Wellesley College Students Embody Motto ‘Not To Be Served,
But To Serve’ Through Homeless Shelter Internship

For immediate release:
January 4, 2006
Arlie Corday

WELLESLEY, Mass. -- A homeless shelter seems an unlikely place for college students to find job experience but that’s just what Wellesley College junior Dana Stelmokas and seniors Michelle Iandoli and Elizabeth Donat did during their summer internships at Boston’s St. Francis House.

At Wellesley, internships are a typical part of a student’s education. On average, 70% of Wellesley students have undertaken an internship by the time they graduate.

“During the summer of 2005, Wellesley College supported a large and diverse number of internships and community-service projects in the United States and around the world,” said Melissa Hawkins, director of service and stipend programs in Wellesley’s Center for Work and Service. “The college funded more than 300 students to participate in 52 internship programs in 33 countries.”

Stelmokas, Iandoli and Donat found their St. Francis House internships through Wellesley College’s Lumpkin Summer Institute for Service Learning, which “allows students to acquire a deep understanding of social change in the Greater Boston area through a 10-week program that integrates traditional classroom learning with on-site community service work.” Lumpkin Institute participants are awarded a $3,000 stipend as well as reimbursement for housing and travel to fund their summer service programs.

The three Wellesley students worked through St. Francis House’s Moving Ahead Program (MAP), a 14-week program focusing on life skills and computer training, specifically designed for the homeless and ex-offenders.

“The clients prepare resumes, think about possible career options, learn basic computer skills and have internships,” said Donat, a native of Cranston, R.I. “During this time, they also meet with an image consultant, who fits them for interview clothing, arranges haircuts and works with them on their physical presentation.”

Donat, who is majoring in Italian Studies and Spanish, taught basic computer classes and assisted with job searches during the first of two summers she spent at St. Francis House. “I helped many clients work on their resumes and fitted several alumni of MAP for business suits in preparation for job interviews,” she said. “This summer, in addition to these activities, I worked with women preparing for their GED.”

Stelmokas, of Glencoe, Ill., is a psychology major and economics minor who plans a career in public health. She had been looking for an internship at a nonprofit that “would provide me with daily and frequent contact with the clients that we served.” She found that at the St. Francis House’s foot care clinic, where she says she “essentially performed foot triage for over 30 clients every morning” along with other pre-med volunteers. Since homeless people must walk wherever they travel, foot care is an essential part of support for them.

In the afternoon, Stelmokas taught computer basics, tutored clients for the GED, administered health surveys, performed admission work and assisted clients in job or housing searches. The most significant thing about her St. Francis House experience, Stelmokas said, was realizing how much the organization respects the individuals that it serves.

“At St. Francis House there are no homeless people—only St. Francis House clients; if a staff member needed us to assist a client with a task they would say ‘Dana, this gentleman needs assistance’ instead of ‘This guy needs some help,’” said Stelmokas. “Every staff member knows and understands the mission of the organization, and that’s how they're making a difference in someone’s life every day.”

Iandoli, sociology major with a concentration in human rights from Randolph, N.J., intends to go to law school. She took a different approach to her internship. Through her mentor at St. Francis House, she was also able to contact the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) Project Coordinator at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, a nonprofit statewide legal services support center. There, she learned about the criminal record system in Massachusetts and operated a telephone hotline that was available for ex-offenders to call and receive free legal advice about their criminal records. Iandoli also gave presentations to St. Francis House patrons about the CORI laws and helped them to interpret their records and understand their career options.

Iandoli said she never expected that “10 weeks would change me and my views about the homeless population. At first I thought that I would be teaching (the St. Francis House) students, but in the end I think I gained just as much insight from them as they did from me.”

Stelmokas agrees, “I didn't think that this experience would impact me so much. You go into it thinking it's just going to be another summer job—but it was so much more. You come out being touched by every client and every experience; I just feel so lucky to have worked at SFH this summer.”

Wellesley’s Lumpkin Institute also funds internships at other nonprofit organizations including the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, the Asian Community Development Corp. and the Women's Union, where low-income and battered women achieve economic self-sufficiency with employment skills training. Funds are also available through the Lumpkin Institute for students who develop their own service-oriented internships.

Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an excellent liberal-arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 68 countries. For more information, go to www.wellesley.edu.

-- By Morgan Smith, Wellesley Class of 2007


Wellesley College junior Dana Stelmokas and seniors Michelle Iandoli and Elizabeth Donat (L-R) completed an internship at a homeless shelter in Boston. They are among the 70 percent of Wellesley students who take part in internships during their college years.