Camden Switzer Reflects on Her Summer Internship with PHF

I am currently a junior at Brown University, double-concentrating in public health and business economics. When searching for an internship, I knew I wanted to be exposed to an organization that was dynamic in their community, had a strong public health focus and was determined to provide equal opportunities and levels of health to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. When I first found Palm Health Foundation’s website, I was immediately attracted to the organization’s commitment to bettering health at the local level, specifically engaging communities and individuals who were most in need. This is demonstrated through their community health campaigns, Let’s Move and Train the Brain, and their collaborative grantmaking.


My first assignment at Palm Health Foundation was to work with the software Sensemaker to finalize a project that was in progress before my arrival. Previously unaware of the software, I learned that it allows for the collection of personal stories and anecdotes in traditional structures, such as written answers, and untraditional structures, such as pinning feelings within triad and dyad graphs. This unconventional form of data collection allows for qualitative and quantitative research using a coding mechanism that would not be accessible through one-dimensional data collection.


After learning how to manipulate the software from Andy McAusland, Director of Grants & Evaluation, I was able to assist on a new project that focused on collecting local data about the current COVID-19 pandemic. Andy, the other interns, foundation staff and I worked for two weeks drafting the prompts that I would later enter into the Sensemaker software. The Sensemaker survey was immediately released to the public after its completion. Although I was extremely grateful to Andy for teaching and trusting me with software I had never worked with before, my biggest takeaway from the project was the constant reflection of whether our language, wording and questions were reflective and inclusive to the community we were serving.


At every project meeting, foundation staff stopped to consider how our actions and words would be received and impact the community we were hoping to serve. Reflecting and taking into account the communities that the organization serves was a common theme throughout my time interning for Palm Health Foundation. Instead of acting as “saviors,” the organization continually worked with individuals of the community, listening and learning from their lived experiences.


In addition to my work with the Sensemaker projects, I also collaborated with members of Healthier Boynton Beach and another intern on a mini-grant project in which local members of the Boynton area submitted grant applications. These grants were specific to family caregiving, a public health field that I had a lot of interest in before coming to Palm Health Foundation. The grant process was completed by the end of my internship, allowing me to celebrate the winning applicants. I also worked with Healthier Jupiter on a pedestrian safety program where I was able to utilize and expand my knowledge regarding behavioral health. My final task while at Palm Health Foundation was to organize the fiscal year’s grants and create boilerplates from the compiled data.


Throughout my time interning for Palm Health Foundation, I partook in many meetings with staff, community members and foundation partners. I am so thankful to have been part of these meetings and able to interact with individuals who were welcoming, knowledgeable and friendly. It always amazed me how every member of the foundation was more than willing to take the time out of their busy days to speak to the interns and invite us to work on projects within their respective departments.


Out of the numerous meetings I had while interning, one specifically stood out to me as being an example of the principles the organization is founded upon and continues to practice. The interns were invited to participate in a meeting with the foundation’s board of trustees. After the normal procedures of the meeting, the trustees engaged in a conversation about the importance of racial inclusivity and equity among themselves as well as throughout the organization. I thought it was particularly interesting that many of the trustees admitted to not fully acknowledging and understanding the subject. However, the board, unlike many others, did not stop at recognizing the issue but rather offered each other resources and workshops where they could actively expand their knowledge and behavior toward the subject. This meeting not only demonstrates the organization’s priority for racial equality as a response to the current social climate, but also exhibits that the staff is willing to continually learn and adapt for the betterment of the organization and the communities in which they serve. This process of continual development and recognition of inequalities throughout the socioeconomic sphere was discussed and acted upon throughout my time interning; for example, recognizing the lack of racial diversity and making an action plan for future hires, creating a list of racially diverse vendors the company can use and continually offering inclusivity trainings to staff members.


Overall, I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to work at Palm Heath Foundation this past summer. While working for the organization, it was clear that every single staff member was passionate about their current work and excited about future projects. The group staff meetings were always a fun way to start the Monday, with lots of banter and a family-like dynamic where we had check-ins, shout outs, updates and mindful moments. I want to specifically thank the intern supervisor, Andy, for all of the hard work he dedicated to me and the other interns. He was continually coming up with new projects for us and always took time out of his very busy day to check-in with us. I am honored to say I worked for Palm Health Foundation and will continue to utilize both the knowledge and life lessons I learned while interning at the organization.