Melissa Theodore ‘20 serves as a paradigm of a driven and commendable young professional. An outstanding student throughout her four years at Merrimack College, Theodore earns recognition for her incredible career development journey, most notably within her current internship with St. Ann’s Home, a residential and special education school in Methuen, MA. When Theodore first began her position as a Child Care Counselor with St. Ann’s Home in January of 2020, she looked forward to the experience and knowledge she would gain within the next few months. The arrival of the current COVID-19 pandemic would prompt Theodore to realize that her time with St Ann’s Home would become even more meaningful to her than she could have ever imagined. Graduating in just a few short weeks from Merrimack with a Bachelors of Science degree in health science and bioethics, Theodore now prepares to enter the working world with a full-time position at St. Ann’s Home, as well as the experience and skill set necessary to allow her to stand out as an exceptional candidate within her respective field.
At the beginning of her internship experience, Theodore found herself content in her routine of diverse responsibilities within her position. “At St. Ann’s Home, we work with emotionally troubled children and adolescents and the families of those children, so a very basic description of my role [involves providing] day-to-day support and maintaining a nurturing and stable environment for each client,” Theodore explains. While Theodore provides an accessible depiction of her general tasks, the reality of her position is quite intricate. With a minimum requirement of 48 hours a week, Theodore works with each of her clients, their families, and other agencies to help guide students through the management of their disabilities to enhance the children’s learning and development. “My day-to-day routine may consist of any or all of a number of tasks, such as preparing the children for school and helping them with their homework, distributing their medicine, updating communication logs for our staff, preparing meals, conducting group therapeutic programs, and any other chores that may need to be completed,” Theodore expresses. The most essential component of her position, and the aspect she most enjoys, revolves around her connections with her clients and their families; “sometimes, I honestly forget I’m even working, that’s how much I love it,” Theodore conveys.
Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic and the mass closures of public and private institutions would come to present a monumental disruption of the daily functions of St. Ann’s Home. As the safety of the children, their families, and the staff served as the top priority for St. Ann’s Home, Theodore and her co-workers embraced new measures to ensure the education and the preservation of the school would continue to be available for their students amidst the crisis of the pandemic. As a result, St. Ann’s Home set an emergency preparedness plan in order to remain operational for the needs of their students. “We’ve enacted precautionary and containment measures for our students and staff to combat the threat of the virus, particularly with having our nursing department come in and show the kids and the staff how to properly wash their hands, cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, and other measures to protect the children,” Theodore notes of the changes that have rippled throughout the institution. “The biggest thing has really been limiting the children’s exposure to one another to limit the risk of spreading infection, and the increased measures for [sanitization and disinfection of all areas],” Theodore believes. She continues, “[for example], we’ve restricted group settings, such as gym time, to limit the children coming into too close of contact with one another, and we’ve had to increase weekend housekeeping to clean public areas, and oversee staff intervention to keep all areas [properly] disinfected.”
Aside from the impact of the pandemic upon the typical functions of St Ann’s Home, Theodore herself has experienced a shift in her responsibilities. Theodore now works anywhere between 54 and 77 hours per week, including two overnight shifts. The overall nature of her schedule has also undergone alterations for increased organization to accommodate remote learning for their students. “As both a home and a school, our main [goal as interns and staff members concerns providing our] clients with a safe environment and a strong parental unit to support them,” Theodore begins, “the most notable change [in our functions has involved the need to] replace the typical school day with homeschooling, and [to plan] more activities for the children [to keep them entertained]. The process has definitely become more hands-on.” Yet, amid such drastic precautionary measures and changes to the daily functions of the institution, Theodore continues to enjoy every second of her internship and working with the children and families. She even considers the effects of the pandemic upon her internship in a positive light, stating, “I definitely think I’ve been able to develop and demonstrate a sense of flexibility [in the event of crisis], which is something I never really anticipated [to gain out of this experience].”Additionally, Theodore’s need to balance the changes to her internship along with the college’s implementation of remote learning allows her to enhance and exhibit essential communication skills. She’s learned to embrace the need to ask for help in certain situations, and assures her fellow students that practicing and developing proper communication skills can help to lessen the stress of remote learning or an altered internship experience. “It’d be easy to say that time management is the most important skill to focus on, but honestly, managing your time wisely doesn’t necessarily mean that the things you’re managing well aren’t still stressful,” Theodore explains of her reasoning. “I think everyone should [enhance their communication skills and learn to] communicate with their professors and co-workers [about feeling] overwhelmed or stressed [in order to] work through it with them. You don’t always need to take everything on by yourself. You’re not alone in how you feel, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help; otherwise, by trying to manage everything on your own, it might be too late by the time you figure things out.”
Beyond the skills she’s obtained and enhanced throughout her position, Theodore remains incredibly grateful for her overall experience as an intern, and encourages students to continue to seek out internship opportunities. “I think that interning anywhere, in any format, can be beneficial,” Theodore states. “I think it’s just important overall to be open to opportunities that aren’t limited to what you think you want to do after graduation. This experience alone has kind of altered my own career path, which I didn’t expect [it to]. Originally, I planned to go right to graduate school, but I’ve learned that making connections and continuing to work in the field hands-on with St. Ann’s Home will help me more with what I want to do. There’s no need to rush through my education.”
If your career development remains as a preoccupation for you amidst this difficult time, the O’Brien Center is always here to help you work through your unique career goals. Schedule a virtual appointment on Handshake to discuss the next steps for your career goals, or visit our Featured Jobs + Internships page to begin applying for your next experiential learning opportunity.
Written By: Kerry Reynolds, Class of 2021