CPP Interns Grow Professionally, Impact the Community
Aug. 21, 2015
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— This summer, 10 Illinois Wesleyan University students participated
in a unique experience through the Community Partnership Program (CPP). As a joint effort between Illinois Wesleyan’s Action Research Center (ARC) and State Farm, CPP is the only program in the country that employs a 3-2-1
format. During the 11-week program, the interns spend three days a week interning
at State Farm, two days working at a community nonprofit and one night meeting with
ARC to learn about community development, leadership and nonprofit infrastructure.
One participant, Kimberly Mensah ’16 worked in the philanthropy department at State
Farm and at Unity Community Center in Normal, a multicultural center that provides programming for youth from families
with limited resources.
A psychology major from Bolingbrook, Ill., Mensah conducted pre-feasibility research
at Unity for future expansion efforts. Her various projects involved developing parent
surveys and drafting an initial expansion proposal, which Unity can utilize as the
organization pursues plans for growth.
After graduation, Mensah hopes to work within the community. “CPP has definitely solidified
my interest for interacting and providing service to my community and has also made
me more passionate about public health,” said Mensah, who is president and co-founder
of Cross-Cultural Connections at Illinois Wesleyan, a student organization developed
to bridging gaps and fostering mutual relationships between international and U.S.
Bloomington native Matthew Mardis ’16 worked for the Resource Deployment team in the
P&C Claims Department at State Farm, which handles catastrophe claims, and at the
West Bloomington Revitalization project. Convened in 2008, the WBRP leads collaborative efforts within West Bloomington and
facilitates a variety of local programs, including the Tool Library, a free tool-lending
In addition to renovating the WBRP website, Mardis, a mathematics major, conducted
research to update the West Bloomington Strategic Plan. “My job this summer was to
interview both current and former board members to get their input on what progress
has been made with the neighborhood plan since it was first developed and what areas
still need focus,” said Mardis, who plays baseball at Illinois Wesleyan.
“Not only did [CPP] give me the opportunity to expand my network by meeting a vast
array of people, but it taught me the importance of viewing the world from different
perspectives,” Mardis said. “As a result, I feel confident and prepared as I begin
looking for post-undergraduate opportunities because the CPP program has allowed me
to experience so many different sides of the working world.”
Brianna Piro ’17, a psychology and sociology double major from Pekin, Ill., spent
her summer working with the Total Rewards-Compensation department at State Farm. Her
nonprofit was Marcfirst in Bloomington, which connects families and people with developmental disabilities
to their community.
At Marcfirst, Piro assisted with Friends First, a social group for individuals with
developmental disabilities, and helped compile and revise curriculum for the Summer
School to Work Program, which helps students with developmental disabilities transition
from high school to the work force.
“My last main project was to create a business directory that was categorized by geographic
location as well as career cluster,” said Piro. “This was to help the Supported Employment
clients to find jobs near their homes.”
According to Piro, the CPP experience has strengthened her love for nonprofit work.
“I have always wanted to find a way to help as many people as possible, and CPP provided
me with that opportunity this summer,” said Piro, who serves as president of the community
service organization Circle K at Illinois Wesleyan. She will also continue her internship
at Marcfirst during the fall.
As part of CPP, State Farm funds a mini-grant for which the CPP interns compete on
behalf of their assigned nonprofits. The interns wrote grant proposals valued up to
$500, and this year Mardis and Piro were selected as winners.
“The grant that I wrote this summer was designed in hopes of funding a home weatherization
workshop that will take place at the Tool Library in early October to help westside
residents begin to prepare for the cold winter months,” Mardis said. The grant will
provide window winterization kits for 20 Westside residents, and five heat guns available
for checkout at the Tool Library.
With the goal of helping Marcfirst clients obtain independence, Piro wrote a grant
for a financial literacy class about budgeting and saving techniques. Funds will also
provide job interview-appropriate clothing for five clients.
Whether they see themselves going to graduate school, working in a nonprofit or going
the corporate route, the CPP interns uncovered many new opportunities this summer.
“I think the biggest lesson I learned was the fact that while we have the ability
to create and make the most of our own experiences, it is how we craft them which
makes our experiences worthwhile,” Mensah said. “In CPP, you are forced to find your
own resources and build your projects using knowledge and skillsets that you have
and pick up along the way. You learn how to interact to bring about the best results
in your projects.”
Rounding out the CPP 2015 interns and participating nonprofits were:
Bryce Dolan ’16 (Washington, Mo.); business administration major; Boys & Girls Club
Adam Garcia ’16 (Darien, Ill.); computer science and risk management majors; Mid Central
Landon Hoffman ’16 (Bonfield, Ill.); financial services and economics majors; Habitat
for Humanity of McLean County
Tara Isenberg ’17 (Pontiac, Ill.); accounting major; Milestones Early Learning Center
Christopher Kincheloe ’17 (Des Plaines, Ill.); accounting major; Bloomington-Normal
Tia Patsavas ’16 (Plainfield, Ill.); English-writing major; YWCA McLean County
Emily Shankar ’16 (Skokie, Ill.); International Studies and Hispanic Studies double
majors; Western Avenue Community Center