Social Impact Internships: Lucy Cai (’25)
My name is Lucy Cai and I am a current freshman at MIT intending on majoring in 18C. This past IAP, I interned with Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit that provides a rehabilitation and reentry program for previously gang-affiliated and incarcerated people. My role was with the Homeboy Venture and Jobs Fund, which acquires enterprises to employ Homeboy clients as soon as they graduate from the reentry program. I was tasked with creating an impact framework for the fund, which encompasses different goals the fund aims to achieve as well as indicators to measure progress towards those goals. My internship supervisor was Todd Hitomi, and he led Michelle (another PKG intern with Homeboy) and I through daily meetings, employing a method called Scrum to help us create and work towards our goals.
One inspiring experience from my internship was meeting with one of Todd’s friends Edin, who was currently participating in the Homeboy reentry program. He talked to us about his experiences growing up in Los Angeles, going to prison at sixteen, then coming out fourteen years later and walking through the doors of Homeboy to recraft his future. I was fascinated to hear about the job and education he received in prison, the books (both educational and fun) he read to pass the time, and the art materials people smuggled in which were considered contraband. He talked about growing up in his neighborhood in LA, where many of his classmates joined or somehow became involved with gangs by late elementary/early middle school. For myself, as an Asian-American first generation immigrant, I moved around between many different states when I was younger but never lived in any neighborhoods with a gang presence. To be brutally honest, my first exposure to what living in gang neighborhoods might be like was from the Netflix comedy-drama show On My Block, which I only watched a couple years ago in Covid quarantine.
Something I have been thinking about lately is the idea of sight – how the people we interact with (or specifically, don’t interact with) throughout the course of our lives affect the issues we end up caring about. Last week at the MIT LIST Visual Arts Center, I watched a screening of the documentary Paper&Glue, which follows French artist JR as he embarks on art projects taking photo portraits of “forgotten” people and pasting the blown-up results in a public space. One such project took place at a California supermax prison in Tehachapi, where he took a photo of all the incarcerated people there and had everyone work together to paste it onto the ground of the prison yard. The result, from above, was a huge black-and-white photo of the prisoners looking up, as if they were all stuck in a hole together.
All of this is to say that I hope to continue to seek opportunities to meet people from different backgrounds and with vastly different experiences than me. As someone who is passionate about creative writing, I hope to use poetry, in addition to math and computer science, as a medium through which to explore human issues.