Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

An Important Part of My Summer Internship: Cleaning and Organizing Supplies?

Today is just another normal day of my unpaid summer internship that started one month ago. After finishing cleaning and organizing several drawers of files, folders, tissues, paper cups, spoons, knives and forks, I went home realizing that I was wearing the exact same black suit that I wore on the third day of my internship, during which I also spent most of my day cleaning and organizing supplies.

When I applied for this unpaid internship at Jewish Vocation Service, a leading nonprofit organization in Boston, I did not see that “cleaning and organizing supplies” was in the job description! In addition, the intern handbook specifies that the dress code is business casual, and I did not expect that I would need to do any chores wearing a suit. My first two days at JVS was spent on data entry projects at a desk, so I was totally shocked on the third day, less by the tasks but more by myself: I filed a 2-inch-thick pile of documents into over a hundred folders, flattened around 50 huge cardboard boxes, and counted 203 copies of brochures (don’t ask me how I remembered the 203, I just remembered it after counting.)

That evening, when I put Band-Aids on the paper cuts on my hands, I can’t help thinking: that is a huge amount of “hands-on” work! However, I’m not going to rest my eyes and brain; observation and thinking always make a difference.

When I was filing the documents into the over-a-hundred folders, I notice that each folder is dedicated to a single major donor. To drive away the boringness of this task, I spoke silently to myself, “This one is a foundation … This one has two names? Probably a couple …This one is a restaurant! Interesting … This one is a college … This one is a bank …” Before I do the filing, I didn’t know that businesses and organizations would make donations; I thought only individuals do. The variety of documents also taught me a lot about JVS. A big portion of the documents are copies of the thank you letters JVS sent to the donors; WOW, JVS really spent a lot of time maintaining its relationship with the donors! There are also a lot of email copies, detailing the actions following each donation, such as processing payments, making digital records, and thanking the donors. I realize that it would be so helpful to file these emails, because a single JVS staff can go to the files and use these email copies to trace donations that might be processed by multiple departments in JVS. This tasks might be a chore to me, but it’s a really big contribution to JVS as a whole.

On later days, as I cleaned and organized more other kinds of supplies, I noticed that JVS is recycling a lot of supplies for reoccurring events. There are small scale events such as job fairs that only have simple supplies like plates, utensils, and tissues; there are also large scale events such as a Gala that has a huge amount of name tags and other supplies. Strangely, the more I cleaned and organized these supplies, the less I felt like I was wasting time in chores. I began to understand: the more supplies I can clean to recycle, the less cost will be incurred when JVS is holding the next event; the more organized the supplies are, the efficient it is for other JVS staff to reuse these supplies during their busy work day – since many of they even need to stay after work to finish their tasks, it would be really helpful if I can save them some time finding supplies in the storage by neat organization!

As I am cleaning and organizing supplies, I learned more than just about JVS, its donors, its operations. I also learned that even a humble task can have something more significant behind it. More importantly, if I use my eyes and brain, I can realize so much more than just using my hands.