For Anna Canales ’23, a desire to help in the community has often been constrained by the need to work in order to remain financially stable, while also taking classes full time.
This summer, a Community Building Internship (CBI) through the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) made it possible for Canales to serve in her community and experience a potential future path. Each year, the CCE and the Center for Career and Professional Development offer K students the opportunity to apply for CBIs at a wide variety of local organizations. The positions usually last six to eight weeks, and interns are on the job for 30 to 40 hours a week while earning a stipend.
Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, near the border with Mexico, Canales saw many families separated due to immigration cases and other reasons. She herself spent time in foster care as a child and was adopted at age 13. Those experiences have shaped both her desire to volunteer and her plans for her future.
Canales has been heavily involved with the CCE, where Assistant Director Moises Hernandez ’17 has served as a mentor for her, and many of its partner organizations. She has worked with Kalamazoo dual-language elementary school El Sol, Latino community foundation El Concilio, and foster care organizations.
Majoring in art history, she plans to teach art for a few years before going to law school to become a child advocacy attorney.
For her CBI, Canales helped plan and run the EASEL arts and science experiential learning summer program for grades 1–5 at Eastside Youth Strong. The organization aims to help young people in the Eastside neighborhood in Kalamazoo graduate and develop social and emotional strength.
“When I read the mission statement of Eastside Youth Strong, I was really emotional about it,” Canales said. “I cried during my interview, and she told me, ‘It’s OK. It’s good that you’re passionate about children coming from low economic backgrounds and diverse backgrounds.’ Being with kids outside of the traditional school environment was important to me.”
Through the CBI, Canales was able to observe different teaching styles and also practice advocating for children.
“There were two different teachers in the program and they had such completely opposite teaching styles and ways of interacting with the kids,” Canales said. “I could pick and choose what I thought was working and what I thought wasn’t that great of a strategy for me personally. It was almost like shadowing in a classroom; it was a lot of input in how I would like to run my own classroom.”
In addition to helping with lesson planning, Canales was responsible for ensuring the students’ physical, social and emotional needs were being met.
“A lot of it was making sure everybody felt comfortable, everybody was respectful, everybody was having fun while learning,” Canales said. “While the teachers were teaching, my job was to make sure the kids felt like they were being heard, they were being seen. If they needed anything, I was the one to make those calls to parents, like, ‘Hey, does your kid need shoes? We can get them shoes.’ Or, ‘Your kid said they can’t eat XYZ, we’re going to work to get them a lunch provided that they can eat with their dietary or religious needs.’ Making sure the kids felt supported was my role.”
While Canales was initially intimidated by that role, by the end of the program she found herself feeling connected to the families and pleased that she made a difference. Many parents expressed appreciation for her efforts, and some asked her to babysit or tutor their children.
Watching kids who started the program shy and reserved blossom in confidence was Canales’ favorite part of the internship.
“It was so special seeing them grow and be more confident in themselves,” Canales said.
Canales learned a lot about supporting students’ social and emotional growth through the CBI.
“A lot of what I was learning was about the social emotional stages the kids are in, never getting upset or showing that you’re upset about something, no matter how stressful the kids’ behaviors could be,” she said. “I was always trying to find a solution and be the one in control of the tone, the mood, everything, and understand where these kids are coming from.”
Canales hopes to stay involved with Eastside Youth Strong in the future.
“I really appreciate that a lot of the people are women or people of color and that they do programs all year round,” she said. “You can really tell that they care about where these kids are coming from and where they’re going.”
In addition to the CCE, Canales has been heavily involved at K with the Pre-Law Society, Women of Color Alliance, Anime Club and K Desi, and this year she will serve as an interfaith leader. She has worked in the library, where Collection Services Librarian Leslie Burke and Digital Services Librarian Ethan Cutler particularly mentored her with helpful conversations about life after college. Professor of Art and Art History Christine Hahn and Assistant Professor of Japanese Brian White have also been mentors for Canales.
“I feel like so many people at K have impacted me,” Canales said.
She is grateful for the opportunity to pay that forward to the young students on the east side.
“As a full-time student who has to work, I don’t always have time for everything I want to do,” Canales said. “But I do my best to help when I can.”