Networking: Our Hidden Treasure
July 24, 2014

Post by Darryl Birkenfeld, Ogallala Commons Executive Director

To me, life is a journey of making connections.  I see connections in OC’s Intern & Apprentice Program when the online applications start coming in.  “Wow,” I think to myself as I read over their resumes, “these are some amazing people!”  Next, I start visualizing possibilities for fruitful exchanges: how this intern needs to meet that intern, and so on.  I tell the other OC staffers about it.  I even tell my wife (someone has to share in my excitement)!

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OC Interns networking at the Maverick Club Garden (l-r) Mercedez Hernandez, Mayra Maldonado, Jessica Rios, and Teresa Rosas

At OC’s Orientation Retreat, I look for opportunities at meals or between sessions to introduce people to each other.  “She is studying something that you are interested in,” I tell a high school junior as she shakes the hand of a college gal.  Their greeting is a little awkward, but I think I see some interest in their faces.  The next morning, I am relieved when I notice them talking together during breakfast.

Everyone needs and benefits from networking, especially when you are starting on a career path.  OC’s interns and apprentices certainly gain work experience and skill development.  But the deeper treasure of our program is the chance to relate with people who possess knowledge, ideas, passions, and experience that interns also share, or are interested in.  Maybe we don’t even know that we are interested in some things, until we run into the person who opens a new world to us: through their job, their volunteer work, or some life experience or story that they share with us.  After the encounter, we are connected to something that we knew or didn’t know we needed, and the world is never the same again, because it is bigger…and hopefully more alive.

Two weeks ago, I arranged with 3 Community Interns from Plainview and Hart, to make a trip to Amarillo, TX.  The three met fellow intern Mercedez Hernandez (a junior at West Texas A&M University) at her internship site: the Maverick Boys & Girls Club.  My part was to get the four to introduced to each other.  As usual, not much seemed to be happening until I asked them to sit down and talk, while I went to do other things.  When I came back 20 minutes later, I could see they were listening intently to each other and recognizing how they were connected.  In that short time, they had been sharing their experiences with healthcare career options, growing up as Mexican-Americans, going to college, and how to find opportunities for further development.

I once heard a description that heaven would be like a great cocktail party.  Upon entering the pearly gates, St. Peter would hand you a refreshment and say, “Welcome…we’ve been waiting for you!  Now, follow me.  I want to introduce you to some people.  Here is St. Teresa of Avila.  Over there is Martin Luther King.  Across the room, that is Mahatma Gandhi.  Please make your way around.  There are a lot of people who want to meet you!”  I cherish this vision.  It means that networking goes on forever, even in the next life.