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Johns Hopkins Undergrads Intern with Nonprofits in Need

July 16, 2013
Office: 443-287-9960
Cell: 443-547-8805

Vissagan Gopalakrishnan teaches singing at Baltimore’s 901 Arts center.

Frances Loeb thought she knew Baltimore better than most of her Johns Hopkins University classmates, having learned about neighborhoods as she ran collegiate cross-country through them, logging miles past Waverly, Lake Montebello, Druid Hill Park. But after eight weeks working with recovering addicts and the once homeless at Martha’s Place, Loeb knows the city in an entirely new way.

The sophomore psychology major spent her days at the West Baltimore recovery center as one of 50 undergraduates interning this summer for city community groups.

The Johns Hopkins’ Community Impact Internships Program, run out of the Center for Social Concern, was born after an anonymous donor gave $1.25 million so the university could develop a way to get students off campus to experience Baltimore. For the eight-week program, now in its third year, students fan out to dozens of agencies across the city, doing everything from crafting public service messages for Equality Maryland to translating for immigrants at the Esperanza Center to distributing safety kits with the needle exchange van.

The donor just gave the university another $1 million to extend the program four more years. Author Wes Moore, a 2001 Johns Hopkins graduate, donated $25,000. The program ends July 26.

This year more than 140 undergraduates applied for 50 spots. As part of the application, students are asked to write an essay on a Baltimore issue that they are passionate about. Students wrote about everything from food deserts where groceries are hard to come by to untreated HIV to the troubled juvenile justice system.

“Students say this has changed their path and changed their life,” said Abby Neyenhouse, the center’s assistant director for community and nonprofit internships. “They’re exposed to things they can’t just learn in the classroom.”

The interns convene for weekly reflection sessions throughout the summer to discuss their experiences.

Loeb, for example, has helped one woman apply for financial assistance to cover a hospital bill. Another woman was looking for a job and Loeb worked with her to polish a resume, practice for an interview and put together a professional outfit.

“I love the idea of spending a summer helping the people who need help the most,” Loeb said. “After doing this internship I’ve learned so much more about Baltimore.”

Sophomore Frances Loeb (back, center) interns at Martha’s Place in West Baltimore.

Pre-med major Vissagan Gopalakrishnan is spending the summer teaching kids who live in the city’s Waverly neighborhood how to sing and perform at the 901 Arts youth center. One day recently the kids stood in a circle around him, trying to sound like sirens for a vocal warm-up.

Gopalakrishnan, a rising senior, said if not for the internship, he might have spent his entire time at Johns Hopkins in the cocooned comfort zone of campus.

“This has opened my eyes to how beautiful this city is,” he said. “Baltimore has a unique character and an elegant history that, unfortunately, I’m only realizing now.”

The director of 901 Arts, Sarah Tooley, said Gopalakrishnan’s genuine, heartfelt approach connected with the kids. He not only helped the program reach more children, she said, he redesigned the center’s website.

“I’m not sure what we would have done without him,” Tooley said.

For more information about the Johns Hopkins’ Community Impact Internships Program, contact Jill Rosen at 443-287-9960 (office), 443-547-8805 (cell) or jrosen@jhu.edu.



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