Darion and Varion Walton

Courtesy photo

Twin brothers Darion Walton, left, and Varion Walton, right, former honors students at Navarro College, are committed to increasing college and career access through their non-profit, Walton Inspires.

Summer internships are a great way for students to get hands-on experience in the workforce, and when the coronavirus made that impossible, one organization stepped up to fill the void.

Walton Inspires 501(c)(3) exists to rewrite the underrepresented story through mentoring and resource allocation for at-risk young people. They are committed to increasing college and career access through the dissemination of ideas, development or practices, and technical assistance for program implementation that create and enhances a career centered and a college-going culture. They are certain that institutions that believe in this type of educational environment intentionally seek to remove barriers that prevent all students from pursuing post-secondary education and training.

The Walton twins', 27, consistent innovation has garnished national attention and had been featured in national publications such as The Rickey Smiley Morning Show, Dallas Morning News, Michael Baisden, The HUB Dallas, The Dallas Examiner, and USA Today.

“At Walton Inspires, we are fascinated by happiness. A 2017 Gallup Poll claims 85% of people either hate their jobs or are completely disengaged. We believe this is because people do not experience enough variety to figure out what they want to do before getting to college and selecting their majors. We want to change that.” said Varion Walton, Chief Executive Officer.

Transforming what is usually face to face required creativity. Just ask anyone involved in bringing this virtual experience to life. The Dallas based nonprofit, Walton Inspires, revamped summer internships and worked with partners and employers to create a virtual internship that would normally be out in the field.

“It’s not the summer experience that students expected,” Darion Walton said. “However, students were able to gain key skills through a variety of experiences.”

Headed into his final year of high school, Mark planned to spend the summer working for an engineering company. But the internship, like so many summer jobs for students in so many industries, was put on hold, due to the COVID-19 economy.

“During this experience, I’ve learned that your tasks could vary very much, and you could find yourself doing things that you did not expect. Therefore, being adaptable is an important trait within the engineering field,” Darion said.

Community partnership

Walton Inspires’ eight-week internship program accepts two high school students each year. Students are paired with a project that’s meant to match their interests, either on the Walton Inspires team or at an industry partner’s site. The cohort usually participates in regular activities and goes on worksite visits.

Not this year. The team selected four interns to work remotely on projects that were reconfigured to be online. These experiences and remote projects were completely different from what the team would have offered pre-pandemic.

The experiential learning project, for example, is an assignment involving the always-popular face to face interaction. However, Rosalin Lambey, Chief Outreach Officer and current college academic advisor understood that time on the computer through the virtual lens provided valuable skills, too, useful for future careers and college. This required interns to learn new computer programs and other means of communication. The internship was steered toward the development of soft skills, writing, and future-readiness: from writing assignments to webpage development to industry interviews and college research to community partnerships.

Through the community partnership, the interns received their first assignment for The Boys and Girls Club of Walker County. They were tasked with creating a three-week financial awareness series for teenagers and staff members.

“A lot of my peers are afraid to speak in front of other people,” Katie said. “This seemed like a really good use of our time, when things are constantly changing, and it’s good for students to get involved and feel like we’re part of a community.”

Reconstruction of opportunities

Many internships and practicum experiences rely on other partners and agencies. And as the reality of the pandemic and remote working arrangements became clear, Walton Inspires board members and staff started contacting their usual job sites to determine what, if anything, could be modified.

Ahead of the summer, some of the smaller nonprofit partners tightened their budgets and increased safety, leaving many job sites unavailable. While working through this issue, the team received a call from one partner, NAF – National Academic Foundation. The foundation requires its students to complete a 120-hour paid internship, pairing students with outside organizations such as Capital One, Verizon, TD Jakes Ministries, and Walton Inspires. Britannica Scott, Chief Technical Officer, and former educator knew that this was a perfect fit.

In the Academy of Health Sciences, students train to become health care professionals, primarily destined for hospitals, clinics, and public health settings. Students complete 4 years of coursework, cumulating projects, worksite tours, and an internship in a health care facility or public health practice.

But during the pandemic, the placements in health care settings are in flux, and Varion (BSN, RN) worked on ways to provide students the experiences they needed to gain as much experience as possible. For the interns that meant, industry research, informational interviews with current nurses, and written assignments about health care.

“Our nursing pathway took an individualized approach to meet students’ educational and career goals,” Varion said. “We did everything we could to fill the gaps in the experiences due to the pandemic.” Walton Inspires proceeded via Zoom, with students “meeting” the team and prospective industry partners via teleconference.

Future-focused

The quest to secure employment after high school begins early: Beginning freshman year, students should work on career-focused assignments and projects that influence “resume-building.”

Establishing the virtual internship experience was a collective effort, led by Walton Inspires Board Members, in consultation with community partners, Dallas ISD instructors, and Walton Inspires alumni.

The team's goal was to address community issues through the implementation of the summer internship. “There is a confluence of community and student needs,” Darion said. “We strive to take an otherwise challenging experience for students and morph it into a learning experience that builds their skills and enhances their future job prospects.”

The matching was coordinated through a series of electronic surveys: one for prospective industry partners and another for students to indicate their areas of interest.

“Moving forward, when students may not receive the employment experiences they need, we hope that we can continue providing the experiences and skills training through Walton Inspires,” Varion said. “Walton Inspires is also helping to meet the increased need of the nonprofit and small business community.

2020 Summer intern Rand stated, “I now have a clearer understanding of what to expect as I start my career path to become an interior designer. I will need to work more on my creative skills and expand my knowledge of designs, art, and critical thinking skills. This internship has helped me figure out what classes I will need to take in college and how to go on about my future career.”

Walton Inspires welcome the opportunity to partner with community organizations and individuals who wish to enhance the growth or our young people. Please make donations out to “Walton Inspires.”

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