How might we eliminate poverty in Lancaster? This aspirational question drove 14 Franklin & Marshall College students throughout their Public Service Summer Internship (PSSI) experience in July.
The PSSI program, run by F&M’s Ware Institute for Civic Engagement, places juniors and seniors at different nonprofit organizations in Lancaster County while challenging them to learn about ways to address a community issue.
Students convened each week to reflect on their professional experiences, discuss the challenging work of nonprofits, and consider how they could collaborate. They also were tasked with creating a proposal to help eliminate poverty and to present the plan to community stakeholders at the conclusion of the program.
Ann Hughes, director of the Ware Institute, said the project is an opportunity for students to think critically about the complexities of systemic issues like poverty and how they can use critical-thinking skills to analyze a situation.
“They push each other to think differently about the problems that have affected American society for generations, and then draw on each other’s strengths and knowledge to come up with their own creative solution,” Hughes said.
Across services like education, refugee resettlement, health care and conservation, the students considered how the missions of their nonprofits dealt with poverty in Lancaster County. Each week, they heard from nonprofit leaders, learned about community change and mobilization from assigned readings and documentaries, or completed service projects at locations that address poverty.
“Every week, new presentations and information shared during our cohort meetings challenged the assumptions we had about how to create solutions,” said Jacob Lichtblau ’18, a history major who interned at LancasterHistory.org. “We continued to see new layers of complexity about the different influences of poverty in Lancaster and in any community.”
Elisha Thomas ’19, a creative writing and government double major interning at the Community Action Partnership, said she blended her research on poverty with an immersive community experience.
“Working in Lancaster has been about getting to know the people—not just learning abstractly about the issues that they face,” Thomas said.
A French and history double major who interned at Lancaster Lebanon Habitat for Humanity, Fadoua Nabih ’18 experienced similar connections with families transitioning out of poverty through homeownership.
“PSSI is like nothing I have ever experienced before,” she said. “What makes PSSI so unique is its emphasis on group collaboration for the purposes of tackling the greater overarching social issue of poverty. Not only am I actively learning, but I am being given the opportunity to give back to the amazing Lancaster community.”
The student’s work culminated in a presentation titled, “Rethinking Lancaster and Poverty,” to more than 20 community partners. The students recommended improving access to jobs, food, and education. They also advocated for more green spaces that cultivate a sense of community across identities and incomes.
“How does your generation see your role in systems and policy change to solve core issues like poverty?” One community partner asked the group.
The interns said they could bring fresh perspectives to solve complex problems in a globalized and tech-centric era. They also intend to make change happen by participating in local solution-making.
The Ware Institute offers the Public Service Summer Internship program each year and often sees such transformations in its participants.
“Each one of us is a citizen of the world, and there are obligations that come with that citizenship,” Hughes said. “PSSI is definitely a great example of a high impact experience that helps deepen that sense of civic purpose and challenges all of us to want to make a difference.”