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From Intern to Dedicated Volunteer

By Jayden Knapp

I recently finished my Operations and Events Internship with Willis Dady, along with finishing my Cornell College career this May. I can proudly say that interning with Willis Dady was one of the best decisions I could have made in my college career, as I gained both professional and personal skills I will carry with me forever. Throughout my internship, I worked directly with the Development Team and Events and Engagement Committee. While working with these teams, I was focused on public engagement, marketing, and event planning. I also gained event planning and operations experience, as I worked with the Events and Engagement Committee during the planning for Hops for Housing (Willis Dady’s largest fund-and-awareness raising event) and got to work during the event itself. During Hops for Housing, I was involved in the set-up process of the event, and worked with coordinating volunteers and staff to their event positions. I also worked on the launch of the Saddle Up Solutions campaign that is currently live, go to to donate!

My main takeaway from my internship was learning how far empathy and teamwork go when working in a nonprofit environment. During my internship I shadowed and helped at the Willis Dady Emergency Shelter front desk. This was one of the most fulfilling and powerful experiences during my time at Willis Dady. The shelter front desk is the first point of contact for many individuals experiencing homelessness in Eastern Iowa, whether in person or over the phone. I witnessed people at their lowest points in their journey, and people hitting their highest points in their journey, all of which were a learning experience and something I would likely never see if I did not have this opportunity. 

One thing I will never forget from this experience happened during my first week at Willis Dady, within 2 consecutive shifts at the front desk. A client had spent nearly the entire day working on the computers in the shelter lobby, they told the front desk that they were applying for jobs and looking at housing options that day. The next day, when they arrived at the shelter they immediately came to the front desk and told us, “I got a job today!” This was super exciting, and we congratulated the client on their new opportunity. There were difficult days during my internship as well, sometimes when clients are upset with their circumstances they may take it out on themselves or others. For the most part though, I feel as if witnessing these wins and setbacks has made me appreciate the little things much more, and even something as small as saying “hello” or smiling at a client can open the door for mutual trust and cooperation.

As of now, I am not entirely sure what my next steps look like. I will be continuing to volunteer at the Emergency Shelter front desk as I look for opportunities to utilize my degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and hope to stay involved in Willis Dady’s mission for as long as I am in the area. I highly recommend interning and/or volunteering with Willis Dady, gaining new perspectives of individuals in your community and being able to impact them in a positive way is one of the most fulfilling and powerful things a person can do.


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