Teague finds her calling during summer internship

Release Date: 10/4/2011

Ashley Teague says it was a verse from the Book of James, combined with her summer experiences as an intern in Washington D.C., that led her to a new realization of what she wants to do with her life.

"I attended the Institute for Philanthropy and Voluntary Service at Georgetown University," said the senior political science major from Lavaca. "The IPVS is an academic and internship program for college students involved in volunteer activities, who are interested in a professional career in the nonprofit sector. I took three courses while I was there and interned 30 hours a week."

Ashley received funding for her summer through the Clayton G. Russell Memorial Endowment for Political Science. The Clayton Fund was established in 2000 by the Mary I. Rogers Trust to broaden the scope of the political science program.

Ashley Teague interned at N Street Village this summer.

Political science major Ashley Teague interned at a nonprofit organization called N Street Village in Washington, D.C. this past summer.

Ashley's internship was through a nonprofit called the N Street Village. "N Street Village is a community that helps homeless and low-income women in the area," she says. "It really is like a little village. It takes up a whole city block and helps women with housing, income, employment, mental health, physical health, and addiction recovery. They also have an open day center for women who may not be ready to make the big changes in their lives but still need help. So they could come in, get a meal, do activities."

She said her work there included helping with the N Street Village donor drive, and two days a week teaching a basic intro computer class. "People were there from all different backgrounds," she said, "so some knew how to use computers well enough to work on drafting their resumés, while other people needed to know what a mouse was. It was good to be able to help everybody."

Ashley's coursework included "Values of Philanthropy," "Voluntary Associations in a Democratic Society," and an internship professional development seminar.

One surprise, she says, was realizing how big and complex nonprofit organizations can be, and how corporate. "Our teacher would say, 'You guys have dreams to change the world, but here's how you make it practical.' One assignment she gave us was to get an interview with the CEO of a major nonprofit. There are hundreds and hundreds of nonprofits in Washington. She told us to go for the big ones, like the CEO of the United Way, and talk to them. It was a little intimidating to think of talking to someone on that level."

Nevertheless Ashley followed through. "We had to come up with a list of three names we would like to talk to, and I had this one idea that was a total long shot. I thought there was no way I would get to talk to him. I chose the CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center - it's a nonprofit civil rights organization that monitors hate groups - because I'm really interested in the law and what they do and I follow them regularly. So I sent an email to their 'inquire for more information' site. I honestly didn't think the message would get through to him, but two days later I got an email back from the secretary to President and CEO J. Richard Cohen that he'd like to arrange an interview with me. I was shocked!"

She says the interview went well. "It took about a month to set up, but then one day he called. By that time I had so many questions for him. The interview was supposed to be about 'what got you to this position,' what it takes to be the CEO of a nonprofit, but we ended up talking about a ton of other stuff, law careers and helping people…I got to talk to a hero, really. That was cool."

Ashley says until last year she was still somewhat undecided about what she was going to do with her degree. "I always knew I was going to be an attorney of some sort, but I wasn't always sure what sort of degree I wanted to get me to law school, plus what kind of attorney I wanted to be."

She said the practicality she experienced in her coursework at Georgetown helped her focus. "I want my job to have meaning," she said. "I want to change the world. There's one verse of scripture, James 1:27, where it talks about working with the orphans and the widows: 'True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.' I heard it one day in chapel and my pastor back home was talking about working in an orphanage. I started thinking about my summer internship and how I had been working with these troubled women, who in a way were the 'widows' in the scripture. I just felt there was a weird connection, so after talking to a lot of people this summer I got really interested in the other part of the verse, the orphans. So I've started investigating adoption policy. I've been looking into studying international adoptions."

Ashley says she's been looking at places like Haiti, "where the adoption laws are so complicated that except for the Angelinas of the world, there are a lot of people in this country who want to help who don't stand a chance of adopting a child from there. I just think it would be really cool to guide people through that process and help them be able to adopt a child. That's what I'm looking at now."

The summer in Washington helped Ashley become more independent. "We get a lot of support here at Ozarks," she says. "There wasn't a whole lot of support in that situation. You were really kind of on your own. DC is crawling with interns in the summer, so there's a really competitive culture. But it was great to meet so many other people like myself. It was a neat thing to be thrown into."