UA students reflect on summer

Four students from the University of Alabama’s New College and Honors College have spent the past two months in Jasper interning with various organizations. Jenna Minser, Kimberly Oliveira, Brittany Grady and Anastasiya Titarenko shared their experiences at the First Bank of Jasper on Thursday to discuss what they learned during their time in Walker County, prior to their last day in Jasper on Friday. Jenna Minser of Apex, North Carolina, is a rising sophomore, majoring in environmental justice at UA’s New College. She spent her summer at the Walker County Health Action Partnership, and some of her duties during her time there included updating their website, running a social media campaign and organizing files for the nonprofit. She also spent time doing an evaluation of Walker County Lake to determine the reason for people visiting the lake, and she also collected permit data. “I got up at 4:45 in the morning most days and got myself over to Walker County Lake and spent the morning talking to fisherman,” Minser said. She said it was nice talking to every day people in the county. “I’m talking to fisherman. I’m talking to people who have been laborers all their life, people who haven’t been to college, people who dropped out of high school, and they’re telling me the same things I learn in my college classrooms,” she said. “They’re talking to me about why we need to encourage young people to stay in the community. They’re talking to me about how the decline of the coal industry has impacted this town, and it’s so amazing to have these conversations with people who are actually experiencing these things and hearing their opinions about it. ... A lot of times, people get excluded from these conversations.” Grady said getting to know people outside of Jasper’s social scene was also a highlight of her trip. Grady is a Birmingham native, rising junior and is majoring in social change, with a minor in civic engagement at UA. She was placed with Jasper Main Street over the summer. “When I thought of nonprofits before coming here, I always thought about their impact ... and their projects. I didn’t really think about the little stuff, the things that keep the lights running,” Grady said. “It was the little bitty things that made it possible for us to do these big things.” One of the “big things” Grady was able to assist with was the Tallulah Bankhead Tribute, but she also helped with the grant application process, had the opportunity to attend board meetings, checked the nonprofit’s mail and sent out invoices, among other tasks. Grady also got a part-time job at Winn-Dixie, where she said she was happy to meet people from outside the downtown district. She said she continues to be proud of the city she has called home for the past two months. “Y’all have a lot of nonprofits here who are actually dedicated to bringing about change here and want to improve the community,” she said. “I think that’s something you should be proud of.” Titarenko is originally from Rochester, New York, is a second generation American and a rising senior at UA, where she majors in religious studies and minors in educational studies. She was placed at the Jasper Area Family Services Center, where she designed their new website and a Facebook page. She also helped identify the needs of children in Walker County by preparing the Walker County Children’s Policy Council Needs Assessment.

A large part of her work involved working with clients who seek the center’s services. “This was an amazing opportunity to meet with folks that the center is impacting directly, and I helped with job applications, practicing for interviews and money management skills, and building relationships with these people changed my life and changed my perspective on the social services sector and the nonprofit sector,” Titarenko said. She said she learned the importance of connecting with people during her time in Jasper, and how those connections truly strengthen a community. “Before I came here, I knew that books could not be judged by their covers, but while living here I learned that you’ve got to try to read those books and figure out what they’re actually about and get to know people,” Titarenko said. “I would like to carry this summer with me everywhere that I go and in everything I do in the future.” Oliveira is from Modesto, Calif., and is studying international law at UA. She said she is a first generation college student who came to Alabama with expectations that weren’t realized until her time in Walker County. “When I got here and really started working with my internship and my placement, my whole entire perspective was changed,” Oliveira said. “My ideal southern exposure happened once I got here to Walker County. I think the first time the judge opened a door for me I kind of stumbled back a little bit.” Oliveira was placed with Judge Henry Allred of the Walker County Judicial System, where she saw 693 cases and witnessed 236 orders be completed. She said she helped the judicial assistant during her internship, and even assisted in jury selection. She said witnessing a drug court graduation was also a unique experience during her time here. “Being in the courtroom every single day, seeing the people that are being affected by law and actions taken by the community was very eye opening,” Oliveira said. “Seeing these theories that I’ve studied in class practiced in front of my eyes and seeing the actual real world event was amazing.” The Walker Area Community Foundation has sponsored more than 30 students from UA to come to Jasper over the past seven years. “We pair them up with organizations that we think are going to be a good fit for them, for their career goals and something that will challenge them,” WACF President Paul Kennedy said. The David Mathews Center for Civic Life provides a stipend for the students, and housing is provided by WACF. UA’s New College is also a sponsor of the program. At the conclusion of each students’ presentation, Kennedy asked what could be done to improve the program, and the interns agreed that they would’ve loved to spend more time in communities outside of Jasper; however, all of the interns were appreciative of the opportunity to understand the core values of a close-knit community, such as Jasper. “The biggest thing that I noticed coming in to Jasper was that it’s a community dedicated to uplifting people and to solving problems by themselves,” Oliveira said. Grady added, “It’s been a fun experience, something that many people don’t have the opportunity to do, and I recognize how important that is, and I want to thank y’all for that.”