By Emily ReersOn the first day of my first internship within the non-profit sector, I knew that this was where I belonged. Throughout high school, I actively participated in a variety of community service projects and absolutely loved it. When I toured Providence College, during the spring of my junior year, and heard about their Public and Community Service Studies major I realized that my passion for service could one day translate into a career. Providence College instantly became my number one school. Thankfully I got in and immediately declared Public and Community Service Studies as my major.
The summer after my freshman year, I got my first official taste of working in the non-profit world as an intern for the Volunteer Center of Bergen County. I learned a great deal about the non-profit sector over the course of this summer. First off, I learned about how a non-profit is run. The Volunteer Center’s mission is to “strengthen the community by connecting people through service and developing civic leaders.” Accomplishing this mission was their main goal and the motivation behind all of their actions. The organization was also run very democratically. While everyone had their positions and there was a hierarchy, like most companies, everyone helped each another out, bounced ideas off one another, and worked as a unit to accomplish their mission. It was not a cut throat environment where people were backstabbing their colleagues to get to the top, but a friendly, supportive, and enthusiastic environment. The employees’ passion also got me hooked on the non-profit world. Their passion for this mission was clear in their conversations with community members, during events and fundraisers, and in all their day to day actions. Every day that I worked at the Volunteer Center, I left the office knowing that the work that I had done that day was meaningful and that felt great. In addition, during this internship I was able to meet so many people from a variety of non-profits in the area. I was constantly inspired by the people I was meeting. Their desire to bring about positive change in the world was a breath of fresh air in our often materialistic, selfish world.
The next three years, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what population I wanted to work with once I graduated from school. I knew that I wanted to work at a non-profit but I did not know what type of non-profit I wanted to work for. During my time at Providence, I volunteered at an elementary school, a high school, an orphanage, and a soup kitchen/food pantry. While I learned so much and thoroughly enjoyed all of these experiences, I knew that I had yet to find my area of interest. That was until the second semester of my senior year. I decided to participate in a spring break school trip to Nicaragua to study Global Coffee Culture. Through the trip, and a course that our group took on this topic, I found my niche. When I learned about the injustices that occur in the coffee industry and how unfair coffee farmers are treated I was outraged. I was constantly researching the topic and every time I learned more about it my desire to fight against these injustices grew.
Following graduation, I started applying to jobs in the fair trade industry and in August I got a job at Equal Exchange, an authentic fair trade company whose mission is to “build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate, through our success, the contribution of and to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world.” I was hired as a temporary employee and have recently been hired full time as their Fundraising Program Coordinator. Another great aspect of Equal Exchange is that it is a worker-owned coop, which means that the company is democratically run, with each employee having an equal stake and vote in the company.
I was able to find an organization that had everything I have been looking for since that summer of my freshman year. The work environment is supportive, democratic, ambitious, and inspired. The employees are devoted to accomplishing their mission and fervent about promoting authentic fair trade. And I leave work every day knowing that my work is meaningful, that I am that I am working for company whose mission I passionate about, and that I am playing a small part in trying to end unjust practices against small farmers all over the world.