I was a Congressional intern!

For the last seven weeks I have been lucky enough to intern for Rep. Kelly Cassidy. As required by the course, I completed the following journal entries to document my experience:

16 June 2014

I showed up for my first day as Rep. Kelly Cassidy’s intern full of vibrancy and nervous energy. Since I photohaven’t worked since the accident, those youthful jitters were getting a workout. However, once I sat down with Cassidy’s Chief of Staff, Matt, and received my summer project, my mind quickly flipped into research mode and I was ready to roll.

I settle into my cozy desk with ease and read over my project outline. Cassidy is requesting information on public housing and I am responsible for digging up as much information as possible. The project is divided into four phases and I will spend the next couple of weeks completing Phase 1 – obtaining a multitude of information on local, state and federal programs.

As I begin my research, I am struck by the laid-back atmosphere within the office and I am in awe of this unassuming office building housing Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, Rep. Kelly Cassidy, Ald. Osterman, State Sen. Steans and US Rep. Schakowsky. The cathedral ceiling with a skylight high above my desk provides the perfect amount of sunlight and partial ceilings throughout lend themselves to a community feel – it is clear everyone here works as a team.

Once I have constructed my station… One stack of papers, two highlighters, one pen, one pencil, one eraser and one iPad… I am ready to do my part and prove I am a worthy player. In my four hours at the office, I complete about 75% of my research on County programs. I amass two and a half pages on the Section 8 Choice Housing Voucher program and start looking into The Chicago Trust Fund.

About an hour after I arrive, Cassidy’s part-time staffer in charge of Community Outreach, Pat, bounces into the office after a mani pedi and a pit stop at the French restaurant next door. She occupies the desk next to me, and after all the work she did for me last summer, we feel like old chums at this point. It’s very interesting to hear the calls that come to her desk – a same-sex couple battling marriage restrictions in DuPage County, a disabled man having difficulties finding work, an invitation to the White House (to which she had to decline).

After three visits to the office (12 hours in total) I complete my note taking on Phase 1. Last Thursday I worked from home to organize all my notes and formulated them into a document I will present to Matt today. I feel as though I’ve hit my groove and I’m looking forward to a summer of hard work and enlightenment… I just hope all this work on public housing doesn’t make me too cynical. My research has only begun, but I can already spot some problems lurking around the next corner. In Phase 2, I will really be able to sink my teeth into the individual public housing units in Edgewater and Rogers Park. Those are the specific spots where constituents are complaining to Cassidy about poor living conditions and inadequate landlords.

All in all, I have great expectations at a haven of endless possibilities.

7 July 2014

It has certainly been an interesting few weeks here in Illinois’ 14th congressional district. Prior to the end of the legislative session, the anti-bullying law that Rep. Cassidy co-sponsored was signed into law and she made an appearance on Chicago Tonight. Additionally, a new budget was passed as well as important measures regarding criminal justice, the environment, fair taxes and marriage equality. Naturally, I had a hand in none of this, but the electric vibe around the office was contagious.

I finally completed Phase 1 of my public housing research – my work was critiqued as “top notch” which gave me the confidence to continue plugging away. One afternoon in mid June, I had the office all to myself as Matt was out sick and Pat was gone for the day. I could hear the hustle and bustle in Sen. Steans’, Rep. Schakowsky’s and Ald. Osterman’s offices, but my cozy corner was dim and quiet which offered the perfect environment for research.

By the end of June, everyone working in the building appeared more laid back than in the month prior… Although chaos was slowly taking control of my mind.

I took a six-week summer course in Political Theory and the work was extremely demanding. I am proud of myself for completing the course all the while working from home to satisfy my obligations of the internship. However, these last two weeks have seen crashing cycles of unfortunate events.

The accessible taxicab service continues to prove itself unreliable by causing me to miss a couple days of work. Yet, when I voiced all of these concerns to Matt, we discussed the idea of focusing some of my research on investigating the matter – so I might have a lemons-to-lemonade situation on that front. I then had to miss another day of work to focus on my Political Theory final exam and paper. However, Matt was very understanding (as usual) and I topped off the course with a 91% (a victory in and of itself). And, last week, celebrations and festivities cleared the office schedule.

Matt’s birthday happened to fall on the day the United States played Belgium in the World Cup, and he closed up shop at 2 PM. I planned to return to the office last Thursday, but again, all workers cleared out to get an early start to the holiday weekend. All things considered, I don’t feel as though I’ve lost any steam – I’ve maintained a steady stream of communication with Matt and he assured me that he is happy with the work I have done thus far.

So, This week we began anew!

The focus of my public housing research has shifted to landlords, and I will receive new instructions when I arrived at work tomorrow. It’s hard to believe I only have three weeks left! The first half of this course passed by me like a freight train I never saw coming. Therefore, I am determined to soak up every ounce of experience and opportunity throughout the remainder of my session.

21 July 2014

Well, the back third of the internship has proven to be the best! Two weeks ago, I was able to sit in on a meeting between Rep. Cassidy, Sen. Steans and three women from Our Schools – Rogers Park. The group wanted Cassidy and Steans to help raise awareness on the progress of a few high achieving students at three CPS schools in Rogers Park; and lend a helping hand in boosting the overall assessment of the schools. At one particular school, only 4% of students are reading at a normal rate and 1% is at normal math and science levels. I found it interesting to witness beginning stages of change, and quite intriguing to observe the make up of the meeting… Of the 10 people seated around the table – Steans, Cassidy, two staffers, three advocates, three interns – nine of us were women. There seems to be a paradigm shift occurring in the wild world of politics… And I am lucky enough to be at the threshold.

I’m still plugging away at my public housing project and Matt is starting to give me more work, which I happily accept. I’m halfway through Phase 3 of 4 and I think I’ve proven myself to be an asset in digging for specified research.

On Wednesday, when all other interns were fastening up the odds and ends for the evening’s Town Hall meeting, I was at my desk searching for “pro-condo State Senators.” HB 2664 failed in the Senate on Tuesday – much to Cassidy’s dismay – and she is looking to flip some senators to her side. I spent four solid hours researching voting records, condominium legislation, press releases and any other tidbit that pertains to the cause. I will be anxious to see how the whole thing shakes out.

And one other realization struck me as giddy… Sen. Steans’ Chief of Staff knows my name! I realize this is a minor happening, but in my book, it is a major accomplishment.

Considering all the obstacles barring my path this summer – abysmal cabs services, renovating the condo, family crises – I view my completion of this internship as a stellar victory!

It’s difficult to wrap my head around the fact that this whole experience is coming to an end. All of my expectations have been met; and a vast majority of them have been exceeded upon. My plan is to stay active in community events and I will continue to help Rep. Cassidy, Matt and Pat in any capacity I am able. I have made invaluable connections with influential people that I have grown to admire on a personal level. Everyone in the office is passionate, caring and part of a greater cause; and each person is looked upon as equal parts of a moving ship. As a former athlete, I know full well the importance of teamwork and this group of legislators has all hands on deck in an effort to advance each persons standing. In a world where cynicism is rampant, it is encouraging to see a united front amongst elected officials dedicated to the greater good.

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