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Voices’ Blog

Navigating the Policy Path as a Voices Intern

Posted:  -  By: Christina Feerick

Guest author — Voices intern Hannah Adams

This summer I was given the incredible opportunity to work alongside the talented staff at Voices in order to learn more about the policy process. What I gained was immeasurably more than I could’ve hoped for. I was able to work on three different policy areas, learn about data visualization, and help create advocacy materials for the upcoming state election. Even though I was technically just an intern, I was given real responsibility and projects that made an impact on the organization, which added to this great experience.

One of the most rewarding aspects of this summer culminated in a meeting with Dr. Daniel Carey, Secretary of Health and Human Resources for the Commonwealth. The first day I began working at Voices, Policy Director Emily Griffey asked me to read up on the newly passed Family First Prevention Services Act. From there, I was tasked with developing a chart of services that would help us and other partners visualize where the services would be concentrated and where there are gaps. This evolved into a glossary of available programs and resources broken down by age group and prevention level. We were able to schedule a meeting with Dr. Carey, where we presented a memo, along with the chart, that raised pertinent questions about the implementation of FFPSA in Virginia. One of the main reasons why I liked this project so much was that it was really challenging to me. I am used to answers to questions being black and white, but there is sometimes no easy path in policy. I had to spend a lot of time revising, changing, and adapting my thought process to fit others’ input and include the ever-changing updates by the state.

Another opportunity that I had was following the implementation and updates of both STEP-VA and Behavioral Health Redesign. One of the very first meetings I attended was for the Joint Subcommittee Studying Mental Health Services in the Commonwealth in the 21st Century. I learned about the progress of implementation of these two programs and saw the delegates and senators shape the direction of the programs in real-time. This was extremely rewarding for me since I was able to see how the state legislature worked with different state departments as they implemented a statewide overhaul of behavioral health services. It was also cool for me to see the role that Voices played in this. Since policy team members are registered lobbyists, they attended these meetings and helped remind legislators how the choices they made impacted children.

The last major project I was asked to work on was data visualization and verification of different points in the 2019 Election Guide, which just launched a few days ago. I worked closely with the Research Director to learn about mapping in GIS and how to verify data. Through this, I also learned a lot about project management, since this project was completed within a tight timeline and had a lot of moving parts. Even though I learn about some of these aspects in graduate school, it is vital to see how this major project comes together in the real world – with everything else the staff had going on!

These past few months have been nothing but great and I cannot wait to head back into my second year of grad school with everything I have learned. I am extremely grateful to the entire staff for making me feel so included and involved. I am especially grateful to the policy team — Emily, Ashley, and Allison — for taking the time to explain policies to me and introduce me to other advocates at meetings. One last thank you to Lauren for being patient with me and allowing me to explore the fascinating world of data visualization. While I am sad to be leaving, I am more excited to see where this journey into policy takes me!

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