Like many students who decide to spend a semester in Chicago with the Chicago Center, I am originally from and also attend college in a small rural town. The thought of moving to a big city, especially the third largest city in the United States, was both extremely intriguing and terrifying all together. I decided that if I stayed in Iowa, I would not have the same opportunities as I would if I went to Chicago. I quickly learned that I made one of the best decisions of my life. Don’t get me wrong, the transition from small town to big city was quite the anxiety-filled adventure. However, after I became familiar with the city, I completely fell in love with it. The Chicago Center staff played a huge role in helping us get acquainted with life in Chicago.
During the first couple of weeks that we were in city, we went through orientation. One of the things I was most hesitant about was navigating Chicago via public transit. Thankfully, we spent an entire day learning how to properly use the CTA buses and trains. I have actually come to love my commutes to and from work. It is a time when I can listen to music, read a good book, reflect on what happened that day, or simply clear my mind and look out the window at Lake Michigan. The Chicago Center staff also took us to some of the many neighborhoods in Chicago. We explored Pilsen, Boystown, Wrigleyville, Bronzeville, and many more. I never would have found these hidden gems on my own. We also learned about Chicago’s unique architecture, its many cultures, and where to find the best food. I will forever be craving a chicken taco from El Milagro.
My internship was at the Michael Barlow Center at St. Leonard’s Ministries in Near West Side. St. Leonard’s Ministries is an umbrella agency for adults with criminal backgrounds who have been recently released from Illinois prisons. The agency includes four housing facilities for participants who are receiving services. It also includes the Michael Barlow Center, which provides education and employment training programs. I primarily helped participants with job training and job placement services. I was able to work one-on-one with participants to prepare resumes, improve computer literacy skills, and complete job applications. I was also able to help teach the Road to Success class, which is a job readiness course that prepares participants for job interviews and professional work ethic. I feel so grateful for the opportunity to intern at the Michael Barlow Center and to have worked with all of the participants. I can honestly say I am a better person now because of them. They are some of the most inspiring and genuine people I have ever met. My passion for criminal justice and prison reform also grew tremendously throughout my time at my internship.
As far as future plans, I am moving back home to Wisconsin to take a year off before graduate school. During that year, I will be nannying for a local family, which will give me the time and flexibility to travel. My family is planning a trip to Norway this summer, so that will be my biggest adventure. I am also planning some domestic trips to Colorado, Ohio, Minnesota, and of course I will be coming back to Chicago as much as I can. After my year of travel, I plan to move back to Chicago for graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in social work and continue to concentrate on criminal justice. Although I do not know which school I will attend yet, the Jane Addams College of Social Work at UIC has sparked my interest the most. I am excited for what my future has in store for me. I cannot thank the Chicago Center enough for my experience here in the city. I am going to leave Chicago with a new confidence and a bright outlook on life. I learned more about myself than I ever thought was possible.
Reposted with permission from Chicago Center for Urban Life & Culture.