by Justin Salisbury
From the Editor: In 2014 Justin Salisbury was an intern at the Jernigan Institute. The blind of the nation benefited from his work, and he benefited from the self-confidence that came from working with leaders who shared his worthy ambition of improving the lives of blind people. Here is a letter he has written to the four students who will intern at the Jernigan Institute in the summer of 2015:
April 22, 2015
To the 2015 National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute Summer Interns:
Congratulations on your selection for this wonderful opportunity! I was proud to serve as one of four summer interns in 2014, and I write to offer you just a little perspective that I gained from my experience in the hope that it will be helpful to you.
When I decided that I was going to leave my doctoral program in economics to enter the blindness field, I applied to a master’s program at Louisiana Tech University. In the summer between the two programs, I wanted the perfect transition into the blindness field. I had always thought that it would be cool to intern at the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind, but I had never identified it as a top priority. This transition was the perfect time to do it. With Mr. Riccobono’s encouragement I applied for the summer internship program at the Jernigan Institute.
We arrived on a Saturday, and Anil Lewis and Rose Sloan were there to greet us. Rose made cookies for us all to celebrate my twenty-fifth birthday, which had fallen a couple of days before our arrival. After we got settled into our rooms, at least most of the way, Anil opened himself up for questions about the movement and leadership. We worked him hard for hours. The next morning Anil took us out to breakfast and showed us the area of the city around the Center. We all went shopping for groceries, which Anil subsidized, and then we went to a cookout at the Riccobono home. Mr. Riccobono showed us how much he loved to grill, and the whole experience was great. The Maurers were there, plus John Paré and John Berggren. It was a perfectly relaxing afternoon.
As the weeks went on, we were able to meet everyone in our national headquarters and dig into many different projects. We four interns got to know each other very well and bonded with many staff members. Whether it was going to DC to see the monuments with Rose or going on a Baltimore history tour with Lorraine, we were building the Federation and building personal friendships, too. Sure, we got to do a lot of really fun work, like meet with our legislators, present to students at the University of Maryland, host a group of students from the West Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind, and decorate the bulletin board in the Betsy Zaborowski Conference Room, but what we really built were relationships within our Federation family that will continue to perpetuate those types of experiences.
I went into the internship thinking about what I could do to strengthen the Federation over the course of a summer, but I now understand that this internship was an opportunity for our leaders to strengthen me in a holistic way. Here I will share with you a mistake that I made: I looked at my job there as being like a temporary staff member who was supposed to get as much done as possible in a sprint. I remember feeling a sense of conflict between what it was to be a member and an intern. I voiced it near the end of the internship, and Anil told me that the internship wasn’t about us accomplishing certain tasks, but rather about us having an educational experience. I realized that I had been stressing out way too much. I really think of the Jernigan Institute as a home now, and going back for the Legislative Directors Seminar in January was a homecoming.
We began with a cookout and ended with a cookout. On the final Wednesday we four interns plus Dr. Maurer cooked burgers for the entire staff. Dr. Maurer led us through the process, and we had a really great time. He is also a great teacher.
We interns learned how to build each other up and also build the National Federation of the Blind. Most important, we learned that the Federation is led by love. Everyone in our national headquarters is there because we want blind people to live the lives we want, and we all want to be friends in the process, too.
I encourage you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get to know each other and the people at our national headquarters. Work hard, but don’t work so hard that you forget to have fun. Accept every offer to go out to lunch, walk down to the Inner Harbor, tour Fort Henry, and everything else. Make allies, and make professional connections; most important, make friends.
Since I don’t know who you will be yet, maybe every one of you is already a close friend of mine. Maybe I don’t know any of you at all. In either case, I hope to get to know you better and learn about how much you love being an intern.