June 2008 Reflection

There is a cozy old pub on Poolbeg Street and my older sister and I are sitting in it, Smithwick’s in front of us, chatting and reminscing as we drink. The ornery old publican is pacing up and down the length of the bar, filling pint glasses as he shares rather raunchy jokes with the regulars (similarly old and ornery looking men) and commenting on us, the out-of-place American ‘tourists’. I live here, I proudly tell him. And so, after yet another dirty joke, he shares some wise words. There are different kinds of experiences, he says. There are things you do that you’d rather you hadn’t, things you do you’d rather forget, things you do that you sometimes recall, and things you do that you fondly remember. But above all else, there are things you do that you take a few minutes to appreciate every day. Make your time in Ireland one of those kinds of experiences, he tells me.

For the rest of my life, I will appreciate my experience as a Mitchell Scholar every day and for this, I am eternally grateful to not just the US-Ireland Alliance, Trina, and Mary Lou, but to the donors and sponsors who have made this programme possible; to the spunky professors who opened their office doors and defied my expectations; to the other Scholars who provided loads of hilarious moments (including attempting to bring in extra guests to Trinity’s campus by “bribing” the Trinity security guards with pumpkin pie) and political debates; and to the staff at Dublin’s Homeless Agency, the site of my current internship.

My full-time work as a policy intern with the Homeless Agency has done much more than integrate classroom theory with the real world. It has fostered my sense of civic responsibility, allowed me to bond over after-work drinks with Irish co-workers, provided insight into the Irish policymaking and budgetary processes, and, perhaps most importantly, taught me that while Irish policymaking may differ from the American process, there are fundamental realities in tackling omnipresent societal challenges.

My definition of a healthy community encompasses much more than the physical health of its residents to include issues of education, housing, and economic and social justice. I have found that the services that governments and nonprofit organisations provide to achieve community health are quite similar, whether I’m in the sprawling, cosmopolitan metropolis of Dublin or in the small, college town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

In both of these locations, social services agencies attempt to better serve their respective communities by building coalitions. Collectives form to overcome limitations that individual organizations do not have the capacity to independently address. From my experiences on both sides of the Atlantic, I have developed an understanding of the difficulties in achieving interagency collaboration between nonprofit organizations serving overlapping populations. Thus the challenge of bringing organisations together has become a topic of deep interest to me. Achieving collaboration when individual, autonomous organizations each have an allegiance to their own missions, stakeholders, and constituencies is not an easy task. Nevertheless, I continue to believe building coalitions, especially those based on information exchange, may be one way to maintain and increase the overall health of communities. I remain a bit uncertain about where I will be working and living when I leave Dublin in mid-September, but I do know that I will continue to be committed to serving my community, to helping my place of work achieve its organisational mission and objectives, and to making people, particularly those most vulnerable in society, more healthy. And I know that, like my publican friend advised me, I will be sure to appreciate my Irish experiences on a daily basis.

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