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Building Community Through My Internship With Nature Unplugged

When the Kroc School's academic team advised students of the change in the internship policy to include a reduction of hours and the ability to work remotely, I felt I had to jump on my internship quickly. I reached out within my network to see who was looking for help at that time and ended up completing my internship with Nature Unplugged

I worked with co-founder, Sonya Mohamed, a few years back in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences. I knew our mindsets were similar and I was inspired by the work Nature Unplugged does for the community. As a full-time employee and almost a full-time graduate student, my internship hours were completed at a rate of 5 – 10 hours a week from June 2020 – February 2021. Completing an internship on top of my other roles while in a pandemic was exhausting. However, the work that Nature Unplugged engages with did provide me with time to reflect on what my intentions and values are and question if my time spent fulfills them. I was able to benefit from their work even while not being a client. For that, I am grateful. 

Nature Unplugged asks their clients to examine their relationship with how they spend their time, what is meaningful to them, how technology might get in the way of achieving those values, and how spending time in nature offsets a lot of issues resulting from too much time with technology. Their work can be engaged within a variety of levels from retreats and adventures to workshops, virtual educational modules, and their book/workbook combination.

My internship experience provided me the ability to really understand what I might be missing from my life. This began with my research about the impact of community on the wellbeing of the individual to help with their book, Experience Nature Unplugged. Throughout the research I was completing, I kept asking myself “where do I have community?” Mind you, we were in the middle of a pandemic and I was locked inside of my house as I was working, learning, and interning from my home office. During the stay-at-home orders, like many others, I felt extremely isolated and disengaged from the things that were perhaps taken for granted. I am not a person of faith, I am not an active volunteer member of any organization, I do not play team sports, and I am not very close with my family. My life’s engagement with an idea of community comes from my colleagues in the office and in the classroom. The reflection time was emotional but walking away from the experience I am inspired to engage in something more when I complete my graduate program. 


Another aspect of community that inspired me was my research of community gardens. I proposed the idea to my supervisor to encourage others to engage with nature in creative ways and to fulfill the holistic wellbeing through a community garden space, if accessible to them. The project put me out of my comfort zone a bit as I was reaching out for interviews with people I did not know. The interviews went great and highlighted the benefits community gardens provide their members. Working on the community gardens project did not feel like work at all. Again, I was provided the ability to reflect on why this project means so much to me. I believe it brought together the realms of food justice, nutrition education, community empowerment, and spending time in nature where I felt at home. The people I spoke with radiated positivity from the effects of their engagement with this work. They valued their relationships from the garden space and the opportunities for inter-generational and multicultural interactions. These communities engaged in co-learning and teachings to help one another succeed in these social justice spaces while engaging with nature in creative ways. 

After completing my internship, I am inspired to build community for myself and to highlight the importance of this work to others. As a student of Peace and Justice and the added certificate program of Restorative Leadership and Facilitation, I believe I will be prepared to aid others through similar reflection processes to help people find a more intentional and fulfilling way of living.  I hope to stay in the community with my classmates from these programs as I am looking forward to uplifting each other's work while knowing others are being changemakers towards social justice issues that I cannot dive into. My work with Nature Unplugged reminds me I will need to be intentional with my time to make these hopes come to life.

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