Who Do You Know?

Two puffins chatting with Who Do You Know? above them.

Each of us has the power to build a bridge.

A few months ago, a young lady with an intellectual disability – let’s call her Angela – reached out to me. She was being served by an entity that was having some difficulty finding her an internship that suited her. Angela knew exactly the kind of work she wanted to do. It was a job where she could envision her future.

Angela had the self-advocacy thing down. She called me. She said, “Mr. Ned, I need your help.” Angela and I already had a relationship – she had participated in a two-day youth empowerment workshop that I facilitated with staff from other agencies, and then returned, the following year, in a leadership role, where she co-presented with the staff and created and delivered her own icebreaker. So I knew a few important things about her: she could and would speak up for herself; she could step into a leadership role; she did what she said she would do; she had a sense of who she could contact for the specific help she needed, and she knew what she wanted.

These are huge, positive attributes that any wise employer or director would relish.

And so I did what I always do in these situations: I made finding an internship for Angela my cause, and I started thinking. I began close to home, with what I knew best. Could I encourage my boss to bring Angela on as an intern? Maybe. But an internship with our agency was not what Angela was looking for.

So I began flipping through my mental Rolodex. Who did I know who was in any way connected to the work Angela hoped to do? I had a flash, and made two phone calls to people I had collaborated with in the past. Neither call produced the “answer”, but the second person I spoke with gave me an idea, which bloomed in my head like a fresh bouquet! Instead of this “no” being viewed as a disappointment, it was the key.

Long story short: I turned to my wife, who is much smarter than me, and she gave me a potential name. I contacted Mr. Potential, who knew people in administration at a place that did exactly what Angela wanted to do. Then I called those people, used Mr. Potential’s name, and did my best to represent Angela’s skillset. A meeting was scheduled, and three of us – me, my wife and Mr. Potential – sat across the table from this entity’s administrative staff and sang Angela’s praises, in three-part harmony.

Long story even shorter: Angela is now interning for this place, and having the time of her life. After some initial training and orientation, they gave Angela a very important assignment, which most of us, so-called “typical” folks, would have lost sleep over. Angela said, “Sure. I can do that.”

And she did. And it went seamlessly. And then her “bosses” at the internship saw a person who was: competent, trust-worthy, responsible, and very possibly able to take on even more challenging assignments. When Angela exits this internship, if the organization she is interning for doesn’t grab her up for themselves, she will have expanded her résumé and developed a list of people, known and respected individuals in the community, who will be her references, and writers of her letters of recommendations. That is huge, because remember: Angela is envisioning her future.

There was no magic here, well, except maybe from Angela’s end.

You can do this.

Anybody who has a few connections in the world and a desire to help can be, or build a bridge.

You don’t have to be the person who can hire. You don’t have to be the person who knows who’s hiring, or who might be open to hosting an internship. You don’t even have to be the person who knows who to reach out to. You just have to be the person who’s willing to take on a project on someone else’s behalf, and begin thinking, and then make a call or two. It’s that easy.

So, who do you know?

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