VACo Internship Week VI

“This life is a process of learning.” –Lauryn Hill

My favorite recording artist of all time is Lauryn Hill, and she said the quotation I have placed above. While this quote resonates to every person differently, I feel as though it is a crucial part of the lessons that I have been learning while at VACo this summer. Life is a continual process of learning. You are not always going to succeed at every task in front of you, say the right things, or do the right things. However, the most important part is giving whatever you have in front of you your best effort. If you keep this in mind, then failure isn’t something that you experience but instead is something that you learn from.

While I have not had a big failure of any sort at the office, I think that I have spent a large amount of time worrying about failing throughout my internship. I was always scared that something I presented would not be what they were looking for or that my opinion on a topic would seem outlandish or irrelevant to the people I was expressing it to. Yet once again, that is not the case. I have struggled with this issue since coming to college: a sort of inferiority complex. However, giving something your best effort and not doubting yourself is crucial to overcoming any academic or internship related obstacle you face.

This became clear to me when I presented my research and PowerPoint about the Comprehensive Services Act (CSA), now known as the Children’s Service Act. I wrote in detail last week about what my research of the CSA entailed, so I will spare you the details this week. However, before I presented, Beau told me that the key to public speaking was to realize that when you’re asked to report on a topic, you are the expert, and what you say goes. He stressed that that doesn’t mean that you can just go up and say whatever you want to say, but it does mean that you are the authority on the subject in the room, and it is your job to deliver that information to all of the non-experts. I felt much more at ease with the presentation after that talk, and, with my note cards in hand, I presented; everything went surprisingly well. I will keep Beau’s advice with me as I continue throughout my education at Emory & Henry and on into law/grad school.

I was able to attend a meeting of the State Water Commission with Larry on Wednesday. Larry joked on the way up to the office that these meetings were usually less than exhilarating, but I have to admit that I learned a lot while in House Room D of the General Assembly Building. The meeting was composed of three presentations. The last of the meetings was about fracking, a hot topic in Virginia politics. A lot of the people in the room voiced their opinions, but the dialogue remained professional and civil.

This week, I have also started work on a project about the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, another hot topic in Virginia politics. The Commission was created in 1999 with the intention to promote economic growth and development in the tobacco–dependent communities of Virginia (Southwest and Southside) using proceeds from the National Tobacco Settlement. To date, the commission has awarded 1,875 grants totaling more than $1 billion across the state. They even provide the Tobacco Regional Scholarship Program which helps children from the tobacco belt (like myself) to be able to attend a four year, private or public, in-state or out-of-state college or university. While all of this is incredibly important especially to someone from the region, the Tobacco Commission has also been involved in many controversial scandals throughout its history. The first year of its operation, it spent $58 million on no–strings–attached payouts, most of which did not even go to Virginians. They invest in strange projects based on the connections people have; a member of the board was found guilty of defrauding the Commission when he created the Literary Foundation of VA and set himself and his wife up with six figure salaries.

Beau asked me to report on my observations of the Commission. This has proven to be a difficult task because as a Southwest Virginian, I see the good that the Tobacco Commission has done and is doing. However, I am also tremendously disheartened by the scandals surrounding this body entrusted with creating a better future for my region. I stated that any entity that wields as much power as the Tobacco Commission has to be regulated in some way. I wish that I had a catch-all answer to how to go about that, but I do not. If power is taken away from the commission, then the programs that people in Southwest and Southside depend upon may cease to exist. However, if the Commission continues to be involved in scandals and lawsuits, then they are failing the people of those regions anyway. Increased transparency, which the governor has called for, is a good place to start, but this cannot be where the discussion on the Tobacco Commission ends.

Next week starts my last week at VACo, so get ready for a dramatic emotional report about all that I have learned here during my seven full weeks as an intern. Once again, I am incredibly honored and grateful to have been able to have this opportunity.

BY: Katie Beth Bordwine ’16