Intern plays pivotal role on soon-to-open hotel's team
He could've spent all summer playing basketball, but Leonard McNair is going for career goals, too.
A rising junior at Guilford College in Greensboro -- where he's a shooting guard on the Quakers' Varsity squad -- Leonard has spent the past eight weeks as a pivotal player on the team at the soon-to-open AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown.
"This hasn't been a 'staple papers and grab coffee' internship," says Leonard, who is working at the AC Hotel via Career Explorers, a program that places high school and college students into paid internships with local companies. "They've allowed me to play an influential role in a variety of tasks -- social media, website content, and the planning and execution of the hotel's recent 'casting call' (an interactive group interview for potential new employees)."
Indeed, Career Explorers is all about providing genuine work experience to improve participants' future job prospects. The program is part of EmPOWERment, a Chapel Hill-based nonprofit with a mission to empower people and communities to control their own destinies through affordable housing, advocacy, community organizing, and grassroots economic development.
"We see incredible potential in our connection with EmPOWERment," says Andrew Strickland, General Manager of AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown, noting that the hotel sits adjacent to the revitalizing Northside neighborhood. "Our company is committed to engaging the local community."
Partnering with Career Explorers during the hotel's opening crunch-time made for hands-on experience and responsibilities beyond the typical internship.
"Having Leonard here benefited us as much as him -- maybe more," Andrew says. "We've given him plenty of practice managing multiple projects at one time, and that's a valuable skill to learn, especially since Leo's goal is to become a successful entrepreneur."
Career Explorers participants earn $10 per hour, according to EmPOWERment's Sarita Nwachukwa -- a wage paid half by the employer, half by the nonprofit via grant support. Interns work 36 hours a week and then gather together for four hours every Friday to focus on life skills including financial literacy, budgeting, employment etiquette, leadership development, civic awareness, and conflict resolution.
The interns learn more than just how to earn money -- they learn how to save it, too. Career Explorers requires participants to put 20% of their salary into a savings account.
A graduate of Woods Charter School, Leonard has lived in the Chapel Hill area since he was 5. His mother does a lot of community service through Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority along with EmPOWERment's Executive Director, Delores Bailey, and that connection led to Leonard volunteering at the nonprofit and then participating in Career Explorers.
"I would recommend Career Explorers to everyone," says Leonard, who is majoring in Business Administration and minoring in Psychology at Guilford. "In our world today, connections are extremely important -- the people I've met during my internship at the hotel, and the references I've collected, will be pivotal for me moving forward. As students, we like to look at the summer as a break, but using it to improve resumes and sharpen skills could be the difference between getting that scholarship or that job -- or someone else getting it."
Leonard has been a self-proclaimed "sponge" during his tenure at AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown. "This has really given me a chance to take all that I'm learning in the classroom and apply it to the real world," he says.