March 19, 2020
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College to Congress is creating a more inclusive government, starting with congressional internships

This D.C.-based nonprofit is one of the finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards. Five winners each will receive $40,000 from The Atlantic and Allstate.

Audrey Henson, center, launched the nonprofit College to Congress in her 20s. She credits her experience as a congressional intern with her achievements in public service and hopes to bring that same opportunity to students who may not have the means or the connections to land a coveted internship.

EDITOR'S NOTE

Meet the finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards. The annual program from The Atlantic and Allstate honors nonprofits that are creatively solving problems in their communities. This year, five winners each will receive a $40,000 prize from The Atlantic and Allstate. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to find out who the winners are and follow the hashtag #RenewalAwards.

For budding civic leaders and lawmakers, earning a coveted congressional internship on Capitol Hill is the summer job of a lifetime. Imagine having a front row seat to America’s political process, and serving the men and women who are creating the policies that affect the everyday lives of its people. Given the current global pandemic, the decisions these leaders are making are more important than ever.

But before a college student can even think of picking up and moving to Washington, they must consider their finances. The cost of living in D.C.—where the median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is $1500—not to mention the cost of a professional wardrobe, can be prohibitive for most college students. Enter College to Congress, a D.C.-based nonprofit committed to providing an opportunity for high-achieving students who otherwise would not be able to accept such an internship.

Founded in 2016 by Audrey Henson, a former intern herself, College to Congress is a two-time Renewal Awards finalist. Henson credits her experience working on Capitol Hill as a college student with helping her build her “dream career” in public service. Raised by a single mom in a small Texas town, Henson never thought she could one day be working alongside some of the most powerful people in the country.

She wrote about her journey from a college student struggling to pay bills to a nonprofit CEO for The Renewal Project:

“I secured that first internship by sheer willpower. It was unpaid, so I worked two part-time jobs and took out a loan to survive my summer in D.C. As I chatted with my friends and colleagues, this was a challenge that was not shared by all. Although I was in debt, I was living my dream of working in a career of public service. Three years later, I was driven to pay it forward by removing barriers to success for other talented students who had all the passion and potential but whose families lacked deep pocketbooks to fund a life-changing summer internship. Thus, College to Congress was born.”

College to Congress, or C2C, was built on the fundamental idea that when Americans are excluded from congressional jobs based on their socio­economic status, we all miss out on the benefits that accrue from diverse backgrounds. Talented students from low-income backgrounds are precluded from pursuing careers in Congress because of two major barriers: money and connections. Helping students overcome those barriers is C2C’s primary objective, and has been since the organization started.

C2C provides financial support to cover an intern’s transportation, housing, meals, first professional wardrobe, and various needs while living and working in Washington, D.C. Programming also includes curated leadership training to prepare students to pursue a career in public service. To help them cut through the partisan gridlock, C2C also pairs interns with a mentor of the opposite party, which the organization believes is fundamental to fostering bipartisanship and a more effective government. Every aspect of College to Congress is designed to ensure Congress reflects the true diversity of America.

Last September, C2C began creating College to Congress University, an online training, mentoring, and placement platform for young leaders who want to work in public service. They’re hoping to launch this pilot program soon.

For the latest updates from Henson and her team, follow College to Congress on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Donate to the nonprofit here.

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project, made possible by Allstate, tells the stories of individuals and organizations who are solving problems in their communities.