The Rev. Natasha Murray-Norman has administered the internship program for two years, with this being the second year for Pine Bluff and the first for Little Rock. The Little Rock sites also benefit from the assistance of the Rev. Jana Green, director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Arkansas Little Rock.
“The interns experience living and working together, creating programs that benefit the community and learning how each of their gifts and graces can be used for the Kingdom of God,” said Murray-Norman. “They connect with one another and the people in the community and they are in relationship with the churches in which they live and work.”
Three sites served children in kindergarten to sixth grade; one site served children up to ninth grade. Murray-Norman estimated that the four sites saw an average of 100 children per day.
All QuadW interns are responsible for developing, promoting and implementing their programs based on the needs of the communities in which they are placed. The Arkansas interns chose to focus their efforts on providing summer enrichment for children living in the neighborhoods around each of the four churches.
The interns at First UMC Pine Bluff joined forces with an existing program at the church, the Boys and Girls Club of Jefferson County, while the other three locations created stand-alone summer programs.
“It’s been a perfect partnership,” said Nyeshia Aldridge, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Jefferson County. “They have never worked with kids but you’d never be able to tell. I wish I had them year-round.”
A QuadW intern is expected to participate in four key areas: contextual living, where the interns live in the same communities in which they serve; reconnecting the local church to its mission field; participating in Christian community, where students from diverse backgrounds do the hard work of self-discovery and challenge assumptions and stereoptypes; and leadership. The internship expands the students’ leadership skills through one-on-one mentoring, group worship, small group participation and journaling.
While this was the first summer for the program in Little Rock, First UMC Pine Bluff was happy to repeat their 2014 experience hosting the interns by providing housing on the top floor of the church, where an unused portion of the building was converted into living quarters. Church members provide meals, or the interns go to various other churches to eat meals provided for them. Little Rock interns were housed next door to Oak Forest UMC in a home owned by the church.
“I was a little shaky living with the other interns,” said Hakeem Wortham, a sophomore student from Philander Smith College. “You know sometimes people clash, but this has been one of the best summers of my life.”
Looking to the future
The Rev. Don Woolley, director of the QuadW Summer Missional Internship program and a United Methodist elder, couldn’t be more pleased with having QuadW interns in Arkansas. Having spent his youth in and around Pine Bluff, he recognized the potential for involving young adults in service to the community. He was grateful when his grandmother, a member at First UMC Pine Bluff and “number one fan of Rev. Murray-Norman” introduced them.
“It’s been a win for everyone,” said Woolley. “The work that the interns are doing is exactly the kind we want them to have. All the goals we have for a site, we have more than met those. Everything has gone very, very well.”
Funding for the internships was provided by the Arkansas Conference and the Southeast District as well as the QuadW Foundation. Murray-Norman says the partnership has been invaluable in helping the interns make the most of their experience.
Both Murray-Norman and Woolley expressed their shared desire for the QuadW internship program to expand in 2016, with additional interns and locations.
“Arkansas has been one of our strongest partners,” Woolley said. “The buy-in from the churches and the Conference reflect the kind of partnerships that make the program work. I would like to see it grow and expand.”
“I’d like to include more churches and do more for the children,” said Murray-Norman. “I hope we can seek other ways to partner with more campus ministries and recruit top-notch students like we had this summer, who have made a difference in the lives of their students as well as the lives of their churches."