. We left our house for six months for safety issues. Fortunately, through our insurance, we had substitute hotel provisions, but it was hard. That same year, I met a friend who had lost her whole house. I can’t have imagined having had nothing to fall back on. I hardly felt the weight of this experience and it actually didn’t affect me much, even as a 16-year-old. That same year the fire happened, however, I met a friend who had permanently lost her whole house. I can imagine that that experience would be so much heavier, and I don’t know what I would have done if I had lost it all.

As I told some, I’m also part of Oberlin’s Bonner scholar program which supports students who are committed to community service by helping them develop as leaders and change agents in the local community and beyond. That means for this summer, I set some goals for myself. One fellow volunteer told me about a year and a half ago that the point of doing service volunteer is to end the need for it. The point of doing service is to end service. I do truly mean that I felt intentionally involved and purposefully developed during my time at Enterprise.

Like a spider web, there are separate strands that connect to create something bigger.

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