CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The impacts of COVID-19 tightened Charlottesville’s budget in a number of ways, one of which was the initial recommendation to not give any money to the Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR) internship program.
But after a late increase in revenue projections, the city gave the program $20,000, to go along with the $21,000 for PHAR as a whole.
It’s not all that the organization asked for, but organizers say it’s crucial that it gets at least some funding.
“I think we are accomplishing our mission in terms of educating and empowering people to speak their truth and then to ask for what they deserve,” said Wandae Johnson, who leads the internship program.
Before Johnson had that role, she was an intern. Her insight fuels her passion to not only give interns a paycheck but to teach and train them.
“We’re moving into what is the local history of public housing, what is the national history of public housing,” she said.
It’s more than just history, though. It’s teachings that turn into action. Former interns played roles in two resident-led renovation projects.
“We’re doing good work, empowering great people to feel confident speaking up and speaking out,” Johnson said. “We’re getting the preservation of public housing accomplished and that’s not the trend, that’s not the norm.”
Harold Folley, a former intern, and current organizer, described the internship as “a great opportunity for me to be able to learn how to organize, strategize, and GSD - get stuff done.”
Folley’s advocacy skills were on display in early April when he called on Charlottesville City Council to increase PHAR’s funding during a public comment session, during which he said the internship “built the foundation for me to be the organizer that I am now.”
His words are reflective of the lesson the interns are taught to carry.
“Understand that you have a voice and that you should use it to benefit your neighbors and yourself,” Johnson said.