Not every internship is connected to a large organization. Valuable and impactful opportunities often appear in smaller, unexpected places. That was the case for Grace Boehm.
Boehm’s first experience with the nonprofit sector came at just 9 years old. She was on a mission trip to an orphanage in Kentucky that helped children from around the world who had physical and mental health challenges.
“Ever since then, I’ve just had a heart for service,” she says. “That trip showed me how nonprofit work could really impact people and change their lives.”
Her desire to serve is what brought her to O’Neill, even if she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she first began.
“I always knew I wanted to be in the nonprofit sector,” she says. “I just didn’t know how to put a name to what I wanted to do exactly.”
Over time and through her courses, Boehm narrowed down her focus and switched from Civic Leadership to Management.
Just a few months away from graduating, Boehm was looking for an internship for the fall 2022 semester. A conversation with a friend helped her find her way. As it turned out, her friend’s uncle—Chad Temple—needed help at his new nonprofit, Indy Network.
Boehm and Temple knew each other from church. Temple was the outreach minister there before he started the nonprofit.
“Indy Network bridges the gap between need and service,” Boehm explains. “They see a group with a need, they see an organization that can fill the need, and they bring the two together.”
The group partners with community organizations and local churches to offer different types of services, including after-school programming in an Indianapolis neighborhood. That’s where Boehm would find her internship.
“Chad told me he needed someone to build the program from the ground up,” she explains. “I hadn’t done anything like that before. But if there’s a need and I can help, why not do it?”
Though she admits she was overwhelmed at first, she was confident she could create a program to meet the neighborhood’s needs.
“My O’Neill classes had taught me how to create programming from scratch and how to implement different aspects of leadership,” she says. “I combined that with my own past experiences. So, I created the program. I ran it. I found all the volunteers. I scheduled everything.”
The two-day-a-week program was originally designed to provide homework help for 3rd through 6th graders. But once the kids started arriving, Boehm saw the program needed to shift.
“We had kids as young as kindergarten all the way up through 8th grade,” she says. “That was our first change—we needed to include everyone. Plus, when we first started, the kids said they didn’t have any homework, so we modified the program again to include more activities.”
But as the handful of volunteers began to earn the kids’ trust during the next several weeks, another change happened.
“All of a sudden, the homework started rolling in,” Boehm laughs. “Turns out, they had homework all along and just hadn’t been comfortable enough to share that with us.”
That meant another program pivot for Boehm. She created a balance of homework help and activities that would provide something for each of the 25 kids in the program.
Every change and learning experience helped her grow right along with the kids her team was supporting.
“Parents told us about the educational milestones their kids were reaching during our program,” she says proudly. “One mother said, ‘I’m so grateful for you guys because my kids’ grades have never been as good as they are right now.’ That helped us know we really were making a difference.”
That’s the critical takeaway Boehm wants other students to understand as they pursue internship opportunities. Whether you’re in a big or small organization, the impact you have is what matters most.
“If you have the right goal and the right team supporting you, then your goal is achievable—even if it takes longer than it might at a large organization,” she says. “You can do hard things and you can make a difference, even if you’re a small organization.”