Valley Aids Network Staff

An Enriching Experience: Interning For The Valley AIDS Network In Harrisonburg

Being a student at James Madison University comes with the shared vision and expectation of becoming an “enlightened citizen”. Coming into my senior year at JMU, my focus was on the service-minded aspect of the idealized graduate. When my professor from a previous semester, Dr. Mayfield, contacted me with the opportunity to intern with Valley AIDS Network, I was thrilled. Now, six weeks later, that sense of excitement has only grown.

My morning starts in the elevator slowly rising to the third floor of Blue Ridge Hall, with a breakfast sandwich in hand. Walking down the hallway, I pass my first-ever project with VAN: our office bulletin board that I had re-designed (earning me the title of VAN’s “artistic director”). I was previously familiar with HIV/AIDS, but this particular project broadened my knowledge and piqued my interest. I compiled a visual timeline of the AIDS epidemic, starting on June 5, 1981, with bulleted highlights from each year hence and posters created during the decades listed. The end result had a slightly more hectic appearance than I had initially planned, but it was exciting to look at.

After passing the bulletin board, I come to Paloma’s office that we both share. Paloma is VAN’s testing coordinator and conducts the majority of VAN’s free HIV testing services, and I often speak with her briefly before she goes to test during the day. Paloma often works with Spanish-speaking clients, and I recently helped prepare materials for her presentation for a local Spanish-speaking group. My first experience with VAN in the local community was before our annual fundraiser, when Paloma and I went to distribute fliers at Blue Ridge Community College. We spent the morning visiting the campus buildings and speaking with on-campus administrators to potentially arrange a testing site, which is integral to VAN’s impact in the surrounding service area. Being able to help advocate for an additional testing site and see the potential to help more people know their status connected me to VAN’s mission, which made it clear to me how important a service testing is.

Alex, VAN’s director, comes over from next door to discuss what I can do to help and often comes up with new ideas throughout the day. Her first priority was to have me work on promotion for Tour and Taste, VAN’s annual fall fundraiser, which contributes significantly to VAN’s ability to provide services to the surrounding community. As a Communication major, I have a particular interest in event planning and web content, which Alex made sure to keep in mind for my work with VAN. Before Tour and Taste, I called all bike shops within a two hour radius of Harrisonburg requesting that they display a flier about the event in their location, totaling over twenty successful contacts. I also drafted a mass email to be distributed to all JMU students and faculty advertising the Tour and Taste, updated the Facebook event information, tracked event registration and even helped order shirts and food for the event. On the week prior to Tour and Taste, I was completely invested in registrations and specifics for the following Saturday.

Days before Tour and Taste, we were faced with the reality of heavy rain and potential flooding for our outside-oriented event. After much discussion and deliberation, we collectively decided that it would be best to cancel the biking portion of our event. When the time came to set up for Tour and Taste, it was clear that we made the right decision, and the live music and tasting portion of the event was a resounding success. Although the weather had an impact on our registrations and the ability of some participants to travel, being able to see our efforts come to fruition was incredibly rewarding. During the event, I proudly wore my Tour and Taste shirt while tasked with checking in all participants. After our VAN team picture, where we welcomed an additional staff member to our team, I felt a great sense of pride in being a part of an exciting event for a non-profit that I was a part of. I am certain that my internship with VAN is a clear step on my path to an “enlightened citizen” through civic engagement that JMU so proudly fosters. Over the weeks to come, I am confident that I will continue to learn more about making an impact through my internship with VAN and where I see myself after graduation. My internship with VAN has been, and will continue to be, an opportunity to develop my skills in a professional setting that also allows me to help serve our community.