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 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.
“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