Works and Days

New York State Assembly: Mauricio Hernandez, Winter Shadow 2016

In the weeks before my winter externship began, the rare feelings of excitement that I could muster were always accompanied by anxiety. I had accepted an opportunity to shadow Elana Shneyer the chief of staff of Daniel J O’Donnell a prominent State Assembly member in Manhattan and in that moment I was thrilled. I had never been to the East Coast, let alone New York, and I would be working in a field that I had zero exposure to.

But once I purchased my plane tickets, the reality of my decision hit me. I was going alone to a city the size of which I had never been in and was expected to excel in work that I could not prepare for. And it had cost a pretty penny.

Needless to say I left for work over half an hour earlier than I needed to the first day, worried that I would become victim to the maze I envisioned the subway system to be. On the ride, I skimmed through advice articles with titles such as “How to make the best out of your internship,” and paid careful attention to the voice buzzing through the intercom.

Once I stepped foot in the Assembly Member’s office, the worries that had been plaguing me for weeks began to disappear. Instead of finding a space suffocated by cubicles, I entered a building that had clearly once been someone’s home. For a second I was even more nervous- I had been trying to prepare myself for a cold, impersonal government office, and I had found the opposite.

After being introduced to Elana and the rest of the staff (a wonderful group of people), it was business as usual.

I was assigned my first task once that morning’s staff meeting was over: shredding documents that had been collecting in various closets scattered through the office. So as the first hour of my externship progressed, the last of my shaking nerves stilled as I became convinced that the rest of my time would be spend doing the “grunt work” that the advice articles had told me to embrace.

But, once again, I was proven wrong when I was assigned my own personal project for the week, for which I was to document and code the media clippings that the Assembly Member had appeared in the previous year. So, for the rest of the day, I flipped through a fraction of the massive binder of media clippings that I would familiarize myself with by the end of the week, occasionally interrupted by ringing phone, which I had also become responsible for answering.

On the second day, I branched out further from my personal project, jumping on an opportunity to help a staff member who is responsible for addressing the grievances of constituents who are incarcerated. Again, I was assigned what I thought was more “grunt work” and started to regret offering my help. But, as I scanned the letters so that they could be uploaded to an online data base and then organized, I began to realize that this was what it looked like when the government helps its citizens. The proof was in some of the letters themselves, which thanked the Assembly Member for his work on their behalf. At some point someone else had to do the work I was then doing in order to make sure the letters of those in need were read and addressed.

For the rest of my time there, I embraced every phone call I took, poured myself into each draft that I wrote in response to a constituent, and took every opportunity to make myself useful, optimistic that even the smallest tasks I was accomplishing were a step towards making an actual difference in the lives of individuals in the community.

I am grateful for the opportunity I had to see the power of local government. Not only did I gain experience in a new sector, but through an impactful conversation with Assembly Member O’Donnell, I also learned how we as LGBTQ individuals can make a difference in our community. In all, I am eternally thankful for being able to undertake this massive growth experience. 

Tags: winter shadow, winter externship, state, government, policy, bill, legislation