Written by Evan Heller, Special Olympics Project UNIFY Finance Intern, Summer 2012
When I first came to D.C. to begin my internship with Special Olympics Project UNIFY, I thought this summer would be the bridge that would take me over the tumultuous waters of indecision and ground me safely on a professional track. I look back now and realize the reason I have grown so much in the past month is because I stopped thinking of this summer as a bridge; I started thinking of it as a diving board.
I decided I didn’t want to walk across the bridge and at the end have nothing more to show for it than another item on my résumé. There is a difference between making an appearance and making a difference, and I wanted to leave my mark: so I jumped. As I fell, I saw that the water—which from afar looked murky and unsafe—was actually a golden sea of opportunities. I found that there is so much this city, and especially this organization, has to offer, and all I had to do was be ready and seize every chance that came my way.
I got paired with a great mentor who constantly found ways to make sure I would leave this summer equipped with the tools I needed to succeed. He and all the other staff that I worked with were not only receptive to my ideas, but willing to help me bring them to fruition. That support spoke volumes about the trust that Special Olympics invested in my work, and I wanted to prove that their trust wasn’t wasted on me. Too many people stop at what’s expected of them; I was determined to exceed all expectations.
It wasn’t always easy—I had to work hard and at times step out of my comfort-zone. I learned that I not only had to make the necessary connections, but sometimes ask outright whether I could be involved in a project with which I was interested. I also gained a technical proficiency in several new areas. But by making these leaps, I was able to get my feet wet in many different aspects of Special Olympics, and began to develop all these opportunistic skills.
I am so grateful for the all the opportunities I had this summer. I was able to volunteer at Camp PALS, speak at the National Student Council Association conference, advocate on Capitol Hill, be a panelist on the What You Do Matters Leadership Summit student panel, attend the CRPD Senate Hearing, and observe UMass Boston’s Camp Shriver. I have been able to make so many long-lasting connections with people, as professionals and as friends, and I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.