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Summer of Service: During the summer of 2013 the IOP is proud to sponsor and work with over 250 students who are spending their summers in politics and public service around the world. Learn more about this program.

Victoria Piccione ’16 is a 2013 Summer Director’s Intern with Opportunity Nation in Boston, MA.

“Wellesley and Harvard, I have a job for you. Here’s 20 dollars – go pick up as many apples and apple products as you can find.” That’s Justin, the office prankster. Oh, and I’m “Harvard” and one of my fellow interns is “Wellesley,” and that was how we spent our lunch break last Tuesday: purchasing as many apples as we could carry from a small market tucked away in the North End. This is (one of the many reasons) why I love Opportunity Nation: the office culture is lively, and everyone is friends with each other. 

In all seriousness, though, I’ve only been working at Opportunity Nation for two weeks, and I can already feel a near-total change in attitude and perspective on life. Dramatic, I know, but the truth. I was first interested in OppNation because, with two parents who are living the American Dream, I believe that Dream should be accessible to all. ON feels similarly and has created the tools with which we can chip away at the barriers to economic mobility. I don’t believe that you should be handed anything in life; I do believe, however, that if you put in the time and effort, you should be able to harvest the fruits of those efforts.

I cannot say that a normal day’s work is lifting five families out of poverty and keeping ten low-income teens in school. If there’s an organization that’s doing this, I would like to hear their strategy. Rather, a typical day consists of researching community leaders in cities where we’ll be holding events or, initially to my dismay, cold-calling invitees to gather RSVPs for aforementioned events (speaking on the phone has long been one of my irrational fears). Occasionally, I also serve as ON pastry chef and provide my colleagues with red velvet cupcakes. Their reactions suggest that baking may be a valuable means by which to better the world.

The importance of what Opportunity Nation is doing, though, is not lost amidst office pranks or discussions of the best cupcake shops. This last Thursday was inspiring and immensely gratifying because it made work that can sometimes seem a ways removed from our ultimate goal feel relevant. The success stories of remarkable youth who overcame such adversity gave meaning to the countless numbers in the Opportunity Index, put a face to our mission, and exemplified everything for which Opportunity Nation stands.

Both ON and its staff are young. This makes for a vibrant office, full of excited conversation, ranging from politics to what restaurant we should visit for our next “Fun Friday.” But I’ve also found that the youth of the organization gives it a great energy and focus. Everyone in the office is invested in his or her work and passionate about reaching out to disconnected youth. And while it often seems that we’re the people behind the scenes, dedicated largely to office work, I’ve found that many staff members here are also on the front lines. My intern supervisor, who can immediately be recognized from anywhere in the office for her infectious laugh, is a JumpStart and City Year alum. Everyone has committed themselves to volunteerism, actively engaging with the community and implementing the tools and strategies that we as an organization are advocating.

Some of my most valuable experiences have taken place outside of our office in Boston’s Financial District. The Providence Community Conversation last Thursday both clarified my understanding of ON and formed the amorphous idea of “preserving the American Dream and increasing opportunity” into something tangible. And it was the car ride back from Rhode Island with my supervisor that really got me thinking about how I can make a difference after leaving ON. As an organization, how much we can achieve is limited by the efforts of students, local business owners, community organizers, the people on the ground. I’ve learned that we—college students with unbelievable opportunities—are the people on the ground. We have already been given so much; now it’s time that we pay it forward.

I’m not sure what my future is in the non-profit sector; I do know, however, that even if I never serve on the staff for such an organization, I will forever have the passion ON shared with me. I’ve always thought that my true interest lies in international relations, but I’ve come to realize that domestic issues can be equally as engaging. And as someone who has been so blessed and afforded unbelievable opportunities, I feel obligated to right wrongs that persist at home. My internship at Opportunity Nation may end in August, but my commitment to expanding economic opportunity will persist for years to come.