SECU Public Fellows intern emphasizes giving back to others

For many nonprofits, it’s not just their mission that defines them, but the connections they build within their communities.

East Carolina University sophomore Vedika Modi learned about the importance of those connections during her internship with the Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children this fall as part of the State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU) Public Fellows Internship (PFI) program.

The public health and English double major, who has aspirations of pursing a medical degree, stepped out of the classroom and navigated COVID-19 restrictions to help strengthen the partnership’s connections with parents and children across its two-county service area.

“I really didn’t know how much assistance the partnership offered,” Modi said. “When I was looking for an internship, I believed in the partnership’s goals and mission statement, but the level of work that’s required to do the things they do blew my mind. This internship taught me that there’s an invisible framework that supports parents and children in our community that, until you’re a part of it, you never realize is there.”

Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children Early Literacy coordinator Angela Sawyer, top left, and Sheppard Memorial librarian Amber Winstead introduce families and children to early literacy techniques during an early childhood literacy event. (Submitted by Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children)

That framework provided by the Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children has stood since 1998 when the organization was founded as one of 76 Smart Start partnerships in North Carolina. The nonprofit provides families, childcare providers and early childhood educators with programs that promote kindergarten readiness, supplies access to early childhood literacy tools, help fund high quality childcare experiences, and more.

As part of her internship, Modi was responsible for researching and scouting new locations for stand-alone book lending libraries and analyzing data to determine where their placement could have the greatest impact in Martin and Pitt counties.

“One of our most expansive goals includes increasing early childhood literacy in our communities,” said Amanda Parmelee, Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children community outreach director. “One way we do that is by placing stand-alone book lending libraries in areas that have shown a need for greater access to reading materials. Vedika has canvassed areas around Greenville to find new locations for our libraries, increasing the number of touch points where parents can find books that will help prepare their children for school.”

Building those connections with local businesses and education leaders wasn’t easy during a pandemic. Instead of working on location at the partnership’s offices, Modi worked from home. Instead of meeting parents at events, she filled out spreadsheets.

“It’s been difficult,” Modi said. “What I envisioned for the project was so much different than what it’s been. Not being able to meet with others in person is tough, but it’s made me figure out how to work in a different environment.

“However, I knew I was in good hands when Amanda offered to move me back to Charlotte if we had to leave the dorms. Those are the kinds of people they have working at the partnership. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to help those in the community.”

Parmelee added that the partnership takes Modi’s internship role seriously because it’s a sign that the SECU and ECU believe in the work the partnership is doing in the community.

“It’s recognition of the importance of our mission and vision,” she said. “But it’s also an opportunity for students to learn about all of the great things happening in Greenville outside of ECU. Internship programs like PFI give students a sense of ownership over projects that impact their communities; it allows them to put down roots.”

Those connections to her new community continue to grow for the Charlotte native.

“I’ve always lived in a city,” Modi said. “It was a transition, but I’ve really found myself loving it here. If this is going to be my community for the next four to eight years, I realized I have to give something back.

“I can’t just be a visitor here. If you don’t give back to your community, it’s not really your community.”

The SECU Public Fellows Internship program at ECU connects the university and regional communities through projects that address community-identified priorities. Students are placed in government and nonprofit positions that allow them to develop leadership, analytical, problem solving, communication and project management skills.