After spending the summer of 2018 interning at St. Louis Effort for AIDS (EFA), Goldman Fellow and recent architecture school graduate Abby Wong, AB ’19, returned to the same organization to work full-time as a Development Associate. The community that she built and the interests she fostered since the summer between her junior and senior years have shaped her path forward.
When she interned with EFA as a Goldman Fellow, Abby juggled a wide variety of tasks, including taking calls, greeting clients, tabling at community health fairs, and organizing volunteers. The mission of EFA is to provide education on the prevention of HIV/AIDS and comprehensive support services for those affected by the disease. In support of this mission, Abby worked to coordinate the PAWS program in the year following her internship. PAWS, which stands for Pets Are Wonderful Support, provides resources to people living with HIV/AIDS so they can keep their pet companions with them.
Abby’s involvement with EFA extended into post-graduate employment, and her current role involves fundraising, event planning, and community outreach. Outside of work, Abby works in community with Metro Trans Umbrella Group, St. Louis Queer+ Support Helpline, and other local organizations on small design projects.
Abby discussed the impact of her Goldman Fellows experience, explaining that on a professional level, “It broadened my concept of what it meant to work in community health and highlighted the difference between meeting needs within an inequitable system versus pushing the system itself to change toward equity.” She added, “Both are important, and I am still learning about what that balance looks like as I continue doing this work.”
On a more personal level, Abby spoke of the impact of her Goldman summer in her journey toward identifying as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. She shared, “The EFA office was the one space that I felt safe in all of my queerness during my last two years of undergrad. It seeded hope in me that the queer community was out there for me somewhere. It was an incredibly important belief for me at the time.”
The Goldman Fellows cohort experience offers fellows a uniquely deep exposure to the city of St. Louis, as well as shared spaces for discussion, professional development, and civic education. Abby reflected on the value of the community experience, saying, “I was very lucky to be around individuals who were willing to challenge the perspectives that I held while also holding space for difference.” Abby also noted that the Goldman experience would not have been the same without the opportunity to sample great food from local restaurants, cafes, and ice cream shops.
For current students and recent graduates who want to be civically engaged, Abby encouraged viewing the community as a priority and carving out the time to serve, connect, and engage in meaningful ways. “Be intentional about setting aside time and energy for it,” she urged. Abby pointed out the crucial difference between “thinking about civic engagement and taking steps to be more civically engaged,” but she cautioned that action must be accompanied by reflection. Her advice is “to continue to question if what you are doing is truly building a stronger, reciprocal relationship with your community” and to ask the questions, “Is what I’m doing now truly empowering the people I am engaging with? Am I really listening to what my community is saying or asking for?”