Undergraduates Nourished by D.C. Semester Give Back to the ‘Table’

Semester in Washington Director Meredith Weiss and student Melody Tien prepare sandwiches for McKenna’s Wagon, a mobile food truck that serves Washington’s homeless and hungry.

ALBANY, N.Y. (February 9, 2016) — This spring, the popular Semester in Washington (SIW) experience, already considered life-changing by many undergraduate students, is being enriched even further by the incorporation of an integral part of the UAlbany student experience: community service.

For nearly 20 years, UAlbany undergraduates aspiring to careers in government and the public and nonprofit sectors have traveled to Washington, D.C. for their spring semesters to study, work, and apply their personal interests, skills and passions in practical workplace settings. They meet political leaders, network with successful alumni, attend legislative hearings and special briefings, and become acquainted with the governmental, historic, artistic and recreational assets of the city.

The 25 students enrolled this year are getting more, and giving more. “Last year we discussed adding a group service project to the program so that students could give back to the D.C. community, and I suggested Martha’s Table,” said Rockefeller College SIW alumnus and advisor Peter W. Brusoe ’03, MS ’04, a D.C. resident and campaign finance and lobbying data analyst for Bloomberg, L.P.

Martha’s Table is a northwest Washington nonprofit that for 35 years has been providing food, education and opportunity programs for vulnerable children and families. Last year, it served more than one million meals, distributed free clothing and housewares to 10,000 neighbors in need, and provided education to more than 200 children and older youth.

SIW Director Meredith Weiss called the program that Martha’s Table put together for the SIW students “truly informative and compelling.” In addition to touring the organization’s food market, early childcare center and thrift shop, the students spoke with a number of young professionals who work in stakeholder engagement, development, and the Healthy Start, Healthy Eating and Healthy Connections programs.

The UAlbany students even got hands-on, preparing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for those utilizing Martha’s Table services. “We were able to witness the ways in which nonprofit organizations operate, network and influence their surrounding communities,” said Robert Mainville, a political science major with a concentration in international politics, interning in D.C, with the Human Rights Campaign.

The experience at Martha’s Table for junior Shelby Hettenbach, an intern with the D.C. grassroots membership organization Citizens for Global Solutions, was so inspiring she signed up to intern in its fundraising department this summer.

“The dichotomy between ‘federal’ and ‘local’ Washington is striking,” notes Brusoe. “A city where people pay thousands of dollars for a political fundraising dinner has people just blocks away starving. I think it's important that as our students experience ‘federal’ Washington first-hand, they also see ‘local’ Washington.”

That distinction didn’t go unnoticed by political science and history double major Orion Marchese, who’s interning with FairVote.” “The fact that Martha’s Table feeds and cares for so many despite the gentrification of the D.C. area is a true testament to the strength and dedication of the staff.”

Weiss said that Martha’s Table may soon find itself with a couple dozen new UAlbany recruits. Brusoe noted, “I think it speaks well of our students that regardless of whether they’re studying in Albany or here in D.C., they are giving back to make the world a better place.”

SIW is offered every spring and open to all majors. Students earn 15 credits while taking classes and completing an internship. Applications for 2017 will be accepted this April and October.

For more information, visit www.albany.edu/rockefeller/siw.

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