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Bank of America turns virtual interning during COVID-19 into an opportunity to impact young participants ‘for a lifetime’

Bank of America

Bridgette Berry, left, and Leyda Patino interned with Kern Community Foundation this summer as part of Bank of America’s Student Leaders Program, a six-week paid internship.

COVID-19 turned many activities virtual during the summer. Internships were no exception, as Leyda Patino, a graduate of Bakersfield's South High School, and Bridgette Berry, a senior at Garces Memorial High this fall, found out.

Patino and Berry were part of Bank of America’s Student Leaders Program, a paid, six-week internship that combines workforce skills building, civic engagement and a closeup look at community impact through private-public sector collaboration.

Specifically, the teens interned with Kern Community Foundation, assisting with the preparation for the upcoming 2021 edition of the Community Giving Guide, a publication KCF uses to connect potential donors and volunteers with causes they feel passionate about, as it lists hundreds of local nonprofits in the categories of arts and culture, education and youth development, environment and animals, health, and human services and community benefit.

“It was a great experience,” Patino, now a first-year student at UC Santa Barbara, said. “I wouldn’t go back and change anything.”

The interns were assigned a series of tasks that included contacting local graphic designers and printing companies to request competitive quotes, reviewing nonprofit lists and checking nonprofits’ transparency rating on GuideStar.org, the largest database on nonprofits which KCF uses to vet local charities prior to inclusion in the Giving Guide.

Berry said the work she and Patino were assigned was not too difficult. “It was easy once I got the hang of it. It was cool seeing all the different nonprofits and what they do.”

The third corporate partner in the Bank of America Student Leaders effort was the Washington, D.C.,-based Close Up Foundation, which empowers young people to become more engaged civically by helping them learn about government institutions, history, and current affairs.

In a normal, non-COVID year, the students would have traveled to the nation’s capital as part of their paid internship experience. This year, however, they participated in a virtual program Close Up Foundation hosted called “Young America Together at Home,” where they met some 300 other student leaders from across the country, and exchanged ideas with them on such pressing policy issues as the economy, health care, the environment, immigration and more.

Berry called the experience unique.

“I’ve never done anything like it,” she said. “It was really fun. I liked all the calls and getting to meet a lot of new people.”

Karen Zuber, Bank of America senior vice president and Bakersfield market manager, said that despite the complexities of having to interact virtually with the interns, the “integral learning” that is still at the core of the Student Leaders Program was successful.

Besides working to help KCF with the Giving Guide project, Zuber said, the teens were also given the opportunity to have hour-long conversations with leaders from Court Appointed Special Advocates of Kern County, Bakersfield Homeless Center and Dress for Success Bakersfield. They learned about the work of these organizations as well as KCF, the importance of meeting deadlines, communicating professionally via email and phone, building a resumé, preparing and dressing for job interviews, creating their own marketable “personal brand” and more.

They also got to meet top Bank of America leaders at the national level and learned about a wide range of issues related to fiscal responsibility, from corporate philanthropy to financial literacy. “The opportunity and the learning the students received will impact them for a lifetime,” she said.

For Patino, who aims to become a therapist, the biggest takeaway was the sense of “professionalism in general” that the program instilled in her.

“Regardless of whether it’s a Zoom call, dress professionally, do research on whoever you’re talking to before you talk to them,” she said. “Pay attention to deadlines. These are things you hear throughout high school, but the internship has taught me to put those words into place.”

For Berry, an unexpected big takeaway was finding out about Kern Community Foundation’s College Scholarship Program which this year awarded more than $180,000 to 63 graduating high school seniors and 64 continuing college students. She now plans to apply for a KCF scholarship before the end of her senior year.

Although the youth employment and economic mobility program has been around since 2004, this year was the first time Bank of America offered the highly coveted Student Leaders opportunity in Kern County. Berry and Patino were selected among approximately 60 applicants from high schools countywide.

Interested 2020-21 high school juniors and seniors can visit www.bankofamerica.com/studentleaders for more information about the Student Leaders Program. The application for summer 2021 internships opens in November.

Information about Kern Community Foundation’s College Scholarship Program is available at www.kernfoundation.org/scholarships. High school seniors may apply for a 2021-22 academic year scholarship between Dec. 1 and March 1, 2021.

Louis Medina serves as the director of community impact at Kern Community Foundation. He may be reached at Louis@kernfoundation.org.

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