My name is Kaitlyn Opperman, and I am the sustainable development intern at Homeword. I am currently a University of Montana student majoring in environmental science and sustainability, with a concentration in sustainable livelihoods and communities.

I have been very interested in sustainability since I was young, and it is my goal following graduation to work with sustainable infrastructure in urban and urbanizing areas due to the demand housing places on our resources and infrastructure.

One of my professors at UM, Dr. Alex Metcalf, was the one to introduce me to Homeword. He and I had a meeting to discuss the possibility of finding an internship for me, and he recommended Homeword as an option. Thanks to him, I reached out to Homeword’s deputy director, Karissa Trujillo. Together we formed a role for me as an intern with the organization.

In my internship over the past two months, I shadowed Karissa to find out what she does in her role as deputy director. I learned how development projects are completed and about the sustainable features implemented in different properties. Additionally, I gained hands-on experience by assisting with tasks around the office and attending meetings and a Montana Fair Housing training alongside Homeword staff.

Here are five things I’ve learned about as an intern at Homeword:

  1. Managing people

I’ve never been in a manager position. Through being a part of the team at Homeword, shadowing my supervisor Karissa and reading a book she lent me, I have learned about building my management skills. I found these experiences and the book, Developing Management Skills by David A. Whetten and Kim S. Cameron, to be helpful. Both taught me a lot about adapting to different personality types in the workplace in addition to managing myself to supervise others better.

  1. Project management skills

I am better oriented to the process of managing a project thanks to Homeword’s development team. I attended punch list meetings and visited a construction site where the development team made sure construction was being completed well and on time. I witnessed many of the intricacies involved in this process and helped organize development team files.

  1. Homebuyer education

I was able to attend Homeword’s Get Ready for Homeownership class. I am not in a place to buy a house yet, but I would like to be able to buy one in five years or so. This class helped me understand some of what Homeword does aside from home development through its HomeOwnership Center. It also prepared me for the homebuyer process, and I love that the cost is only $35, making it low-barrier in terms of access. I was able to learn about lenders, relators, credit and how it impacts homebuyers and much more. I highly recommend taking this course taught by Julie Pavlish.

  1. Teamwork

Teamwork is integral to Homeword’s work. One large impact this internship has had on me is through networking and meeting people from Homeword’s partner organizations such as NeighborWorks Montana, North Missoula Community Development Corporation, All Nations Health Center and Garden City Harvest. Seeing this high level of collaboration between different groups and people of different backgrounds emphasized the importance of working together to obtain similar goals.

  1. My own path

Finally, and most importantly, this internship allowed me to lift the veil on my chosen career path in sustainable housing. I have learned that a lot more work goes into this than I would have anticipated. Homeword’s acceptance of me in their workplace has allowed me to better understand the spectrum of work, from getting a development project started to the leasing process, as well as other aspects such as finances, marketing and fundraising. Everyone at Homeword has taken me under their wing and taught me what they know.

I am immensely grateful to the staff at Homeword for allowing me this opportunity to better understand the ins and outs of the organization. By becoming a part of the team, I was able to see firsthand the reality of sustainable housing. Sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes it’s sad. But, more often than not, it is extremely fulfilling, and I could easily decide that mission like Homeword’s could become my life’s work.