Her mom works two jobs to keep the bills paid, so her grandmother is in charge most of the time.
It’s never been easy in their house, and from Kendra’s perspective, life will never be easy or good.
She thought about becoming a nurse, but often feels she’s not smart enough to get that far in life. Or, at least, she felt that way until she signed up for the St. Louis Internship Program.
“This student had so much negativity in and around her that she self- deprecated a whole lot,” said Shanise Johnson, executive director of the St. Louis Internship Program (SLIP), a 2017 grantee of the Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund.
“So she signed up for the internship program because she’s really interested in becoming a nurse, and through the process of SLIP’s intensive training we were able to understand some of her interpersonal skill challenges and from that we worked to develop them in a more positive manner.”
With help from Johnson and SLIP, Kendra developed a roadmap that not only mapped the path to her life goals, but also taught her it was possible to get there.
Now Kendra is “doing extremely well,” Johnson said.
SLIP was founded in 1992 by a group led by attorney Thomas Hullverson.
“The theme from Law Day that year was ‘Access to Justice,’ and that was in the wake of the Rodney King verdict,” said Mark Levison, a founding SLIP board member and past president of the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis. “There had been some rioting across the country. It was clear that some people didn’t think they had access to justice.”
Levison, now a partner at Lashly & Baer, got a call from Hullverson, who suggested that an internship program could give city youth something positive and productive to focus on.
“He had been thinking about the bad press lawyers got, and how it wasn’t recognized when lawyers did positive things in their community,” Levison said.
“So Tom said, ‘why don’t we hire 50 interns into the law firms for the summer? We’ll dress them in recognizable business attire, that way the lawyers will recognize them and will give them positive role models and help them along the way.'”
That summer, St. Louis-area law firms hired 52 student interns from St. Louis city schools.
“We wanted kids who were going back to the schools to spread the influence back to their families and their fellow students,” Levison said. “We wanted to influence the life of somebody who could then influence their siblings, or even their friends.”
Over the years, the program expanded to serve schools in St. Louis County and the region, but ultimately SLIP has refocused on working solely with students who attend private, parochial, charter and public high schools located within the city of St. Louis.
In 25 years, SLIP has served nearly 4,000 students, on average 100 interns a year.
Every Fall, SLIP staff visits high schools to speak to the entire sophomore and junior class who are eligible for the program.
Requirements include maintaining at least a 2.0 cumulative GPA, being in the 10th or 11th grade, and meeting the federal guidelines for free or reduced lunch.
It is an elective program, so students only apply if they’re interested and willing to put in the work. Applications are due in December, and by January, SLIP staff begin the arduous process of selecting interns.
Each applicant is interviewed and once selected, they must complete a Saturday employability skills development and training program.
“They spend 60 hours learning how to get a job, keep a job, but more importantly do well in that job,” Johnson said. “It also keeps the students with something positive to focus on – the students are out in the summer with something to do so they don’t get involved in delinquent activities.”
SLIP does more than just place the students in an internship. They help students build their personal and professional networks and teach them resume writing, interview skills and financial literacy. They also do many simulations on behaviors such as phone etiquette and dining etiquette.
“The students can then picture themselves in a professional world,” Johnson said. “They earn paychecks not stipends so they have to open a bank account. They have a job to get to and from. They learn to be positive about where your life is going.”
SLIP tries to match the student to the career path that best suits their talents, personality and skills.
The program works with roughly 60 employer partners, from law firms like Lashly & Baer to healthcare facilities like St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield.
SLIP covers wraparound services, such as bus transportation to and from distant locations like St. Luke’s. They also provide specialized training opportunities, such as all-day programming at the hospital where interns can learn firsthand from medical professionals firsthand.
The SOS funding will help cover the costs of these wraparound services, which can also include pre-collegiate programs, employability training, testing and career development.
Even after the summer internship is completed, SLIP continues to support the student’s future plans year-round. The program provides access to ACT prep, educational seminars, volunteer opportunities and scholarship resources, and even coordinates college visits.
The program seems to be working.
“Over 98 percent have completed their summer internships and gone on to pursue post-secondary goals such as university or college,” Johnson said. “Since 2009, 100 percent of our seniors have graduated high school. For the last few years we’ve had 100 percent completion with the summer internships.”
Many of those former interns have gone on to become lawyers, nurse practitioners, engineers and sole proprietors.
Johnson herself started as a SLIP intern in 1995.She graduated from St. Louis University and worked at SLIP as a program specialist before she was named executive director in November 2012.
Right now, all the full-time staff at SLIP are former interns, she said.
An intern from 2005 recently came back to St. Louis just to establish a scholarship through SLIP for graduating seniors.
“He still works for his same company,” Johnson said. “He created a scholarship to sow a seed in the St. Louis community.”
Sowing seeds is at the very heart of what SLIP is all about, Johnson said.
“What we’re doing impacts the community as a whole, because the money that the students earn is put right back into the community when they become consumers,” Johnson said. “We are cultivating our future leaders. That impacts more than just that student and their family.”
*Note: Names of students and some details may have been changed to protect their identity.
Narrative developed and written for Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund by Bethany Prange of 618 Creative. Some photos provided by SLIP; others photographed by Dallis Jackson.