Kierra Turpin: A Find Your Future Intern’s Perspective

This blog was written by the incredibly talented Kierra Turpin, who interned in Kaleidoscope’s communications and development department during the summer of 2022 as part of our Find Your Future program. We’re grateful to Kierra for sharing her experiences with us here and for being a dedicated, thoughtful and hardworking intern all summer!

My story begins in 2001, at 4:36 a.m. on a chilly March morning in Chicago. Within the hour, I would be abandoned. Born into this world alone. Instead of balloons, there were medical tubes. Instead of being surrounded by loved ones, I was surrounded by doctors and nurses who had no idea what to call me. My mother left before she even took the time to name me. I was rushed to treatment for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, also known as infant withdrawal. I was a newborn baby having to pay for my mother’s actions.

Fortunately, by the age of two, I was fully adopted and given every opportunity to create a better future for myself, one my mother never got to experience. Despite the abundance of resources and support from my family, I struggled educationally all throughout grade school. It wouldn’t be until middle school that I would officially get diagnosed with dyslexia. Finally, I had an explanation as to why everything felt ten times harder for me. I would go on to receive tutoring and the extra help I needed to succeed. Although I was given the necessary tools, it did not come without struggle. Having dyslexia made me work that much harder just to keep up with my peers. At first, what I saw as a disadvantage, turned out to be my greatest advantage. Having dyslexia taught me discipline and perseverance. Nothing educationally has ever come easily to me; I worked for every grade I received throughout middle and high school.

Journey to College

As I entered senior year of high school, I applied for the DCFS scholarship, which provides current and former foster kids with full tuition to an in-state college, plus a monthly allowance. With the end of my senior year getting closer and closer, the anticipation for the return of my DCFS scholarship application was rising. Unfortunately, I was met with the harsh possibility that comes with any application: rejection.

I was absolutely devastated. Every obstacle I pushed through suddenly seemed useless.

Despite my disappointment, I still went off to college in pursuit of furthering my education. I began my college career at Northern Illinois University (NIU) in DeKalb in pursuit of a business degree. During my time at NIU I was a member of the African Student Association. The African Student Association promotes the unity of African students on campus through social, educational, and service events. I was also a member of the Fashion Industry Organization (FIO). FIO allowed me to express my love for fashion through various on and off campus events. One event in particular allowed members of the organization to tour a brand-new Von Maur a week before opening day. Being involved on campus was a great opportunity to make new friends and start building connections that may be valuable later in my career.

Despite being involved, having a good group of friends, and succeeding educationally I began to feel a disconnect between myself and NIU. My feelings often wavered between whether I was truly happy or if I was complacent. I constantly battled with myself on what I truly wanted out of a university. During my time at NIU, I gained an abundance of life lessons, learned from talented professors, and made amazing friends. However, I knew that the college experience I’ve waited so long to experience was not being fulfilled at Northern. After weeks of self-reflection and outside advice from family and friends, towards the end of my first semester I began applying at various universities in Illinois. One of which would end up being my new home, Illinois State University in Normal.

An Abrupt Change

What was seeming to be the end of a typical college experience was anything but typical when COVID-19 hit and forced universities all around the word to turn online. NIU was no different. What was supposed to be an extended spring break quickly turned into a permeant online semester.

Attending college during the pandemic came with many new hurdles. Abruptly transitioning from in-person learning to online classes completely disrupted my learning process. I spent years figuring out what study techniques and note-taking strategies work for me, but they suddenly no longer applied to online schooling. However, due to having dyslexia, I knew what it felt like to struggle and persevere, despite being at a disadvantage.

Towards the end of my sophomore year, after going through almost three semesters fully online, transferring schools, and changing majors from business to communications, I believe I gained a new outlook on college. With the knowledge I’ve learned from my first two years at university, along with experiencing the ups and downs of online schooling, I grew not only as a student, but as a person. It was then when I began to fully grasp the significance of the opportunity, I was being offered with that DCFS scholarship. Originally being passed over gave me the motivation and drive I needed. With my personal growth and nothing to lose, I decided to reapply for the DCFS scholarship.

Weeks after I submitted my application, I received an email congratulating me on my acceptance into the DCFS program. Finally, my hard work in college started to pay off! Not only does the scholarship provide students with financial benefits, it exposes you to a multitude of outside resources. One of the biggest resources is Kaleidoscope’s Find Your Future Program (FYF), which supports students by helping scholarship recipients get matched with an internship related to their field of study. I was lucky enough to be one of the selected students to be accepted into the program.

Finally, my hard work in college started to pay off!

