“We are not trying to create the next village board president,” said Jacob Ries, the internship committee chairman. “Whether these students go on to college, tech school or right into the workforce, sooner or later they are going to be in a community and we want them to understand that communities run primarily on volunteerism. In the end we hope that the internship may encourage them to get excited about being a helpful and strong member of their communities.”
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The program requires participants to attend 10 meetings within the three Geneva Lake West communities, write a five-page paper outlining what they’ve learned from the meetings, spend five hours working in the GLWCC office and give three oral presentations about their experience. At the end of the program the interns will be awarded $500 for their participation.
Stratton, 16, already has attended a few meetings, including village board, school board and planning committee meetings. She is hoping that the experience will continue to cultivate her understanding of community involvement.
“I am hoping to gain an insight into the inner workings of my community,” Stratton said. “Even though the program only lasts a few months, I think that the interns definitely get an idea of just how much everyone needs to be involved in the community in order to get things done effectively and efficiently.
“I have a much better idea already of how everything really comes together when the community encounters a problem, and it’s really interesting learning how the municipalities budget for everything.”
Vacula, 17, plans to attend college after high school, but is undecided on a major. While she is confident that the internship will help prepare her for whatever career path she chooses, she feels there’s an opportunity for some immediate benefits as well.
“I am also an officer in our school’s art club as well as our FFA chapter, and I hold a leadership role in Future Problem Solvers,” Vacula said. “While running meetings for these organizations, I hope to implement what I’ve learned in the meetings I’ve attended and will be attending. I also compete on the Big Foot FFA chapter’s parliamentary procedure team for speaking contests, and am hoping to increase my knowledge of Robert’s Rules of Order and their application in real government meetings.”
Splisgardt, 17, returned in late July from Japan, where she participated in a six-week, scholarship-funded homestay. She is passionate about travel and the arts. All three interns don’t cite a direct interest in a government career, but they all feel that the experience will temper their understanding of civic involvement.
“I am an artistic person and I love to perform,” said Splisgardt. “I want to go to an arts school and study acting. However, I also have a love of travel and am hoping to incorporate that into my future career as well. Although I am not interested in government as a future career, I would like to keep active in the community in the future.”
To be eligible for the internship program, candidates must be a sophomore or junior in good academic standing at either Big Foot or Williams Bay high schools, have two letters of recommendation from teachers and complete an application. When selected, interns are assigned education and government advisers to serve as their mentors through the program.
Ries said that in previous runs of the program there have been profound opportunities for students to put their surroundings in perspective and understand what is happening in their community more thoroughly.
“Two years ago when Big Foot High’s referendum failed and they had to lay off some teachers and reposition some people at the school, the interns were there for those board meetings and said that they saw how painful it was for the school board and administration,” Ries said. “The students felt how difficult it was. There had to be cuts made and it hurt to do it, but it was eye-opening for the students.”
Beyond the obvious gain in experience with community interface, Ries also feels that the internship offers students a chance to rub elbows with community and business leaders who might help them in their education and, perhaps, future career.
“We try to teach the kids that they can make some great contacts at these meetings,” Ries said. “They can build a lot of references and maybe even a few job opportunities.”