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Embracing the Opportunity to Shape Passion into Purpose

August 18, 2022
Jalil Lenore
For foundation intern Jalil Lenore, the summer has provided a chance to listen, learn and hone new skills

I grew up on the south side of Chicago and until I left home to attend college, I had never been to Arkansas.

Honestly, I didn’t know much about Bentonville, other than it was home to Walmart. But as soon as I arrived to begin a summer internship with the Walton Family Foundation, I felt immediately welcome.

Bentonville is a place with big-city vibes – reflected in a food scene that runs the gamut from Southern staples to cuisine reflecting the culinary traditions of its multicultural population. The city’s extensive trail network is a product of the enthusiasm with which residents embrace the outdoors and open spaces – and their commitment to making them accessible and inclusive to everyone.

At the same time, Bentonville has retained its small-town charm and hospitality – people say hello when you walk by on the street and strike up conversations with strangers in a coffee shop.

It’s a place where I knew I would be able to flourish.

I study Business Management at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, a small town about 250 miles south of Bentonville in the Arkansas Delta, and hope to pursue a career in public relations.

I have always enjoyed networking and talking to people, so it seems natural to follow a career path where I can form connections on a personal level. My internship with the foundation’s Communications team has provided the opportunity develop those passions into real-world skills.

Good storytelling is essential to success in any field, and with today’s technology there are more ways than ever – from blogs to video to social media – to share your message.

Jalil Lenore makes pasta during a cooking class at Brightwater culinary school in Bentonville, Arkansas.

From my first day at the foundation, I’ve seen how committed its leaders and staff are to creating access to opportunity for individuals. I’ve had a front-row seat to listen and learn from some of the most influential people making a difference in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors.

My most meaningful experience was traveling to New York City to interview activist, actor and musician Common, a fellow Chicagoan who is giving back to his hometown through education.

We were able to talk about the development of education in communities that are loaded with potential but often lack resources to help young people fulfil their dreams.

Common: Education Was a Calling
Walton Family Foundation intern Jalil Lenore interviews artist, actor, author and activist Common on the importance of education in his life.

On a trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, I learned about the early 20th century successes of Black entrepreneurs during a trip to Black Wall Street in the city’s Greenwood District. I also learned about the city’s infamous race massacre in 1921 – a story that many people still don’t know to this day.

Each of these experiences helped me see the world from new perspectives. I believe they have made me a more well-rounded scholar as I prepare to return to the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff this fall.

In my journey at the foundation, I’ve been joined by 13 other interns – who are some of the finest students from UAPB (Go Golden Lions!). We come from all over the country.

Jalil Lenore takes a selfie with fellow interns L’Kenna Whitehead, Kalia Walker, Dajah Henley and Zaria Moore, and Walton Becca Hazelwood, a senior program officer at the Walton Family Foundation. The group was visiting the at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

We’ve bonded through shared time together spent discovering Bentonville’s vibrant nightlife to camping in the Ozark mountains, where we were fully immersed in a more solitary kind of nightlife.

Many of us were attracted to working at the foundation because of its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, which the organization’s leaders have prioritized as a shared goal in their five-year philanthropic strategy.

“I was interested in working at the foundation because it values respect, diversity, equity and inclusion – and encourages the curiosity needed to learn new things and ideas,” says my fellow intern Dajah Henley. “These values align strongly with my own as well.”

As soon as we began our work, we felt welcomed by staff eager to help us succeed. They encouraged us to ask questions freely and seek feedback and constructive criticism needed to get better at the job.

Jalil Lenore, with Common, on a recent visit to a school in New York City.

The internship has opened a window to see how philanthropy works – from the inside. I understand better now the importance of giving back – and the impact charitable work can have in building communities.

“Philanthropy is important when it comes to tackling societal issues,” intern Niesha Sims told me. “We are responsible for creating change; when we are aware of problems, we must take action, even if it may not directly affect us. When we as individuals help each other, we build unity and stronger communities in the process.”

As interns, we have been challenged to do our part to make the world a bit better – and been rewarded with the feeling of satisfaction in helping make that happen.

In talking with all of my fellow interns, the one thing we feel overwhelmingly is a sense of gratitude for the chance to listen and learn from foundation staff. The lessons we take away will help us lead, in our own way, in the future.

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