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By Kathryn Hopper

Emily Hess wanted a summer internship that challenged her financial skills while providing practical, hands-on experience.

She got all that plus the occasional hug.

"Sometimes they come from behind when I'm working on the computer," said Hess, a senior finance and real estate major. "I feel their small, warm hands around me."

Those hands belong to the kids at H.O.P.E. Farm Inc., a non-profit serving at-risk boys in Southeast Fort Worth. Hess spent her summer overseeing land acquisition and construction plans for a new gymnasium.

"It's showed me I can use my finance skills to better the community, something I'm passionate about," said Hess.

Hess was one of the 23 TCU students selected as Bridge Interns this summer through the TCU YOUth Program, a federally funded initiative administered through the university's Office of Extended Education.

The program places interns in projects designed to improve the lives of at-risk kids, but these summer gigs aren't just about giving back - they're about growth. Each internship specifically helps local non-profits build their capacity to reach more people.

"Rather than simply serving immediate short-term needs, each of these students has the satisfaction of making a contribution that will last far beyond the eight weeks they worked this summer and will serve our partner organizations and our community for years to come," said Intern Coordinator Tiffany Wang '07.

For example, at the Volunteer Center of North Texas, three Bridge interns - Alexis Branaman, Laura Clingman and Paige Zinsou - developed ways the organization could reach out to 12- to 21-year-old volunteers, including compiling a computer database of local school volunteer organizations. They also organized specific volunteer projects such as building a butterfly garden and constructing bat boxes for the Fort Worth Zoo.

"We weren't reaching out to as many people as we needed to," said Kay Dillard, Tarrant County director of the Volunteer Center of North Texas. "I was a little apprehensive at first; I'd worked with interns before and I thought I'd have to spend a lot of time explaining how to do things, but that hasn't happened."

Interns receive a paycheck, which roughly equates to $10 an hour, plus most are also earning credit for a political science class called Civic Literacy. While most internships were completed during the summer, a few will be done this fall and spring. Next summer the grant is expected to fund another 12 to 15 internships.

TCU is also working to help non-profits strengthen their infrastructure by offering training and consulting in areas such as staff development, computer software, marketing, grant writing, fundraising and volunteer development.

Thanks to the efforts of Bridge intern Annie Cooper, leaders at local non-profits serving youth recently gathered for an informal networking event dubbed "Youth Focus" to trade ideas and insights.
Judy Shannon, director of special projects, said that including students in the process helps them test the nonprofit sector as a potential career. "It's building community minded citizens, which is essential," she said.

By the end of this summer the program's interns were on track to log more than 3,500 hours. And as part of the grant, TCU has awarded more than $63,000 for infrastructure needs at non-profits including upgrading the phone system at H.O.P.E. Tutoring, an Arlington non-profit serving students from low-income homes, and a new computer and C.P.R. training for coaches and referees at the Youth Sports Council of Fort Worth.

"To us at H.O.P.E. Farm, they've been a godsend," said Noble Crawford, who co-founded the organization with former TCU basketball player and Fort Worth police officer Gary Randle '76. "Everything that each intern is working on didn't need to be fabricated, it was a real need for us."

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