What’s it like to have an in-person internship on Governors Island this summer?

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Every year, the Friends of Governors Island welcomes a cohort of high-school and college age interns to join our Visitor Experience team. Despite the challenges facing NYC youth this summer—quarantine, adjusting to remote learning, and even forgoing graduation ceremonies—the Friends was grateful to continue our internship program in person this year. The program was made possible under these challenging circumstances thanks to a partnership with Futures and Options, a nonprofit organization that partners with New York’s business community to provide career opportunities for underserved youth, and businesses with a trained, educated, and diverse workforce, which connected Governors Island to most of the interns on the team. In fact, Governors Island was the only host site through which Futures and Options was able to offer in-person internships this summer. Oummoul, a rising senior at Frederick Douglass Academy in the Bronx and Futures and Options participant, spoke to the value of an in-person experience, “My experience this summer on Governors Island was truly amazing. I never thought I would have a great summer this year due to COVID-19, but this internship changed that.”

From July through mid-August, six interns worked alongside the Governors Island Visitor Experience team, gaining first-hand experience with visitors as greeters, data collectors, and through assisting with retail operations at Soissons Welcome Center. For many, being a Friends of Governors Island intern was their first job. Asher, a student at Friends Seminary, appreciated getting to interact with people looking to find escape on the Island. “During my internship at The Friends of Governors Island, I not only had the pleasure of working away from a busy and sometimes hectic New York City, but I also got to help visitors who wanted the same.”

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In the photo above, Governors Island intern, Fidel, provides information to a visitor at the ferry terminal

“During my internship at The Friends of Governors Island, I not only had the pleasure of working away from a busy and sometimes hectic New York City, but I also got to help visitors who wanted the same."

Asher, Governors Island intern

As part of training to provide excellent visitor services, interns also experienced Governors Island like a visitor! Some activities included getting a free bike rental before noon on weekdays from Blazing Saddles, and visiting the Lavender Field and Soil Start Farm at Earth Matter. Interns also sampled several food vendors and trekked to The Hills. Jake, an incoming freshman at RIT, said, “I recommend getting an ice cream sandwich from Melt. And the views from Outlook Hill are amazing!”

This summer’s interns also felt first-hand the calming benefits of being outdoors, on an island in the harbor and were happy to share their love for green spaces with visitors. Aroa, a rising freshman at SUNY Oswego, found respite while working on the Island before her move to a new school: “[Governors Island] is a getaway from New York City. Really relaxing.”

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The interns visit the Lavender Field with Earth Matter

"As a small nonprofit with limited staff resources, we rely on the interns to be our frontline in welcoming and orienting visitors to the Island. Thanks to this year's amazing crop of bright young students, we've been able to better serve the public at a time when people need access to quality outdoor space more than ever before."

Merritt Birnbaum, Friends Executive Director

In addition to meeting a weekly requirement of 25 hours per week of in-the-field visitor service experience, interns attended career development workshops focusing on resume building and financial literacy. They also had opportunities to connect with professionals from The Friends of Governors Island staff and board on topics like education, work experience, and career advice. For example, the Friends Board Chair, EB Kelly, shared her career trajectory from her time as a student to her current role managing Rockefeller Center.

Over the course of six weeks, interns provided nearly 1,000 hours of direct service and helped thousands of visitors. While gaining work experience is a goal for our interns, building meaningful connections with individuals on the Island and in the city they call home is also important to them during these uncertain times. Fidel, a student at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, says “Not only did I get to learn more about myself as a person, but I also got to meet great people along the way that I can rely on if I ever need help.” For the Friends, the feeling is mutual. Friends Executive Director, Merritt Birnbaum explained: “As a small nonprofit with limited staff resources, we rely on the interns to be our front-line in welcoming and orienting visitors to the Island. Thanks to this year’s amazing crop of bright young students, we’ve been able to better serve the public at a time when people need access to quality outdoor space more than ever before.”

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Thank you to our Friends of Governors Island Internship class of 2020! L-R: Jake, Fidel, Leilani, Aroa, Oummoul, and Asher.