By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer
Editor’s Note: While we focus on our work in the community and rarely shine a spotlight on ourselves, this series is designed to put faces and names to the great and challenging work United Way does every day.
For the past five years, United Way Services of Geauga County has opened its doors to a high school intern each summer. Placed through the Geauga Growth Partnership (GGP), Olivia Tiber worked at United Way Services for eight weeks.
Going into her senior year at Berkshire High School, Olivia Tiber applied to take part in GGP’s internship program.
Founded in 2010, Geauga Growth Partnership is a business-led nonprofit dedicated to helping the county’s businesses grow by providing job training, grant-funded internship programs and employee education opportunities.
Each intern interviews with several companies before submitting their top four choices. Employers do the same and are matched with an intern by GGP.
“They do that because they want us to learn about the interviewing process and better ourselves for interviews,” Tiber said. “They also have two intern workshops where we learn about soft skills and communications and we get to talk to the other interns and see how their jobs are going and what they’ve learned.”
After interviewing with several participating companies, she was matched with United Way Services of Geauga County.
“I picked United Way because during the interview I asked them questions about the job; I asked what their favorite thing about working here,” she explained. “They all said their favorite part was the people they work with simply want to do good in their community, whereas other jobs they’ve had before had felt kind of pointless. Here, they get to make a difference.”
Teaching social skills
Outside her work at United Way Services of Geauga County, she works at Fieldstone Therapeutic Riding Center where she teaches children with special needs social skills through working with horses.
“I work with disabled kids and they learn a lot of motor, verbal and people skills through working with the horses,” she said. “It ranges — I’ve had a lot of students who completely can’t talk, students who need crutches or a wheelchair [and] the horse is the only time they can feel like they’re in control, students will talk to the horses and won’t talk to you.
An avid equestrian herself, Tiber has a five-year-old horse named Shiloh. She has been riding since she was eight-years-old and began working at the riding center when she was 14.
Through her work at the center, she has developed an interest in working with special needs children professionally and plans to attend Kent State University’s Burton Campus to major in special education.
“It’s a really great feeling because its hands-on making a difference, you don’t have to wait to see your results, you can see them when they walk up to you and have a smile on their face,” she said. “And that’s my favorite part – watching them light up from whatever their disability is, it kind of goes away when they’re riding.”
Learning the nonprofit industry
Joann Randall helped interview Tiber before becoming her sponsor for the GGP internship. She said United Way Services chose Tiber because of her background in human service-based volunteer work at the therapeutic riding center.
“Olivia has an interest in special needs children and she wants to be a special education teacher, so she already had some really good volunteer experiences, health and human service connections with the special needs population and she really seemed to have an interest in the field,” Randall said.
Giving Tiber a “broad brush” exposure to human services in Geauga, Randall and Kimm Leininger, director of United Way Services of Geauga County, took Tiber to meetings, taught her about funding allocations and the services available in the county.
Leininger said that, because these interns are high school students, it is usually their first work experience. Often, time is spent teaching them “soft skills” like email etiquette and software, and that they are involved in administrative tasks rather than given more technical projects.
Even though students are only there a short time, Randall and Leininger said it has been an opportunity to get young people involved in United Way Services’ programs and volunteerism.
“We’ve been incredibly blessed with some talented young people,” said Leininger “It’s been an opportunity for us to engage a young person with United Way and she can now go out and share her experience with others.”
How to help
While the internship didn’t change Tiber’s career goal of working with special needs children, it did allow her a different perspective on the county she’s grown up in.
“I’ve enjoyed it because I think, in Geauga County, a lot of things often go under the radar as far as all the real problems we have here, because it’s one of the wealthiest counties in Ohio and people like to pretend we don’t have these problems,” Tiber said. “Just through, even my eight weeks here, I’ve realized they’re a lot more prominent than we think they are. I’ve really enjoyed getting to see that and getting to see how United Way helps people.”