Student Voices: Marissa Diekhoff | Webster University

Student Voices: Marissa Diekhoff

Marissa's field experience at StreetWise in Chicago, IL

MarissaMarissa Diekhoff (HRTS '15) serves as the Digital Media Intern for StreetWise Inc. in Chicago, Illinois. StreetWise is an organization that assists Chicago's homeless and impoverished population by providing social services (including employment skill-building, housing, counseling, and financial education), as well as immediate, gainful employment through the sale if the organization's publication, Streetwise magazine.

Marissa chose this internship because she believe in StreetWise's mission to provide "a hand up, not a hand-out," and also because her position at the organization fit her particular skill set. As an International Human Rights and Photography double-major, she wanted a field experience that would allow her to use the knowledge she gained in both disciplines. Marissa also wanted an experience that would give her opportunities to interact directly with people, and in her position she was able to spend time with the vendors during one-on-one interviews, group discussions, and everyday exchanges at the office. At StreetWise, Marissa used her human rights knowledge and methods to facilitate advocacy efforts, including telling vendors' stories and producing photographs for the organization's publication.

Before starting her internship at StreetWise, Marissa's preconceived notions about poverty and homelessness were that people affected were likely to be uneducated, single, have a criminal background, and often suffering from mental illness or substance addiction. Although these are all factors that can contribute to homelessness and poverty, she has realized that it is impossible to characterize a "typical" homeless experience because each person she encountered had a completely different story. Through her interviews and interactions, it has become clear that homelessness and unemployment can happen to anyone, regardless of their past experiences, and that there are still gaps in the measures being taken to prevent this from occurring. 

Over the course of Marissa's internship, she learned a lot about the stigma attached to homelessness. Many friends were concerned for her safety when working with such a "dangerous" group of people. Others were surprised when she told them that selling "StreetWise" magazines was a job that provided self-sufficiency, since many presumed that homeless people were not able to maintain employment. From her experiences and from listening to vendors' stories, she came to realize just how difficult it is for homeless to be taken seriously and be treated with respect and dignity.

Marissa also learned much about conducting interviews and adjusting her interactions to make her participants feel as comfortable as possible. She recognized that she came from a very privileged background and had to find ways to relate to each individual and earn their trust. Since Marissa had not worked with this population beforehand, it took her a few interviews to start feeling comfortable. 

By interning at StreetWise, Marissa also learned what it is like to work at a small-scale nonprofit. She is still deciding what type of work she would like to do in the future, and this internship was very beneficial because it provided her with more knowledge about life at a grassroots organization. Marissa loved the cohesion at the office, how every one worked together to accomplish tasks, and how passionate everyone was about the organization. On the other hand, Marissa also got a glimpse of how difficult it is to get and maintain funding, how constrained the resources are, and how grueling it can be to get new programs up and running. This internship definitely gave her an idea of what it would be like to pursue work at a small nonprofit and the things she needs to consider as she moves forward with her career. 


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