Shelby Waligora: Making an IMPACT

Indiana INTERNnet celebrated internship excellence on February 18 at the 14th Annual IMPACT Awards Luncheon. Though the event is over, and the winners have been announced, we are continuing to celebrate the nominees’ successes.

These are their stories.

Shelby Waligora is a senior at DeKalb High School. She completed an internship with The Community Foundation DeKalb County.

Indiana INTERNnet: Congrats on winning High School Intern of the Year at our 2020 IMPACT Awards! Now that your internship is over, what are you up to these days?

Shelby Waligora: Currently I am focusing on finishing my senior year strong at DeKalb High School with the added obstacles. I’m still interning at the Community Foundation; I will hit one year in January. I still hold the title as Promise Intern and still work closely with Promise Enrollment events at DeKalb County schools and still assist in planning the Walk Into My Future event. As time goes on my responsibilities and roles have expanded.

I will be graduating DeKalb High School in May of 2020. I’ve accepted admission to Purdue University Fort Wayne. I’ll be studying Psychology, and fingers crossed on double majoring with Social Work as well.

IIN: What led you to choose to intern with Community Foundation DeKalb County?

SW: My mom was always heavily involved with the community and was part of many different committees. I would frequently go with her to the community meetings just to keep her company and market myself to many community members. Little did I know going to the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting in December of 2018 would lead me to my internship at the Community Foundation.

That night I was talking to Matt Bechdol, the Community Foundation’s Board President, about trying to find an internship for my JAG (Jobs for Americas Graduates) class. As we were talking, he proposed the idea of me researching DeKalb County Promise and coming to talk to Judy Sorg, former Education Director at CF, and Melanie Beer, former Promise Coordinator, about creating a Promise Intern position. I am the first ever high school intern that the Community Foundation has had and also the very first Promise Intern. If my mom would have never asked me to go to the community meeting with her, I would have never marketed myself on the spot to Matt Bechdol. I was amazed that they would consider creating a position just for me.

IIN: Walk us through what some of your regular tasks were while interning at Community Foundation DeKalb County. What was your favorite part about working with them?

SW: Packing and preparing for Promise Enrollment Events, attending meetings and writing meeting minutes, communicating with community partners for meetings or their needs, answering phones, creating marketing material for Promise, talking to families about the benefits of Promise, filing, and shredding. There are many more little tasks that I do since I sometimes wear the hat of “Office Intern” as well. My favorite task that I do at the Community Foundation is Promise Enrollment Events, I love talking to families about 529 Career Savings Accounts and answering questions about them.

The best part about working at the Community Foundation is that they are encouraging and trusting in everything that I do. They give me tasks that most high schoolers may not be able to handle, and they trust me in communicating with community members.

IIN: Tell us about a challenge you had to overcome during your internship.

SW: When I first started at the Community Foundation, I was a junior in high school and 16 years old; the challenge I had from the beginning was exactly that – my age. My generation has many different stigmas following us and at the Community Foundation many of the community members that I came in contact with had the idea I wouldn’t be mature enough or lack of motivation. I knew this going in and I wanted to make sure I killed that stigma behind my generation.

At Promise Enrollment Events, I have to talk to parents and families about creating a 529 Career Savings Account that in the end the community will put in $25 just for signing up and if the family matches that $25 then the community will put in another $75 (equaling a grand total of $100). There are also many benefits to opening up a 529 Career Savings Account and I had to verbalize that to parents and families.

At first, I struggled with families actually listening to what I was saying because of my age. But soon, them questioning what I was telling them turned into the complete opposite – they wanted to hear from me. I guess it’s hard to explain, but having a high schooler tell parents about financial benefits is a struggle on both ends because I would be confident in my words and helpful, but they would question my credibility. However, now many of my volunteers that go to events with me will turn to me to answer the questions families have.

IIN: How has interning helped you in your personal/professional development?

SW: Interning has helped develop me professionally in terms of proper office etiquette and professionalism (working in an office as a first job is interesting for a 16/17-year-old). Even something as simple as answering the phone with proper manners and etiquette was shown to me and has allowed me to be comfortable with talking with others. I have been a part of many different kinds of meetings at the Foundation, as I normally am the one who writes the minutes, I was shown the process of meetings and the way to run a meeting. Professionally I was shown many different kinds of office, meeting, phone, and talking etiquette that now I use almost unknowingly.

As for my personal development – my communication and organization skills have improved. I always have been a talkative, wordy person and never was afraid to talk to other adults but interning at the Foundation it has made talking to adults even easier. But a big way that it has developed me personally is feeding into my passion for what I want to do when I am older. I want to be a substance abuse and adolescent counselor, and at the Foundation it has allowed me to talk to many different families through Promise and show me that there is a need. Promise has become a huge passion of mine and it just shows me that helping people and bring them resources is what I want to do for a career.

IIN: How has winning Intern of the Year impacted you?

SW: Ever since day one I put all my effort and motivation into anything that I was given to work on, whether it was small or big. I worked hard on everything because I not only was their first high school intern, but I was working alongside college interns. I wanted to make sure I would set the bar for future high school interns and I wanted to make sure that community members would gain trust in me and would rely on me for many different things. But I always assumed that was what was expected and needed from me.

However, winning Intern of the Year it has shown me that I have strong work ethic and that the community does trust me with the work they need to be done. The award showed me that what I was doing wasn’t just the “expectation,” but it was beyond what was expected from a high school intern. I was very surprised even being nominated but even more so winning. I am thankful for the Community Foundation. Whether it’s the ladies I work with every day, board members, community leaders, or committee members, they’ve shown great respect toward me and have developed me in many ways that will benefit me in the future.

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