The Waiting Room Community

by Nicole Rento
June 20, 2014

Nicole Rento '15, is a Biology major interning with Mental Health Association of RI through the iProv Summer Internship Program.

I came into this internship knowing that my main focus would be research; small projects throughout the summer dealing with the healthcare budget of RI, community mental health centers and policies aimed at reducing the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse.

In many ways that part feels like school: working at a desk with my headphones on, given a topic to research and writing up my findings into a report. But there are parts of the internship that I did not expect.

Unlike school, I am able to see the next step in the process. In between projects, I work at the front desk. From 9 am to 1 pm Monday through Friday, clients are able to come in for coffee, use the phone, check mail or take a shower. I am able to see the people I am helping with my work. I talk to them, hear about their struggles and their happiness. Every day, I learn how the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island is helping people.

Fighting for higher budgets and supporting anti-stigma policiesdirectly affects the clients I have personally come to know. I’m no longer just reading and learning facts that will slowly slide away from my memory. These facts are being connected to names and faces and stories. 

The case workers here are so connected to their clients' lives, even the parts that are not at all relevant to their jobs. They simply care about people as a whole. And the clients walk into the building everyday with a smile on their face. They are appreciative for even the small things, like shampoo or a clean towel. They are quick to greet each other with a hug, laughing and joking, clients and workers together. The waiting room and front desk area turns into a community.

I witness true compassion and selflessness from people of so many different backgrounds. I feel excited to complete an assignment simply because I can see the next step. I can see the difference my work could someday make, and I can see the people my work could eventually help. That is more than I ever expected from my summer internship!