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Help in a Crisis: SU Student Interns at Vera House

In tough economic times, Vera House gets support from student interns.

Vera House, like many nonprofit organizations, is facing massive budget and funding cuts because of the economy. But there is one valuable resource that will not be cut - SU student interns.

"Having the students here is a really big help to the work that we're doing," said Randi Bregman, the Executive Director of Vera House. By her estimate, the organization has lost about 5 percent of its budget because of funding cuts and has had to implement a hiring freeze. Because of this, she said, having interns decreases the pressure on staff members who have had to take on more work.

Photo: Hallie Stiller
Vera House's office on Thompson Road. Student interns work here as well as in the organization's shelters for victims of violence.

Vera House, which provides shelter, therapy and advocacy for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their families, hires approximately 20 interns each year, Bregman said. Of those, 15 to 17 tend to be from SU.

Melissa Marrone, who will earn her master's degree in social work in May, helps with the administrative duties at Vera House's main office on Thompson Road.

 "I've always had an admiration for Vera House," said Marrone, who "I knew that this was a place where I wanted to intern and possibly get a job."

According to Dotti Barraco-Hetnar, the intern coordinator, though the majority tends to come from the social work and child and family studies majors in the College of Human Ecology, student interns come from a variety of courses and backgrounds, including those in Maxwell, Newhouse, VPA, and campus organizations.

Vera House internships are unpaid, and students generally work for credit. Some eventually get the opportunity to become paid staff members. Their work ranges from business administration and planning projects to directly answering crisis calls and working at the Vera House shelters, which provide sanctuary for those in the Syracuse area who face the threat of violence.

Hetnar said that students become particularly helpful if they work at Vera House for a full school year, because while the first semester contains a great deal of education and orientation, during the second semester students do most of their work independently. She also said that while Vera House internships are initially open to all, it takes a particular sort of student to make a good intern.

"It's not unusual for students to gravitate towards an issue like this that has touched them, but you can't really help someone until you're really grounded and mature," Hetnar  said. "You can't teach maturity."

Those who do stay, though, help Vera House a great deal, she said. They do the work that the staff doesn't have time to do, and ultimately helps the organization better serve central New York.

More on the Web:

Vera House's Official Website

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