Interning at Kaleidoscope

This summer I was given the amazing opportunity to intern for Kaleidoscope as the Development and Communications Intern. While I do not work directly with our families, working at Kaleidoscope exposed me to a different perspective on foster care – one that I have never experienced even as a former youth in care. Working on the social media side allows me to explore my creative freedom, while simultaneously working for an organization that is positively impacting communities that I was once a part of.

Throughout my internship, I researched and developed an ongoing knowledge of the child welfare system and family well-being in Chicagoland to assist in agency communications, grant writing, and client education. I assisted with day-to-day website management. I developed graphics for various campaigns, including family-focused events, sponsor materials, volunteer outreach, and general information. I also collaborated with program staff to plan and execute an annual Summer Extravaganza, including internal and external communications.

Nonprofit work comes with its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, nonprofit organizations do not have the same budget or access to resources that for-profit companies may have. On the other hand, one of the biggest advantages – and what makes working for Kaleidoscope so beautiful – is how personal it is. You can truly feel the real emotion behind every event, social media post, or newsletter Kaleidoscope puts out.

I was made aware of the monthly newsletters early on into my internship. I took time to read and digest previous letters that were sent out to foster parents and donors. It was evident that in order to cater to the two different audiences, strategic edits had to be made to the newsletters. I was taught how to properly edit the campaigns through Constant Contact, an email marketing platform.

Along with writing and editing newsletters, I was also trained on WordPress, a web platform and content management system. Learning the back end of the website provided me with the knowledge of just how crucial placement can be. Being able to keep readers engaged can make the difference between someone who becomes a supporter and someone who moves on before they can understand your impact. While the actual content is the main factor, placement of your content also plays a role in readers’ engagement.

In order to assess our engagement on different social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, we consistently review our metrics through Meta Business Suite (MBS). MBS allows creators to track how often viewers are visiting their page, how long viewers stay on the page, even down to the time of day viewers interact with the page. Whether it be a flier or an important update, this information allows us to strategically plan when to post to best hit the algorithm and reach the most people.

When it comes to visuals, Canva is where I can express my creative side. Canva is a graphic design platform that allows users to create anything from social media layouts to brochures and pamphlets. My first few internship projects were to create different holiday graphics. I was then given the creative freedom to design the flier for our annual Summer Extravaganza school drive. This was the first project I tackled alone, and it would go on to be used as the new 2022 Summer Extravaganza poster.

Beyond creating the communications materials, I was fortunate enough to sit in on meetings discussing the early stages of the Summer Extravaganza. The event is an effort to give back to the children and families Kaleidoscope serves, and it free school supplies, dental checkups, hearing and vision screenings, along with food and games. I also attended meetings to plan for Kaleidoscope’s 50th anniversary event in 2023. All of these meetings consist of staff members from different departments as well as external partners, meaning that you are expected to collaborate with individuals you may not typically work as closely with.

As a communications major, my collaboration skills are crucial to most college courses and my career. I gained experience working with others and witnessed how other staff members and outside partners work together and solve problems to achieve a common goal. I valued seeing the different lenses of collaboration. Internal collaboration is a great way to strengthen a company’s work environment, day-to-day tasks, and ultimately strengthen the core of a company. External collaboration allows for new and innovative ideas, a possible new audience, and the chance to learn from others’ experiences – and even mistakes.

Whether it be soft skills such as external and internal collaboration or hard skills like the use of WordPress, interning at Kaleidoscope provided me with a tremendous amount of knowledge. This is knowledge I can carry with me not only as I began my senior year at Illinois State, but throughout my professional career. Prior to this summer I have never experienced an office job, so I was intimidated to say the least. However, I was welcomed with open arms.  I was free to ask as many questions as I needed. I was constantly encouraged to work on as many different projects as I could in order to get a taste of what I will eventually encounter during post graduate life. Previously, I could never say exactly what I wanted to do career wise. While that answer is still unknown, I believe that is one of the many beauties of majoring in communications. Being that it is so broad, you are free to tap into the different aspects of your personality, desires, and career goals.

Looking to the future, I hope to continue a career in communication. However, I see myself in a multitude of fields within communication. Whether that be social media, public relations, or even sports broadcasting. Throughout my time at Kaleidoscope, I have gained confidence in the fact that it is okay to have more than one dream job. Society continues to put pressure on the young to narrow down what it is they want to do with the rest of their lives, which untimely leads to suppressing the other desires and passions you may have by choosing just one. I believe in order to grow and evolve as a person it is important to experience as much as possible and be as open minded as possible. Having a narrow mindset, specifically when it comes to your profession can often be more hurtful than helpful, As I grow, I hope to be able to experience a taste of every dream job.