Reflection #5 – New Orleans Covenant House

           *Below is student Alexandra Anastos’ reflection of her valuable experience as an intern at the New Orleans Covenant House!*

            My service learning internship is for the New Orleans Covenant House as a budget analyst. The Covenant House in New Orleans is a homeless shelter for at-risk youth (ages 16-21) and is an affiliate of the larger Covenant House organization. The organization has 18 locations around North and South America, the majority being in the United States, and the largest location in New York.

            I was hired to intern for the Director of Finance, Clinton Charlot, as a budget analyst. I am a finance and entrepreneurship major with a minor in international development, so I find it hard to find a job that fits my conflicting interests. Eventually I would like to do something along the lines of social entrepreneurship or micro lending, but it is difficult to facilitate this connection between finance and international development. Given that, I feel lucky because interning as a budget analyst for a nonprofit company is giving me necessary experience in both of my interests.

            In its mission statement, the New Orleans Covenant House emphasizes the dedication it has to living out “God’s Covenant” and to serving others with absolute respect and unconditional love. The statement expresses that this commitment requires them to protect and safeguard all children. In my experience, the Covenant Houses’ affiliation with the Christian Church does not play a large role in the organization. The Covenant House serves 4,475 youth annually and is currently the only provider of services to homeless youth in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. Since the opening in 1984, the Covenant House has served more than 17,000 youth. It is comprised of 3 major programs- the crisis center, the rights of passage program, and the permanent supportive housing program.

Programs and Homelessness Prevention

The crisis center is the largest program- it has a 70-bed capacity, and is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is ‘emergency’ focus of the institution, and their motto is that they will never turning anyone down, no matter how full it is. The first goal is to satisfy basic human needs – specifically, a hot meal, clean clothes, a shower and a bed. More complex problems are addressed later on. The Rights of Passage (ROP) program and the permanent supporting housing program are transitional living programs each with a 25-bed capacity that allows residents to live in apartments for 18 months. The rights of passage program is designed for residents who have advanced through other programs and have verified a level of responsibility that indicates they are ready to move to the next level. The apartments are located off-site, but near the central location. These residents are required to work to stay living in these apartments, and each apartment holds a mother and children or two single adults. The permanent supportive housing program is for single or parenting youth between the ages of 18-24 who have disabilities (whether they are mental or physical disabilities). The youth must pay 30% of their income toward rent and utility expenses, but the rest is covered by the organization.

            The Covenant House also has smaller programs to support the larger programs. For example, ROP residents are required to participate in a financial management program that helps them budget for their living expenses. Other services include health services, childcare services, addiction management services, pastoral ministry services for youth interested in affiliation with the Christian church, and a full GED prep program, and a community outreach service.

The Covenant House places a high emphasis on educating its youth on homelessness and the environmental and macroeconomic factors that can lead to it. The organization also has a street outreach unit that consists of driving around the streets of New Orleans on a nightly basis to see if there are any struggling youth on the streets, and to let them know that the Covenant House is ready to accept them on unconditional conditions. It typically takes a few nights to win the person’s trust before they accept help. Also, the Covenant House arranges transportation for anyone who needs help getting to Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, an Arkansas.

My Role

As the budget analyst intern, I work in the administrative building, which connects to the crisis center by a courtyard. I started off by analyzing the fiscal year 2011’s financial analytics for both the budgeted numbers and the actual numbers, then making comparisons. I then analyzed the fiscal year 2012 (current) budget and made some comparisons with FY 2011, including making a spreadsheet that calculated the cost per bed for each fiscal year and cost per night of stay. Since FY 2012 is the current fiscal year, I only budgeted the census, but for FY 2011 I was able to compare the budgeted numbers with the actual numbers.

My final project, which I just started, is to define inefficiencies in their payroll system. As with any non-profit organization, verifying cost efficiency is crucial to ensure future success. The organization uses ADP Payroll Services to facilitate its payroll. I will analyze these ADP processing modules by tracking employee scheduling against actual time-sheets. As I do this, I will identify variances in the work schedule to see that they have proper coverage and minimal excessive time, as well as record trends. My work will be part of a larger project; the Covenant House organization is implementing an agency-wide work scheduling project to be sure they are being cost-effective with their employee wages.

Though I thoroughly enjoy finance, I do tend to experience feelings of frustration at work- working on the administrative side of the organization while knowing that there is potential for work that seems more directly meaningful can be dissatisfying. Doing the back work as opposed to directly interacting with the people that the organization is helping is not initially rewarding and is something I was struggling with at first. But talking with my boss and co-workers about how and why they got involved with the Covenant House has helped me move past this in recent weeks so that I have been able to see the bigger picture.

I go into work on Fridays from 10-2, so every Friday I have lunch in the Covenant House cafeteria. I find this to be an enjoyable outlet from my regular tasks. Both employees and the people living in the crisis center can eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner for free. This creates a sense of community within the organization. Everyone seems to know everyone, and whenever people are eating in the cafeteria there is no division between administration and kids. The people I work with could not be more open and passionate about helping these kids. They truly embody the organization’s mission statement and develop relationships with these kids so naturally and in such a non-judgmental manner. This makes me feel truly honored to work for such a caliber of an organization. The combination of the relaxed atmosphere of New Orleans with people who are passionate about service creates a truly unique and enjoyable environment.

My experience thus far has given me experience that I find particularly valuable. I have experience interning with non-profit organizations, but I have never had such full access to the financial information. I feel that I am truly gaining an appreciation for all the back-end work that is crucial for organizations like this to survive, while both expanding and using my business skills. My work at the Covenant House is a truly hands-on experience that is providing me a solid foundation for my career, wherever that may go.

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