In college, so much emphasis is placed on finding the perfect summer internship. Talking to other college students quickly turns into a competition over whose internship is most “impressive.” Your pre-med classmate shadowed a pediatric cardiologist and posts pictures of themselves in full scrubs. My fellow business students worked in firms with a downtown office at the top floor of a skyscraper. The biology major on your hall conducted research in a lab, using a state-of-the art piece of equipment. I on the other hand spent my summer interning at a café. If you asked my peers, I would probably lose this superficial competition for most impressive summer job. However, my time at Thistle Stop Café led to more professional and personal growth than I could have ever anticipated. When I first arrived at Thistle Stop, I was told that the café’s marketing manager had recently relocated, and that they hadn’t hired someone to fill position. Her exit provided me with the incredible opportunity to essentially take over the café’s digital marketing. I was given the freedom to post whatever I wanted, along with the passwords to all of the café’s social media accounts. Never had I been allowed so much independence in an internship. I’ll admit that I was overwhelmed at first. I second-guessed every tweet, photo, and blog. However, it was this independence that made my experience so valuable. Not everything that I posted preformed well, but with every post I developed new strategies and ideas. The cafe manager, Courtney, and the Thistle Farms marketing team provided me with the guidance and encouragement to succeed in my position. By the end of my internship, I felt as though I had achieved something of value.
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of my internship was blogging for the café’s website. Writing these blog posts gave me the opportunity to talk to the women on a deeper level. For my final blog post, The Power of Poetry, I got to speak candidly with Donna Dozier about how writing poems has helped her overcome addiction, and about her role in bringing poetry night back to the cafe. When I showed her the finished product, tears welled up in her eyes. She immediately asked how she could access the blog, as she wanted to share it with her daughter. For the Fourth of July, I wrote a blog about what independence means to the women of Thistle Stop. My conversations with them gave me an entirely new perspective on what it means to be free. I realized in this moment that, while my supervisors were teaching me how to be a better professional, it was the women of Thistle Stop Cafe that could teach me to be a better human being. Going into this internship, my primary goal was to gain practical experience in business and marketing. I achieved this goal, but also gained so much more. I shed many of my preconceived judgments about survivors of addiction and prostitution. Thistle Stop Café advertises that it serves a story in every cup. After spending my summer with the women of Thistle Stop, I have found that this slogan rings true. Their stories are ones of survival and redemption in the face of an adversity that many people would find impossible to overcome. However, I was most touched by the parts of the women’s stories that are seemingly ordinary. They are devoted mothers and hard workers. They are talented poets and deep thinkers. They are loving friends and sisters. I now understand that these women’s stories cannot be told from a criminal record or a mugshot. By the end of the first day of school, most college students will have perfected an answer to the question, “What did you do over the summer?” Though I know that I will not be able to fit all of the amazing things about my internship into a single rehearsed statement. To simply say “I interned at a cafe” would be an understatement. It may sound cliché, but Thistle Stop is more than just a café. It is a family and a community. To be a part of that community, even if just for one summer, is more impressive to me than any position could have been.