How do I know if I’m succeeding at this internship “thing”?
By Aaron Bode ’17
Because I’ve been performing a multitude of tasks for JIFFI this summer, it can often be difficult to determine how “successful” I am in my work. Does giving more loans mean I’m doing well? Should internal reorganization or external expansion contribute more to achievement? What about completing goals such as updating the blog often? (I will now put on the cone of shame.) I could probably address “success” with philosophical or economic analysis, but I think I’ll save that for listening to sermons and reading the New York Times on Sunday mornings. Instead, I’d rather approach the subject from what is central to our organization: the perspective of our clients.
Two weeks ago, I started my part-time internship with St. Joseph County Bridges out of Poverty, and have been performing a variety of tasks for their wonderful organization. The Executive Director for Bridges is Bonnie Bazata, an incredible woman who has been a guide for JIFFI over the past few years. At the close of my first week on the job, Bonnie and I sat and talked for an hour about the overwhelming complexity of poverty. We discussed the “advantages” that those in poverty often lack — reliable transportation, solid health care, an intact family, access to good public education, safe neighborhoods, strong (if any) credit, etc. — and what that means for someone coming to JIFFI or Bridges. The individuals we meet from this scarce world survive by developing a network where connections between people and resources help them navigate terribly-tangled problems.
Because our clients come to us from this relationship-first world, examining and responding to a segment of their lives without a “bigger picture” is impossible. In other words, our clients may come to us seeking a loan for X, but Y and Z (and every other variable) are always lurking in the background. By addressing high utilities, for example, we might uncover other debt payments a client is unable to make, and in trying to maximize this client’s income, we might find that they couldn’t maintain employment because of a bad knee and a beat-up 1989 Ford.
Complicated scenarios such as these have challenged my judgment this June because success (for both client and JIFFI) becomes so arbitrary. Should this hypothetical situation disqualify someone from a JIFFI loan? It’s a question I’ve asked myself dozens of times. I know we may be just another resource in a client’s network. I know our loans will add repayments to a client’s monthly expenses. I know fixing a single problem will lead to others.
Is it impossible for us to succeed, or to measure success, when addressing a problem breeds ten more?
After extended reflection, this is what I’ve come to realize:
Our loans cannot wholly alleviate the stress of a situation, but they can be an important first step. For our clients, it’s important to have a glimpse at what their future can hold, and a JIFFI loan gives them that opportunity — a moment to breathe and look beyond the immediate worries of the world. In the same way, making progress with JIFFI gives me the opportunity to glimpse our future possibilities. Yes, taking a step forward on a project or idea means encountering dozens of new difficulties, but as I ask myself “What’s next?” I can recognize that we are closer than ever to giving more loans and impacting more lives. Rather than aiming for absolute or ultimate success (which has led to alternating optimism and discouragement regarding my efforts), I can focus on the process of improvement as what I expect to accomplish.
I’ve already been able to experience quite a bit as intern (see the highlights below), but I hope my changing idea of success within JIFFI can make an even larger difference as I move into the middle portion of the internship. I would like to approach more of my independent projects from the viewpoint of clients, and use this perspective to better communicate JIFFI’s message, process, and role to the Michiana community. I hope to improve JIFFI’s internal work flow so a) divisions can access pertinent information easily, b) associates can feel engaged from their first day onward, and c) clients can have an overall smooth experience, where expectations are clear and each step of their time working with us is meaningful. Finally, I want to further open JIFFI to our supporting community; by sharing our stories, capabilities, and triumphs, I believe we can offer greater access and a deeper connection to our mission.
With these goals for success in place, here are the highlights of what I’ve been up to so far:
- Launching our JIFFI Instagram account – give us a follow at @jiffiorg, or check out our pictures on Facebook or Twitter.
- Turning our room at the South Bend Heritage Foundation into a working office. Goodbye disassembled furniture and tape residue, hello desk and this JIFFI sign:
- Improving our phone account. Among other changes, we now have a nifty voicemail set up: First-time caller? You get our entire spiel before you leave your message. Current client or potential client? You hear the abridged version with a more pertinent response.
- Reforming our process book. This is the file we use when meeting with clients, and we’re slimming it down to make our process easier to understand for clients and to promote efficient information sharing within JIFFI.
- Meeting clients and MAKING LOANS! I met with over fifteen individuals over this time period, and we are now up to loan 18 (a huge testament to the enthusiasm and quality of our clients).
One last note: For a future blog post, I’d love to do a “mailbag,” where I answer questions about JIFFI, my experiences, or the diversity of my links from anyone who has perused our blog. (Yes, I realize this is not a novel idea. It’ll still be fun.) Feel free to email me questions at email@example.com.