More Than Interns: YAI Offers a Career Launchpad

Wed, August 28, 2019

Every year, YAI’s 4,000 employees help more than 20,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) live more independent and meaningful lives. And, every summer and fall, these staff cultivate the next generation of I/DD professionals while demonstrating what it means to be a person-first agency. 

This year, YAI and its affiliates Premier HealthCare, Manhattan Star Academy, and the International Academy of HOPE (iHOPE) welcomed 34 interns from high schools, universities, and community organizations throughout the country.

Kristina Hopkins, a Tisch Fellow from Tufts University, recently completed her summer internship at iHOPE where she helped students with traumatic brain injuries improve their literacy and communications skills. 

“Before I came to iHOPE, I never could have imagined how much there was to learn about the special education field,” she said. “I love that I get to work directly with the students to address their needs. I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for how diverse they are and what I can do to help them excel.” 

At iHOPE, Hopkins worked with teachers to develop an alternative pencil for students with little or no motor control of their hands. She said this firsthand experience will be invaluable in her future career.

While YAI’s internship program offers every student valuable experience in the I/DD field, for some it marks the start of a career with the agency, itself. 

Three people stand in a kitchen, they appear to be doing food prep. There are some metal bowls in the foregroundCaroline Dunn began her internship with YAI’s LINK program in September 2014 while earning her Master of Social Work from Hunter College’s Silberman School. 

 “I told my field placement advisor that I wanted to work in the I/DD field, and they said they knew exactly the place for me,” she said. “As soon as I got to the interview with YAI, it was clear they took the internship very seriously. I met with a panel of staff who were determined to make sure I was right for the job.”

After Dunn came on, she immediately got to work connecting people with I/DD with YAI’s services. Over the course of her internship, she was also given the opportunity to facilitate some of YAI’s social skills groups for youth with autism and other types of I/DD. 

“It was clear that the staff at YAI were invested in keeping the interns they had identified as a good fit for the field,” Dunn said. “When I came in, there were two former interns in the LINK department who had been hired. Seeing how much YAI invested in their growth as well as my own really drew me in.”

In July 2015, Dunn was hired by the agency full time. Today, she is a Coordinator with YAI’s LINK department where she is onboarding the most recent group of interns.

“One of our interns just started this week and we have another due to start next week,” she said. “At YAI, we always look for ways to help interns grow in their careers and advance the next generation of I/DD professionals.”

Students interested in applying for internship opportunities can speak to the placement advisor at their school or reach out to Elaine Burgess at elaine.burgess [at]