The students who have found Berkshire County Arc through Lever’s Berkshire Interns program have a tendency to stick around–and BCArc is happy to have them.
Since BCArc began working with Berkshire Interns in 2019, 14 students have had successful summer internships there in everything from accounting to working with clinical support and residential services. BCArc is one of the Berkshires’ largest employers, which means there are a lot of opportunities to learn.
“I can find a niche for any degree,” said Sonja Haecker, BCArc’s Executive Vice President, who runs the internship program. “We’re a really robust agency, and an internship here is a great
way for folks to get hands-on nonprofit experience.”
Haecker said she tries to be flexible with her interns. “We work with a vulnerable population spread across multiple sites, so you have to be fingerprinted, and you have to have a car,” she said. “But, I also say ‘if you had a magic wand, what would your schedule look like?’ and I try to accommodate. That’s the beauty of a large agency–we have so many programs that we can do
Two former BI interns are working at BCArc full-time “in roles I’m not sure we’d have offered to someone coming right out of college had we not built that rapport with them,” Haecker said. Others have stayed on to volunteer; one student trained to become a citizen advocate for a
BCArc client who she connected with.
Others who are still in college or need a more flexible way to maintain their connection have served as relief staff, a position Haecker created for seasonal employees with a 100-hour-per-year work requirement. Some interns come to BCArc and end up changing their majors. “It makes them look at life differently,” Haecker said.
With an ongoing workforce crisis, BCArc gets a benefit, too: Interns supplement the work of full-time staff, letting people take time off in the summer and keeping programs with the proper staff ratios. They also help with transportation in community-based programs, picking people up and taking them to events like BCArc’s summer series, which partners with local businesses to offer inclusive classes and experiences.
“We can do that to a greater capacity when we have those extra hands,” Haecker said. “It also gives people freedom to interact and socialize, but it’s not contingent on their parents getting them there. It fosters a lot of opportunities and it has a ripple effect.”
BCArc supports a wide spectrum of individuals with disabilities, and Haecker said she’s also serious about supporting interns who need their own accommodations. The internship program is near and dear to her heart, and she said she wants students to have the best experience possible.
“We want to think outside the box,” she said. “It’s easy to think of BCArc in a certain way, but when people get in the door, they realize we’re so much more than that.”