Student Profile: Helen Reinbrecht

Helen Reinbrecht interned at CASA Berks for her required 120-hour internship. 

As a student working towards a Bachelor’s in English I was required to complete a 120 hour internship. I worked for CASA Berks as a communications and social media intern. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates and is a national nonprofit that trains volunteers to advocate for children in the foster care system. After starting my internship, I quickly learned that as much as my classes at Millersville University taught me how to write and how to research topics to write about, writing as a profession or as an organization demands more in-depth involvement than any of my classes asked of me.

In order to succeed in my internship, I used my skills as a writer and a researcher. I learned about grants, marketing, fundraising, and the general organization of a nonprofit. I also had to make an effort to learn about services and fields not related to English. I needed to write about children in the foster system and involved with the legal system and the issues these children and families face. I needed to write about these situations so that my readers and social media followers would be able to understand the problems facing these people, what they could do to help, and how CASA Berks was already helping.

To start, I researched statistics on the foster care system. I went to court to learn about dependency hearings, which are proceedings that decide whether children will go into foster care system or, if the children are already in foster care, be returned to their parents. I learned that most parents present at a dependency hearing are not “bad parents” but just about all of them were dealing with mental health and/or a substance abuse problem. So, I researched substance abuse in Pennsylvania to learn more about what is being done and how substance abuse affects children, their parents, and their grandparents.

This is just one example of how my research and knowledge on the subject developed past the original broad issue of foster care. Funding for children and children’s programs is another example of a knowledge rabbit hole or the social issues that can arise after children age out of foster care and what impact that has on the community. In short, no subject is an iceberg. In my experience, having an English degree means continually learning about new subjects and critically thinking about the issues that stem from the original topic. By being open to learning about new subjects, I was more successful at writing and communicating the needs of those I was writing about. With an understanding of who and what I was writing about I could make my points stronger and write more confidently about what needs to be done. Also, on a more superficial note, learning about these new subjects made the job more fun. It would have been easier to simply add in the statistics provided to me, but taking the time to actually go out and learn about a subject and talk to people or observe people who have a vested interest in what I was writing about added depth to the topic.

On another note, much of my internship revolved around posting on social media. This means that I needed to find pictures or videos to post, especially for Instagram. As CASA Berks is a relatively new nonprofit there were not a lot of pictures and even fewer videos for me to use. I had to find other sources of media. I mainly used the National CASA Association’s pictures and videos, but I also used the website called Creative Commons, which I heard about in an Education class. This website allows users to search for pictures and videos that are free from copyright and. therefore, most people are able to use them freely. As an English major I learned more about written plagiarism instead of copyright laws, but in a professional position I had to make sure that all of my posts and work follow the laws.

Another subject that I did not think of much in my English classes but made an appearance in my internship is statistics. While misrepresenting statistics usually has less dire causes than misrepresenting who owns a picture or who wrote a quote, to be a legitimate source of information I have found that it is good to understand at least a little bit of statistics to understand potential biases and how statistics can be misleading. Alternatively, and I was not at a level to do this, some marketing campaigns may use the statistics that best represent the product instead of the statistics that are the most clear.

This is part of why I think English and writing is so interesting as a field to be in. When one is writing there is almost always a bias. The writer is trying to convey an idea as they see it. There are some exceptions, journalism being the most commonly perceived bias-free writing, but even in journalism one can find bias in the word choices used or the pictures that go with the article. I am not the only intern to work for a CASA organization. There are interns all over the country who have the same goals and who are working with the same groups of people that I did.  We all learned, in a general sense, the same type of information, but we all made different decisions of what to post or what to include in a newsletter based on our biases of what we think is important and what we think our audience will find important.

By taking a job that requires you to write, you have an obligation to continue learning about all matter of subjects, but you can also have the freedom to express your opinions on these subjects and educate other people. As a source of information, whether the medium is a novel, an advertisement, a news article, a blog, or a social media post, you can influence people. I did not truly realize this until I was in a situation where I did feel that I could make a difference in children’s lives. You have a power, use it wisely!

Helen Reinbrecht