Learning Skills for the Office and for Life

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The Floating Hospital’s internship program teaches everything from spreadsheets to a sense of personal responsibility—and a whole lot more in between.

Eleven years ago, the New York City Department of summer youth programs reached out to Cynthia Davis, the Floating Hospital’s director of community outreach, asking if she’d like an intern or three for the summer. Not only did she say yes, but she created one of the Floating Hospital’s signature life-skills programs.

“This is my baby!” says Davis, a 17-year veteran of the Floating Hospital. Since that first group of fidgety, jean-clad kids—who now wear a uniform consisting of a Floating Hospital T-shirt, khaki pants and white sneakers to “teach discipline and what it means to be on a team”—Davis has personally guided 150 interns through a rigorous seven-week workshop giving them not just basic office know-how, but a portfolio of life skills that give them a leg up in the world.

“They get a work manual and are treated like an employee. They learn to punch in and out and get a work ID—and once they get that, they’re so excited!” Davis says.

graphic with quote from cynthia davis

Left to right, top row: Camaraderie rules with a selfie snapped just before a day of community volunteering began.
Bottom row: Interns, class of summer 2021; an intern administers a patient survey; intern learns how to prepare food for our healthy eating cooking class

Interns begin with the office basics: phone manner, database creation and use, Excel and Word lessons. They shadow someone in each department of the Floating Hospital, learning about different job functions and company structure. And they also learn manners: the basic niceties of being polite and saying good morning and excuse me. Their “schooling” includes a restaurant excursion to learn things many of us take for granted such as how to read and order from a menu, table etiquette and tipping.

“Some of these kids are in shelters and have never been to a restaurant,” says Davis. Other field trips are more academic, to the United Nations, the mayor’s mansion and the main branch of the New York Public Library. A career day brings in representatives from an assortment of careers: attorneys, scientists, judges, politicians and even a sanitation worker.

With Covid still in the picture, Davis changed it up. “[The interns] learned to go into the community and talk about our services and each had to do a different presentation. They handed out flyers and talked to people in the community. And when they saw someone they’d spoken to come in to the hospital two days later, it was incredibly impactful.”

But the impact of the program stretches far beyond a few weeks of work. “My very first intern is an attorney now,” she boasts. “I have a motto I give to them, and I think it’s resonated: Never work hard, always work smart.”

— Amy Zavatto

Since 1866, The Floating Hospital has been the largest provider of healthcare and education to families living with homelessness. Based in Long Island City, it provides comprehensive primary, dental and behavioral-health services, and health-education to patients living in more than 300 shelters and domestic violence safe houses throughout New York City.

In 2021, The Floating Hospital moved into a new modern main clinic in Long Island City, and continue to support patients in satellite clinics at family homeless shelters and public housing complexes in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

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