UW-Stevens Point student serves community children with summer internship
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point senior Jessica Enstad has always had a passion for working with children and for serving and helping others.
This summer, she was able to put that enthusiasm into practice through an internship at the Boys & Girls Club of Portage County, serving as director of the Madison View Extension club in Stevens Point.
"The Boys & Girls Club is an incredible opportunity for me to impact kids and give them a great future," the Neillsville native said. "It provides them with a safe and positive place to learn, grow and have fun."
A family and consumer sciences major with an emphasis on child, youth and family studies, Enstad is applying her classwork to planning, organizing and leading programs and activities for children in first through eighth grade – from arts and crafts to science experiments and field trips.
"Every day was a crazy, new adventure," she said. She discovered how much the children enjoy cooking and baking, so they are in the kitchen every day learning new skills.
"I have been able to build relationships by connecting with the kids through their hobbies and interests," Enstad said. "I have learned how dynamic and different each child's needs are."
Because of her love of children, Enstad always thought she would be an elementary school teacher. When she came to UW-Stevens Point, she pursued a major in communication sciences and disorders so she could help children with auditory or speech problems. During her sophomore year, she learned more about the family and consumer sciences major and knew it was a perfect fit.
Family and consumer sciences students learn about topics as basic as food, shelter and clothing, and as complex as child development, consumer economics and family relationships. They may work in youth services, intervention resources, community outreach, aging and disability centers or in long-term care.
"We prepare our students to work with individuals and families from 'womb to tomb,'" said Professor Sterling Wall, family and consumer sciences. "We consider challenges at every stage of life and ways to proactively prepare." For this reason, he said, internships can take students in many different directions, so connecting with a professional who will guide them toward the right career path is valuable.
For Enstad, who began working for the Boys & Girls Club as a program director her sophomore year, that connection was her supervisor, Danielle Belsky, director of operations. A family and consumer sciences alumna from UW-Stevens Point, Belsky had also started with the Boys & Girls Club as director at Madison View, and felt it was a good fit for Enstad, too.
"The family and consumer sciences program at UW-Stevens Point opened my eyes to opportunities within nonprofit organizations," said Belsky, who now manages the club's seven sites. "I knew Jessica had the flexibility, leadership skills and relatability needed to succeed in this role."
UW-Stevens Point works with community partners to offer volunteer and hands-on activities, Enstad said. "There are resources on campus that encouraged me get out into the community and into opportunities I never knew existed."
Those include her spring break service trip to Kentucky, weekly volunteering as a cook at the Stevens Point Salvation Army, serving as a Big Sister and membership in two UW-Stevens Point family and consumer sciences student organizations.
She went on a service trip to Puerto Rico with Wall and 20 other UW-Stevens Point students in August to volunteer at the Hope Lodge of the American Cancer Society in San Juan. The group helped with painting, cleaning and any needed tasks.
In addition to encouraging professional networking, family and consumer sciences classes have taught Enstad how to plan youth programs around specific needs, to be flexible with those plans and to be a good listener. Her minors in psychology and Spanish also help on the job.
"Sometimes a child just needs you to let them talk and acknowledge their feelings by giving them the space to share," she said.
Enstad plans to graduate in December and looks forward to using her degree to serve and work with children and families in a nonprofit organization. She can see herself continuing to work at the Boys & Girls Club.
"While I may not know the extent of the impact I am making now, knowing that I can be there for the kids at such a crucial time in their lives is enough," Enstad said. "I hope I'm planting a seed and a building a foundation for a great future for them."