Ball State student Levi Todd recounts the incredible opportunities he had interning at The Poetry Center of Chicago. Levi worked at The Poetry Center, an office located in downtown Chicago, where he served as Social Media and Programming Intern for this organization. 

Like any college student, I’ve gotten pretty familiar with my career elevator speech that I can pull out when returning home, meeting new people, and for general small talk. It sounds like this: “I want to work for a literacy nonprofit that offers creative writing education to youth.” I’ve also gotten pretty familiar with people’s responses to this. Most often it’s a concealed grimace, like they’re holding back from saying “Oh, you poor thing.” Other times it’s people flat-out asking, “So you’re okay with not making any money?”

I’m not sure who started it, but there seems to be a false notion of working in the nonprofit sector. I think most people’s conception of a nonprofit organization is flickering lights in a church basement, where the staff is foregoing their third paycheck so that the children they serve can receive a library. We consider nonprofit workers to be doing good work, but not “successful” by our traditional definitions.

Whenever I meet these cynics, I want to introduce them to the Chicago Literacy Alliance. The CLA is a collective of 90+ nonprofit organizations devoted to various aspects of literacy. The organizations share resources and information to set up a city-wide alliance with the common goal of bettering Chicago’s literacy. Each organization does something different–Infiniteach creates technology that allows businesses and organizations to make their spaces more accessible to those with autism. Injustice Watch exposes institutional injustice and better equips journalists to write about inequality and social change. The organization I interned for, The Poetry Center of Chicago, gets public school students reading and writing poetry, and creates paid professional opportunities for Chicago poets.

Literacenter Welcome Room

These organizations within the CLA share a co-working space called The Literacenter. Housed in downtown Chicago, the office looks like Google had an artsy sibling. The open floor plan allows organizations to interact with each other while getting work done. Each meeting room has a punny title (e.g. Roombinson Crusoe, A Room of One’s Own), and you can take a brightly colored scooter to get there. Any of the 90+ organizations part of the CLA can use the space, and
creatively collaborate with other organizations like theirs.

But it’s not just the modern office space that makes the CLA so awesome. It’s the fact that during my internship for The Poetry Center of Chicago, I got to come to work every day and see successful, professional individuals working for nonprofits. They hosted seminars on successful fundraising, working with English Second Language students, and how to be an Executive Director. These literacy nonprofits aren’t just getting by–they’re thriving, and doing so by supporting each other.

I served as Social Media and Programming Intern at the Poetry Center of Chicago. I got a chance to apply the digital media skills I learned in Professor Eva Grouling-Snider’s Digital Literacies class as I managed the organization’s social media platforms, outreach, and fundraising. I also helped develop an adult writing workshop series by researching similar programs, determining cost and expenses, and compiling questionnaire responses from the public. My general experience in BSU English helped me communicate my research succinctly in proposals and reports, and the department’s general emphasis on career readiness made me ensure I was asking my supervisor about how to be better prepared for the nonprofit sector.

In tandem with my past internships and my education within BSU English, I feel entirely prepared for my career in the future. I’ve been introduced to a world where nonprofits excel by cooperating, and where my passions and skills can intersect. And contrary to popular belief, I can make a paycheck while doing so as well.