Red Cross internship offers unique perspective and community-building skills for local social work students

By Jason Copsey, American Red Cross volunteer

November 8, 2019 – When Jessi Graber, a senior in Cleveland State University’s School of Social Work was considering internship opportunities, she was surprised to see ‘American Red Cross Disaster Relief’ as an option.

“I thought it was interesting because I knew about the Red Cross blood blood drives, but I never considered the Red Cross for case work,” said Jessi. “I got excited when I learned how much the Red Cross helps families and supports the community.”Jessi

Jessi applied to become a Red Cross Disaster Relief intern through her program at CSU. The American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio partners with Cleveland State University to place students in internship programs, a requirement for graduates of its School of Social Work.

                    Jessi Graber

“The internship program is a great opportunity for students to experience a unique side of social work,” said Ben Bellucci, Disaster Program Manager, American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland.

Out of more than a dozen applicants each year, five CSU students become interns in the Red Cross Disaster Services office. Interns work at the Red Cross between 13 and 18 hours per week supporting the recovery side of the Red Cross Disaster Program. They assist individuals and families displaced by man-made or natural disasters. A number of CSU students have also taken on support of the complete cycle of disaster services, including preparedness, response and recovery.

“We start each internship by building a plan for continual development,” said Ben. “Each week students provide their own assessment of themselves, how they did for the week and how they feel they are progressing in the internship. I add input as a supervisor on their progress toward achieving goals.”

Red Cross interns work for two semesters, beginning in August and ending in May. The program is structured to establish a baseline through the first semester and develop leadership and management skills during the second. Case work often adds context to class work for Red Cross interns.

“The social work competencies can be very academic in a classroom setting,” said Jessi. “But they come to life in the internship. I get to refer back to the things I’m learning, and it is a completely different perspective.”


One of the strongest benefits of the Red Cross Disaster Relief internship is the unique pace. At the state and county levels, it is not uncommon for case workers to follow clients for a year or more. At the Red Cross, clients cycle through in 35 days, on average.

“Because it is such a fast environment, building a relationship quickly is important,” explained Ben. “Our interns become extremely detail-oriented and learn to make connections quickly. By the time they graduate, they are able to identify gaps and recovery roadblocks immediately and know how to work around them.”

For Jessi, the best part about the experience so far has been building relationships with clients and seeing a different side of the community. She spends time each day checking in with clients via phone, email or in person, ensuring their needs are being met and that progress is made.

“No two days are alike, because no two clients are alike,” said Jessi. “Being able to help families who have experienced significant trauma is why I became interested in case work in the first place.”

For more information on internships with the Red Cross, visit our website.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Cleveland State Intern, Mary Malone shares her Red Cross story

As a senior at Cleveland State University pursuing a bachelors of Social Work, I began an internship with the American Red Cross, in the Emergency Services department.

After a fire, the Red Cross assists the family in immediate and urgent needs. As a student intern I am learning how to participate in a social services agency setting by working directly with clients, other caseworkers, volunteers, and various other staff positions. I look to each person at the Red Cross as a “teacher” and someone from whom I can learn valuable lessons and techniques.

A typical day for me at the Red Cross includes following up with clients after they have experienced a disaster. The most prevalent of emergency situations that I have encountered, during my time, are single-family house fires. The caseworkers at the Red Cross and I ensure that the client’s direct needs are being met. If the Red Cross cannot provide it directly, there are countless referrals to other community organizations. I spend a lot of time on the phone talking with clients, sometimes it is a short call and sometimes the client wants to have someone to talk to and express their fears, worries, and sometimes even joys. I use my ability to communicate with others when they have just experienced a crisis, by validating their words and listening to what it is that they are saying. Other times I meet with clients when they need to come in to the Red Cross for a meeting with a caseworker. Being able to help people in such a dire time of need, knowing that I have many tools in my toolbox to assist them and let them know that they are not alone, is so rewarding.

As part of my internship, I have been able to go out and witness the scene of a disaster. I went to a house that had been burnt very badly and the emotions of clients as they were standing outside, were very raw. Having never been in a situation quite like this I was not sure how I would feel, or how I should act. I learned a lot by watching my Red Cross supervisor communicate with empathy, understanding, and patience. Even though her home was very badly damaged, the client was most concerned for her cat’s well-being. As we left various neighbors, family members and friends came to her and lavish her with hugs, and envelopes of money to help financially. Even in a situation that is inconceivably horrible, the strengths within this one client’s community gives me hope of a full recovery and resiliency.

After semesters of studying books and articles, participating in mock interventions, and writing papers in preparation for my future as a Social Work practitioner, my work with the Red Cross has reaffirmed my passion for social work.