By Melissa S. Labberton
When the Washington State Legislature convened in January, among the pool of legislative interns was Heritage senior Evodio Reyes. This senior and social work major spent four months interning for the Democratic Caucus.
“This was an amazing experience,” said Reyes. “I was essentially on the front lines with our constituents, taking their calls and answering their letters. It was great to be able to help them find solutions to their problems. I also did a lot of policy research for the senators in our caucus.”
The Washington State Legislature’s internship program is open to junior and senior undergraduate students in any major who attend college in Washington State. Interns work fulltime as staff for members of the House of Representatives or the Senate during the legislative session which runs January through March or April, depending upon the year. Acceptance into the program is highly competitive; Reyes was one of 75 interns selected from a pool of 120 applicants.
Legislative interns are an essential part of the team, working behind the scenes researching legislation, tracking bills and communicating with constituents. Their work often puts them in the hearings, meetings and receptions where the state’s power brokers discuss and debate the issues of the day. This level of immersion gives students like Reyes an educational experience unlike any other. They become part of the discussions that look at the impact of legislation from all angles.
According to Reyes, his involvement in the legislative process was full of lessons that will serve him well as he moves toward a career goal of helping foster care youth transition to a life of independence upon becoming adults. It is something that he believes will require changes to the foster care system at a policy level. As a foster care alumnus, he knows all too well the pitfalls these kids face.
“Kids who ‘age out’ of the foster care system have higher than average chances of being homeless, unemployed, drug addicted and incarcerated,” he said. “These are 18-year-olds who are expected to make very adult decisions. It is easy for them to get in over their heads as their life experiences have taught them not to ask for help.”
Reyes entered Heritage with a clear vision of his future career. He had already incorporated a nonprofit organization to help transitioning foster kids called The Phoenix Project, which he plans to take live after completing his education. That, however, may take him a bit longer than initially expected, he said, because his academic goals have grown since becoming a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow last year.
“Becoming a Mellon Fellow opened up so many new opportunities and made me realize that I am capable of earning a doctorate degree. That is what I want to do,” he said. “All these experiences—the internships, the research and the mentoring—are all making me a better academic. Ultimately, they will help me do a better job of shaping policies that protect vulnerable people.”