An Incredible Opportunity: Reflection by Erin Turcic, Loaves & Fishes Intern
Ever wonder what our organization is like when viewed from the inside? Loaves & Fishes was privileged to host Erin Turcic as an intern for four months. Erin is a senior at North Central College majoring in Human Resource Management. She offered her thoughts about Loaves & Fishes in this reflection.
Loaves & Fishes is the most life-changing organization I have ever encountered. From August through November 2018, I had the wonderful experience of joining the volunteer management department as the Non-Profit Management intern. I worked directly under the supervision of Hilary Nelson, Manager of Volunteer Services, as well as Shelly Schmitz, Director of Corporate and Volunteer Engagement. I owe much credit to the L&F community for helping me gain experience in networking, special events, volunteer management, and for exposing me to the reality of food insecurity in DuPage county.
I became an intern at Loaves & Fishes by virtue of networking. In college, learning to network is emphasized as a necessary skill when forging one’s career path. Because of my summer internship at Naper Settlement, I had the opportunity to meet a volunteer group from Loaves & Fishes. Meeting Hilary and her team during Naper Nights was a positive result of good networking choices. I was in the right place, at the right time, to make new connections. I felt optimistic when she encouraged me to apply for an internship at Loaves & Fishes. One good opportunity led to another!
When I began my internship at Loaves & Fishes, I continued to learn the value of networking. It is important to me to share how friendly, considerate, and encouraging all the staff, leaders, and volunteers were to me. They welcomed me as a valued team member from day one. Michelle in Marketing always greeted me with a cheerful smile and genuine kindness. Andrea and Nancy, leaders in Distribution, were happy to share their positive energy with me. Don “Prank Sinatra” from Parking has the best sense of humor! Often during lunch, I enjoyed fun, light-hearted conversation with the staff team. I can name several more individuals in this community who were meaningful in my training. Building these relationships has meant a lot to me and has given me greater confidence in my abilities to network.
The relationships at Loaves & Fishes are built on Community, Compassion, Dignity, Hope and Service—the core mission values. I saw these values in action across all departments, most notably in CARES. Serving in this department requires a great deal of patience, humility, compassion, honesty, and strength of character. It was a humbling experience to listen to Barb and the client she was with the day I shadowed in CARES. I felt right at home with this group, enough to inquire about their internship program. The networking came full circle, and I am thrilled to say I look forward to working with the CARES team again in the Summer. I can continue building and maintaining the rewarding connections I have at Loaves & Fishes.
One of my favorite things about Loaves & Fishes is the special ways it recognizes volunteers. L&F is comprised of more than 1,500 dedicated volunteers, many of whom have been serving for several years. The countless hours they donate are never taken for granted. It meant the world to me to discover how Loaves & Fishes goes above and beyond to thank its volunteer workforce, honoring them through events such as the Volunteer Picnic and the Celebration of Compassion.
Early in my internship, Hilary and Shelly invited me to participate in the Volunteer Picnic. I had a blast helping them honor the INCREDIBLE volunteers at Loaves & Fishes. About 200 SUPERHEROES showed up to the summer picnic at the Riverwalk. It was a FANTASTIC day of fun, prizes, awards, and socializing. The theme was a BIG hit with the volunteers! Each year, Hilary and Shelly choose a fun theme. If you haven’t guessed already, the theme for 2018 was superheroes.
In contrast to the picnic, the Celebration of Compassion is Loaves & Fishes’ annual autumn appreciation event. This event was held at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, hosting 300 of L&F’s most committed volunteers. My job as the intern was to greet the guests as they arrived. When the evening began, I enjoyed dinner by candlelight with the Wednesday Distribution crew. The allure of the night—the awards ceremony—began in the final hour. The awards were issued to select volunteers, distinguished for their commitment to the organization and it’s core values. The recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Phyllis and Bill Dixon received a standing ovation. The Celebration of Compassion was a beautiful, successful event.
From daily interactions to large-scale parties, it was evident to me how much Loaves & Fishes appreciates its volunteers. As a Human Resource Management major, it matters to me when sincere recognition is given to workers. Recognition matters on principle, but also from a business standpoint. By publicly recognizing individuals who contribute to the organization’s success, workforce retention rates improve.
Since I was the Non-Profit Management intern, a prominent part of my training involved shadowing Hilary’s role in volunteer management. For my professional development, I was trusted to learn the specifics of her job. These tasks mainly consisted of data entry using Better Impact, Excel, Constant Contact and (the newsletter software). I learned to approve volunteer hours, update the volunteer newsletter, record orientation data, track orientation retention rates, archive volunteer accounts, and send email blasts to volunteers and applicants. Having plenty of practice using these software systems gave me a valuable framework for navigating other systems in the future.
My favorite assignment was leading a tour for Orientation. The tour consisted of walking the applicants through the L&F warehouse, explaining about the different areas and entry-level positions they can volunteer in. I felt proud for leading a successful tour. I valued my responsibility to educate the public, as well as being challenged to learn pages of information I didn’t know by heart. The assignment was also valuable because it helped ingrain key facts about Loaves & Fishes.
Another big piece of Hilary’s job is to understand job descriptions, which I received hands-on experience for by shadowing the different volunteer departments. Shadowing was an important part of my education because it helped me acquire the skill of learning job descriptions. The more exposure I receive of jobs in different departments, the easier it is for me to form an understanding of varied positions at future organizations. I had the opportunity to shadow in entry level positions, including: Distribution, Parking, Sorting and Receiving, as well as advanced positions that include: Greeting, Reception, Mobile Distribution, and CARES. I also observed corporate and special needs groups who have special volunteer activities. Whether working behind the scenes or in the market, each volunteer position has unique responsibilities that are essential to offering clients the best shopping experience.
I am grateful that Hilary was my supervisor, not only because she ensured the quality of my internship, but because she was a caring mentor. Having never entered a career before, I felt better when I learned that adjusting to a professional position takes time. Her answers to my questions were insightful and helped me create realistic plans for graduation. I was happy to work as an intern for Hilary and Shelly because they were inclusive, appreciative, and respectful.
The experience I gained as an intern at Loaves & Fishes was the best. Meeting the amazing staff and volunteers, attending the volunteer parties, and learning new skills in volunteer management have helped me on my journey as an aspiring professional. I eagerly anticipate graduation, when I can return to this outstanding community!