On the North Shore, it’s almost expected that college students such as myself spend their summers working in an internship. My peers and I are often asked, “What is your major?” followed by, “What will you do with that degree?” In order to be able to answer this question, my main goals this summer included developing new professional skills, making connections with my colleagues, and having something new to add to my resume. Most of all, I was concerned in figuring out what kind of career I want to pursue. However, for now, I still answer with a shrug, a smile, and “I’m not sure yet! Still exploring.”
As an intern at The ARK this summer, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in meetings, conduct research, partake in social media design, and get a taste of the 9-5 work life. I’ve learned more about The ARK, becoming more and more impressed with just how much this organization provides to the Chicagoland Jewish community. While the (now closed) thrift shop and food pantry are a large part of The ARK’s reputation, the 4,500 clients here also receive financial assistance, physical and mental health care, transitional housing, employment services, legal aid, and more. The ARK truly has the power to completely turn someone’s life around when they’re at their lowest point.
However, just last week, it was made clear to me that this is not the internship experience I had expected. Instead of heading home at 5:00, I stayed here to volunteer at Café ARK and serve free meals to clients. My responsibilities of opening hamburger buns, serving salad plates, and filling fruit cups may have been simple but I found myself overthinking everything I was doing. Inspecting fruit cups for the perfect ratio of pineapple to melon, not knowing when to collect plates, and afraid to interact with clients, I asked “Am I doing this right?” maybe ten times. Finally, the Director of Volunteers said, “This is like any other family dinner. You can’t do anything wrong here.”
I realized that I had been treating Café ARK like a job and the clients like, well, clients. I looked around the dinner and noticed one man patting another on the back with a, “Hey, buddy, how you doing?”, a group of ladies deep in conversation in the corner, and an ARK employee animatedly chatting and laughing with a client as if they’d been friends for years. I didn’t feel like I was at a nonprofit organization as much as I felt like I was in someone’s home. Beyond all of the fundraisers and services The ARK provides, I finally understood the overall theme here: community.
The staff and volunteers at The ARK feel a commitment not only to the organization but to each other. While The ARK could easily provide its services and still make an impact on someone’s life, they go the extra mile by valuing compassion and close knit relationships, setting this organization apart from any other. Money provides the physical materials needed to assist our clients, but our community is fueled by heart, preserving the dignity of each and every individual who turns to The ARK. When you contribute to The ARK, you’re not only funding its programs; you’re also keeping this unique, meaningful community alive. You are giving individuals the support system we all need at some point.
I had been so focused on this internship and wanting to graduate college as an impressive, hire-worthy applicant. I’m extremely grateful that I paused to understand the magnitude of The ARK and its work. Whether you are an intern, young adult, parent, or senior citizen, I highly encourage pausing to evaluate the power of community and reflect upon those who make up the foundation of your identity. Only then will you begin to understand the beauty of The ARK’s mission.