Zakkai Mares-Van Praag

It was Day Two of my internship at Community Action Works. Well, I guess I should say Day One, because the previous day, the organization was technically called Toxics Action Center.

That’s right. I got thrown directly into my internship the day before the big name change. This was something that had been in the works for years and years, and I got thrown in right at the climax. It certainly was not a “relaxing” or “easy” start, for sure.

The second day of my internship, I had to go through a phone call list of almost a hundred people. I had to call them all and talk to anyone who responded. It was my job to let them know about the name change, to make sure they were not confused when “Community Action Works” appeared on their next bank statement. These were annual or monthly donors, so the change had to be clarified.

Naturally, this was a very difficult task for me. I had almost zero job experience, but more importantly, I had no experience calling people professionally. In fact, I had little experience calling people in general. I am the type of person who hates using my phone to call people. I much prefer texting, or even in-person interactions, in a non COVID-19 time. I’m also a relatively socially-awkward person. This seemed like an impossible task.

For a few minutes, I sat there, panicking. How could I call people I didn’t know when I don’t even answer unknown calls myself? But I needed to leave a good first impression. I was told that I would be primarily leaving voicemails, so I tried to take a deep breath, and not worry. I began.

The first person responded to my call instantly. My voice was shaky as I read the script aloud and listened to their response. Yes, it was weird, but I was able to find a way through it.

I continued calling people throughout the day. I’ll admit, I talked to my mom and sister a little in between each call, about how nervous I was. My nerves didn’t just magically disappear halfway. If you told me to call another 100 people now, I would likely be just as scared. I would still have no clue what each response might be.

At the same time, I think one clear thing happened that day: I learned that I could try.

I have heard the popular statement saying, you can do anything you set your mind to, many times. Although the sentiment of that statement is inspiring, the more realistic statement I learned this summer with Teen JUST-US is that I can always try. If I take the first step, the first leap, and jump into new opportunities, I might not always be great at them, but I can learn. Maybe I won’t be the absolute best at some things. In fact, that will happen with most of the new pursuits I take up. Once in a while, though, I can find something special and I never can find that unless I keep trying, and never give up.

I’ve always been an indecisive person. I have no idea what I want to do with my life. That has not disappeared. But after this summer, some things are clearer to me: I want to stay involved in social justice in one way or another. Whether it becomes my job, which it very likely will, or simply volunteering and attending rallies, it is absolutely going to be part of my life somehow. My experiences interning at an amazing organization, Community Action Works, through an incredible program, Teen JUST-US, have taught me that I need to stand up for what I believe in, and fight for what is right.

Even when I am scared of trying something at first, I can’t just ignore it. I need to jump right in and face it. You never know. Maybe I’ll love it.

Zakkai Mares-Van Praag
Scroll to top