By Hannah Riney, Social Work Student Intern
I began an internship with Wildwood Programs back in September 2019, for my first year as a graduate social work student with the University at Albany. The plan was to intern twice a week until May 2020. In March, things changed due to the pandemic, and after my spring break, I learned my classes would be remote for the remainder of the semester and I was to complete as many internship hours as possible online.
I was fortunate to have a fairly easy transition to an online format for my internship responsibilities with Wildwood. Luckily, I had the opportunity to stay connected with the individuals to whom I provide direct support. Rather than abruptly ending services, we were able to continue working together via Google Meet and over the phone. My supervisor, Michelle Singh, and I felt that it was important to continue supporting folks as we navigated the new and uncertain pandemic environment.
As many are aware, isolation and other conditions imposed by the pandemic created new or additional mental health challenges for people from all walks of life. Restrictions on leaving the home and staying connected through work, social opportunities, programming, etc. have had a major impact on everyone. This realization made it clear that it could be beneficial for me to stay on for the summer as a part-time employee to ensure some sense of continuity for the people I work with.
One of the main projects I focused on during my internship was organizing the Social and Leisure Opportunities Fair, which connects Wildwood with other organizations in the area that offer recreational opportunities for people with disabilities. The fair takes place every other year and the goal of this event is to connect local organizations with Wildwood and the individuals the agency serves. Although the event had to be cancelled, my summer employment allowed me to work with our Communications Team to launch a web page with information from some of the organizations, which continued to amplify community partnerships with our agency. This virtual fair option was important for everyone to feel connected to their community and have access to information regarding recreational programming.
One of the benefits of being a student intern is the flexibility within the role and many opportunities to learn about not only a population but also an agency. My time as an intern and then as a temporary part-time employee taught me about the strength of an organization like Wildwood. Before the Coronavirus hit and made a huge impact on our lives, Wildwood proved to be creative and supportive to the individuals we serve. This was even more apparent when we were forced to enter a restrictive quarantine environment. Together we found ways to reach out to families and individuals and create new online opportunities. Although these do not replace the value of in-person options, it was important to fulfill the need for connection in a safe and accessible manner during these uncertain times. I am grateful for being placed at Wildwood for my first-year internship and am proud of the work I was able to continue throughout the summer.