I have nine-weeks to get to know all 4,000+ nonprofits in the greater Charlotte area! Not really, but I hope to at least get to know a few during my internship with Next Stage.

My name is Ellie Pennybacker and I am a rising junior at Davidson College studying Anthropology and Educational Studies. During my time with Next Stage this summer, I hope to explore my academic and social interest in the intersection of community work and education by witnessing the intricacies of nonprofit work first-hand. My goal for my time in this nine-week program is to match my academic training with observational learning and challenge my preconceptions of how the nonprofit community functions in Charlotte. Under the leadership of Josh and Caylin, I hope this summer will provide the opportunity to do just that and much more!

A little bit more about me:

I was raised in Macon, GA, where I played soccer since the age of four, practiced cello for seven years, and completed my Fine Arts certificate and IB diploma at Central High School. On a college tour dedicated to Duke University, I fell in love with Davidson and decided it was the place for me. I am a declared Anthropology major and Educational Studies minor intending to morph my pathway into the Interdisciplinary Studies department to create my own major that will focus on community work alongside post-K through 12 education.

At Davidson, I am involved in student groups supporting Charlotte Refugee Support Services, Huntersville Habitat for Humanity, and local Special Olympics programs. I am a member of women’s club soccer and served as sustainability chair for Rusk Eating House. This past year, I worked with Gig-Hub, a program matching regional start-ups with Davidson student skill pools, to complete a social-media training project for Tech Talent South. It was a busy, yet enriching, year!

I have particular interest in alternative education pathways and the ways in which they are embedded throughout our communities and particularly in nonprofit work. This past year, another student and I petitioned to have American Sign Language (ASL) introduced as a class on Davidson’s campus and were successful in establishing it as a Self-Instructional Language (SIL). This project encouraged me to broaden my understanding of how nonprofits can fill academic and social gaps in education. The breadth of non-profit work is still unimaginable for me. As I sit at the cusp of understanding the full capacity of the sector, I am thrilled to be joining the Next Stage team and watch as they navigate the complexities involved in this extensive field of work.

Some of my goals for this summer include:

  • Engaging with the Charlotte nonprofit community and getting to know a portion of the 4,000+ organizations working on social good in this area – I have most often seen nonprofits from a volunteer’s perspective (which is a skewed one, based on Josh’s Biscuit article!). Approaching this summer from a macro- instead of micro- perspective, I am interested to learn how the holistic nonprofit sector evolves to fit the needs of the community. I hope to gain a better understanding of how these organizations can adopt their models of work to fill the needs of the moment in an ever-changing social climate.
  • Exploring Charlotte more intimately so that I may graduate from Davidson with some knowledge of the city we claim to be so close to – A big selling point in my decision to go to Davidson was the supposed access to the greater Charlotte area; but between class work and I-77 traffic, I have found myself in Charlotte less than expected! Now that I am here for the summer, I hope to explore one of my academic interests: the role of religious organizations in community building. In my personal time, I hope to interact with various religious groups and understand how they view their community engagement within Charlotte. Particularly, I am interested in whether they identify with a particular community or feel connected to the entirety of Charlotte. Comparatively, I wonder how similar, or different, this is from the psyche of the local nonprofit sector.
  • Observing Next Stage’s work and learning as much as I can about program development, fundraising, and effective capacity building strategies for community organizations – As I have said, I have so much to learn about the nonprofit sector. In just the week that I have been here, I have been exposed to a plethora of opportunities and questions that I am excited to explore. I do not have a running list of questions about the sector, yet… but I do have a growing excitement for the opportunity to learn from Josh, the Next Stage team, and the Charlotte community.

This has been an exciting week of orientation and information overload for the summer projects to come, and I expect the next nine weeks will be filled with just as much eagerness, excitement, and enrichment!