Interns kick-start careers at The Wright Center
Area degree-seekers in social work and other fields are finding internship opportunities at The Wright Center for Community Health, gaining real-world experience in, for example, addiction treatment and recovery services. Pictured, first row from left, are intern Megan Smith, who is also a case manager at The Wright Center; intern Elizabeth Zinkle; Maria Kolcharno, director of addiction services; second row, Scott Constantini, associate vice president of primary care and recovery services integration, and intern Bobby DeMeck.
Area degree-seekers able to expand on classroom lessons with real-world experience in addiction treatment and recovery services
The Wright Center for Community Health offers area college students the chance to sharpen their job skills through ongoing internship opportunities in medical-related pursuits, social work, and other professions.
Four degree-seekers, for example, participated recently in internships that concentrated on the rapidly expanding field of addiction treatment and recovery services. “We’re giving them a springboard to start their careers,” says Maria Kolcharno, The Wright Center’s director of addiction services.
The interns include master’s degree candidates and one intern pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work who describes herself as “passionate about helping people,” especially those newly entering recovery for substance use disorders. The four interns range in age from their 20s to mid-30s.
The interns gain real-world experience by assisting in The Wright Center’s initiatives to respond to the deadly opioid crisis. In 2016, The Wright Center established an Opioid Use Disorder Center of Excellence program to expand access to community-based care in Northeast Pennsylvania. It now serves more than 650 active patients. The Wright Center also co-founded the region’s Healthy Maternal Opiate Medical Support (or Healthy MOMS) program, which assists women who face the dual challenge of raising a baby and overcoming an addiction.
Prospective interns are invited to meet with Kolcharno and her colleagues to talk about their mutual expectations of the limited-term, unpaid work experience. “We try to tailor the internship experience to where their interests lie,” she says.
Kolcharno and Scott Constantini, associate vice president of primary care and recovery services integration at The Wright Center, mentored the interns, who say their career aspirations range from “hands-on social work” to administration.
Bobby DeMeck, 35, a South Abington Township resident, is pursuing a dual degree through the University of Alabama, combining a Master of Social Work and a Master of Public Health. He expects to graduate with both in May.
He has worked in the addiction treatment field for about seven years and approached The Wright Center about an internship that would help put him on an administrative track.
“It’s gone beyond my expectations,” says DeMeck. “The Wright Center has allowed me to sit in with grant writing projects, with community assessment, and with strategic planning for out-of-the-box substance use disorder programming. I’ve been able to work with some of The Wright Center’s addiction medicine physicians to create PowerPoints for the education of resident physicians. … and to do just a whole lot of different things.”
He has been particularly impressed by conversations happening within The Wright Center about how to better address the lopsided statistics surrounding addiction. “Less than 5% of people with a substance use disorder actually ask for help or receive treatment,” he says. “So, I really like Scott Constantini’s goal for the organization to take care of the 95% who aren’t ready for help yet.
“The Wright Center tries to help those who currently don’t want to change their substance use practices by providing harm reduction services, community education, safe use practice, and stigma reduction. Therefore, when the individual is ready to change, they’ll know who to call,” he adds. “And for those who do want to change their substance use, The Wright Center offers medication-assisted treatment services, certified recovery specialists, and counseling services that provide individualized care.”
DeMeck, a Madisonville native and Penn State University graduate, will have the chance to immediately put those insights and lessons into practice when his internship ends. He was recently offered a job as deputy director of Lackawanna/Susquehanna County Drug and Alcohol programs.
- Juliana Joyce, 24, a native of Jermyn, will earn a Master of Social Work this spring from Marywood University.
As an intern, she shadowed a case manager in the Healthy MOMS program – an initiative co-founded by The Wright Center in 2018 to help pregnant women overcome addictions and successfully raise their children.
“I didn’t realize this kind of program was available in our area,” says Joyce, a Valley View High School graduate. “I have already seen how it can change lives and impact women and their families. It’s really amazing.”
An adviser pointed her to The Wright Center’s internship program, based on Joyce’s desire “to work with mothers in some capacity.” The experience “ended up being just what I wanted,” she says.
Joyce recently celebrated with a mother in the Healthy MOMS program who had been aided in the court system and received word that she was being granted shared custody of her son. “We all broke into tears,” says Joyce. “It was a beautiful experience getting to see that and hear her say, ‘I have my baby back.’
“At that moment,” she says, “it was like, ‘Yes, that’s why I’m doing this type of work!’”
- Megan Smith, 25, a Gouldsboro resident, is working toward her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at The University of Scranton.
She became an employee at The Wright Center in September 2022, serving as a Center of Excellence case manager. She completed her internship hours in conjunction with handling her daily job duties, which include performing patient intakes, assisting with referrals to other health care and treatment programs, and helping patients connect to social services and resources that will promote their recoveries.
Smith, a graduate of North Pocono High School and Penn State University, especially likes how The Wright Center offers its patients a “one-stop shop,” she says. “Coming here, I got to see how drug and alcohol treatment can be integrated with behavioral health, medical, and dental – all different avenues, working together for patient care – which is really great to see.”
Next, Smith plans to pursue her goal of becoming a licensed professional counselor.
- Elizabeth Zinkle, 35, a former Maryland resident now living in Scranton, switched career paths from education to social work. The Misericordia University student was motivated to enter the field, she says, because she previously witnessed a loved one reach out for help and not receive consistent support from certain workers in the care system. By contrast, Zinkle wants to be a patient-centered provider who gives individuals a positive start on their recovery journeys.
As an intern, she expected to get saddled with mundane tasks, particularly paperwork, she says. Instead, she shadowed The Wright Center’s case managers as they handled daily responsibilities, met with patients face to face, and became familiar with how medication-assisted treatment can help people conquer their addictions while remaining active in the community, rather than going to an inpatient facility.
“Reading from a textbook is one thing,” says Zinkle. “But being able to talk to people and understand addiction and recovery, and all of the medications, it’s the best way to learn.”
While fulfilling her internship hours, she says: “I got connected to what I want to do. I would love to complete my next two semesters of internships at The Wright Center and then work for the organization as an employee.”
Interns typically leave The Wright Center at the end of their required program hours with a “real feel for what is going on in the field,” Kolcharno says.
“It’s certainly a win for us if one of the students who we’ve mentored and trained stays on board with us,” she says, “because then they know all the components of our mission, vision, and values, how we operate as an organization, and even how to use our electronic health records system. They really have a nice background to walk into a position here at The Wright Center.”