Looking back at a summer full of learning

When I began this internship I knew I’d be contributing to my community mainly by helping to improve our farmer’s market. I went into this summer hoping to grow and develop “important skills.” The tough part for me has been determining exactly what those skills involve. Ogallala Commons helped me to break down exactly what I needed to improve by making the goal-setting concrete. A few months ago, I wrote about the three goals I had for myself this summer. The question of course, is how I reached these goals.

To begin with, I completed our annual farmers’ market cooking demonstration to improve on my public speaking communication. I thought my biggest fear would be talking in front of people, but within the first few minutes of speaking about the recipe I was demonstrating I felt more relaxed. That said, my new goal is to present for groups of people without a task to demonstrate because I realized that I was able to focus on what I was showing rather than the audience which gave me a false sense of security; I want to be able to speak about something while effectively engaging the audience through eye contact and gesture.

The cooking demonstration took much more planning than I ever expected, but it helped me develop those planning skills and folks at the market really enjoyed the presentation.

I worked on my leadership goal of planning a trip for the internship team to visit a sponsor by reaching out to them in person and through email to schedule a time to help them with a project. I discovered, however, that I needed to allow more time for this correspondence because of how busy their schedule has been. I’ve learned a valuable lesson through this project: as a leader, I need to consider the timeline of those I’m working with not just the time it would take me to make plans. In future, I want to keep working on this goal to successfully lead a team trip, but I’m going to plan farther ahead and start correspondence sooner. My networking goal was met by going back over my LinkIn profile and updating it to reflect the experience and schooling I’ve had. I also began increasing my network by adding the professionals I’ve worked with this summer. Follow up is something I haven’t done in the past, but this summer I pushed myself to follow up with the director of the Colorado Springs Food Rescue via email and pictures of the project he helped us start. I haven’t completed this goal yet because I’m still working closely with the other professionals I’ve met this summer, but I’m planning to follow up with them soon after completing my last farmers’ market. Overall, the experience of working with vendors, the market team, and professionals in the community has enhanced my networking skills through improved confidence meeting new people.

It’s amazing to look back at the goals I created early on and how they helped me grow. As I worked on my core projects I grew through those experiences as well in ways I didn’t always expect. Working to establish a food rescue at our farmers’ market has been a highly fulfilling experience because I can clearly see how it positively impacted an entire community. Where there was little access to fresh, local foods in south Teller County people now have an established distribution point where they can receive donated food items from our market each week. For me, the food rescue project was a big success. The most challenging aspect has been collaborating with the market team and community partners to keep the program going now that I’m heading back to college. I’ve learned it’s much harder to convey the directions for a smooth process in a way that helps volunteers feel confident they can do it compared to overseeing all of it in person. This next week will involve working out all the details for everyone who will carry the food rescue forward without me.

We’ve been fortunate to receive many generous food donations from our vendors which have helped the southern Teller County community. I could not have undertaken this community without our amazing market team’s assistance.

Another big part of my internship has been understanding and promoting the food assistance programs we have at our market. I did a lot of research to learn how food stamps, or SNAP as it’s called, interfaces with our market in terms of the items that it covers, the people who can qualify for it, and how we transfer SNAP benefits into market SNAP coupons. That led me into learning about the Double Up program which works with SNAP to give customers free fresh produce when they shop at our market. Armed with more knowledge of both programs, I reached out to the community in a variety of ways to help raise awareness for people who could benefit. The coolest part of this project was writing an article for the Courier, a newspaper that reaches the entire county. I used my article to explain the market’s food assistance in a step by step format that showed people how to use the programs. It was a neat experience to have many people I knew in the community tell me they read the article because it suggested that it was reaching a large audience who could potentially benefit. There were some pitfalls with this program too. I struggled to find the right demographics to give promoting materials to because some parts of the community in need faced other barriers I couldn’t solve such as transportation. The data tracking I’ve done shows that we haven’t seen an increase beyond usual in the number of new people using the programs. It’s somewhat disappointing, but I’ve learned from the experience in terms of understanding how food assistance programs work and what is involved in effectively promoting them. The biggest lesson from this core project was recognizing just how much need exists in our community and that it comes from all walks of life. It’s given me a desire to keep working on these issues even as I go beyond this internship.

Here I’m helping a customer use our EBT machine to transfer SNAP funds into coupons to spend at the market.

In short, it has been a summer full of personal growth because of this internship with Ogallala Commons. Everything began with an amazing internship orientation that challenged me to make decisive goals and reach them. At orientation I discovered a huge group of people who are all committed to improving their communities by fostering commonwealth assets and protecting existing resources. Having membership in that group gave me the drive to work hard on my farmers’ market core projects because what I was doing made a difference.

Learning about the commonwealth assets. I learned a lot from my group about the asset of spirituality.

Today, I was interviewing customers, vendors, and volunteers for our market newsletter and I asked them what they love about our market. The unanimous answer is community. The market is a hub that supports everyone and helps us all to thrive. Thanks to Ogallala Commons I’ve been a part of maintaining and improving this resource for folks and that’s an amazing thing to look back on for this summer. The skills I’ve gained over this summer include everything from confidently networking with business professionals to planning and executing a cooking demonstration. I already know that the experiences I’ve had will help me to be successful as I continue toward my career goals because I have learned so much about what it takes to help others and create change within my community.

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