Our #SummerOfPurpose blog series follows this year’s Cleveland Foundation Summer Interns as they reflect on 11 weeks spent working with Cleveland-area nonprofit and public sector organizations. In today’s blog, we hear from Yoshmar Pinal-Alfaro, who spent his summer at Hebrew Free Loan Association (HFLA) of Northeast Ohio, where he assisted with programmatic aspects of processing interest-free loans and worked with the development team on event and fundraising activities.
Name: Yoshmar Pinal-Alfaro
College: Case Western Reserve University
Hometown: San Jose, California
Internship Host Site: HFLA of Northeast Ohio
Why did you initially decide to participate in this internship program?
Data shows that brown and Black folks have been hurt disproportionately — both economically and health-wise — due to COVID-19. I wanted to put in my time, skills and perspective to help folks recover from the past year and a half. HFLA lends money to individuals who would otherwise not be able to get a loan at a 0% interest rate — individuals who are more likely to be brown and Black. I saw this as a natural fit for what I wanted to do and how it fit into my career goals.
What has been the most valuable aspect of your internship experience?
Carrie Miller, assistant director at HFLA, and I worked closely to outline our Common Ground event — “Women’s Financial Empowerment”— in July. I learned how to better create a virtual space for dialogue by “getting everyone’s voices in the room” at the beginning of the meeting. Carrie facilitated a great discussion, and upwards of 20 individuals participated in the discussion.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your internship experience?
HFLA wanted to create a system that allows us to place the zip-codes of our borrowers onto a map, so we can have a visual representation of where our borrowers are located in Northeast Ohio. I wanted to figure it out before my time with HFLA concluded so that the organization could continue to use the map to better serve the community.
When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing around Cleveland?
I enjoy hiking with my friends at Cleveland Metroparks and biking at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. In the summertime, I enjoy swimming at Edgewater Beach!
What are your career goals after college?
I aspire to be a civil rights attorney working for the people. I am in the process of preparing for the LSAT and applying to law school — I welcome any advice you may have!
How has this internship helped you grow professionally?
My internship has helped me understand the importance of receiving input from the individuals that organizations serve. For example, one of my projects this summer was looking into our current application to see what changes we could make to make it more accessible to individuals. After messing around with the application for a bit, I realized that it didn’t make a lot of sense for me to be suggesting changes—after all, I am a college-educated individual who can navigate these applications, however tedious they may be. Therefore, I proposed a questionnaire we can send out to loan recipients so that we can better gauge what we need to change. We will benefit from hearing from the people, and, though it might take more time and effort to implement the changes, it will enrich our work moving forward.
How has this internship helped you grow personally?
I developed friendships with many individuals over the course of the internship, and I got to learn from their own experiences and their pieces of advice. At one of our sessions, Samantha Montanez led a discussion about dealing with “imposter syndrome” and how to overcome it. I benefitted from the discussion and am super appreciative of Samantha bringing the topic up.
What’s your favorite public space in Cleveland?
My favorite public space in Cleveland is Wade Oval. As a student at CWRU, I often walk around the Oval when I am experiencing a difficult decision to make, or when I need some space to clear my head. With the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) in the background, it makes for a beautiful backdrop for an evening walk.
Where would you take a friend who is visiting Cleveland for the first time?
First, we’d get coffee at the Coffee House on CWRU’s campus. Then, we’d stroll through the CMA. In the evening, we’d head to Edgewater Beach, where we’d walk by the willow tree and catch the sunset.
What advice would you give to someone considering applying for the Cleveland Foundation Summer Internship program?
Believe in yourself and have the confidence to try, even if you doubt yourself. My uncle once said, “it’s okay to doubt yourself, just don’t act on the doubt.” Also, start early. You want to give the application your best effort!