Robert Poole, like his classmates at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), is working as an intern in order to obtain a degree in social work. However, unlike his classmates, Robert took an 18-year hiatus between first entering higher education and today.
The practice of interning later in life has recently gained some notoriety because of films like The Intern, starring Robert DeNiro, and The Internship, featuring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. More and more aging baby boomers and individuals in their mid to late 40s are choosing to shift careers and reenter the workforce as interns.
Robert is no exception; at age 46, he is working to join the world of human services. He credits this decision to his own self-reflection and the influence of a mentor. While serving a two-year sentence at a penitentiary, where he says his transformation actually took place, Robert decided to do better and return to school. Upon release, he was introduced to a counselor at the Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS), Mr. John Halpin, who helped change his life.
“I am a recovering addict. I started abusing mind-altering substances at [age] 12 and at 38,” he explained. After experiencing bouts of homelessness, Robert knew it was time for a change. “I originally started pursuing a degree in mass communications, but after meeting with Mr. Halpin and witnessing the empowerment he instilled in others, my mind was set… I knew I wanted to be a life-long advocate for those that could not do for themselves.”
After hearing his story and learning of his dreams to return to school, Halpin generously offered to subsidize Robert’s education.
His enrollment and coursework at VCU led Robert to HomeAgain in order fulfill the requirements of his internship. “What I like most about the work I am involved in at HomeAgain is the diversity… The men talk, walk, look, and speak quite differently from one day to the next. No two men and their stories are the same; meaning each one has a different set of needs,” he said.
Robert believes the lack of education regarding homelessness is the public’s greatest challenge in relating to those who have no home. “Not understanding the marginalization, stigma, stereotypes, discrimination, and oppression of the homeless will only continue to instill fear in those that do not understand. Knowledge is power. ”
In the 6 years since re-entering society, Robert has earned an associate degree, graduating cum laude, and has started his own handy man business in an attempt reduce reliance on financial aid packages and loans.
He is very proud to share that since becoming sober, he has been restored his 2nd Amendment Right, possesses a driver’s license, and has reconciled with his family.
Reflecting on his life, Robert shared that his greatest gifts are the Lord’s Salvation and his three-year-old dog, Juliet. He described his relationship with Juliet and added that he was unsure “who rescued who.”
In May, Robert will graduate from VCU with a bachelor’s degree in social work (B.S.W.), and on August 10th, he will celebrate eight years of sobriety. He hopes to continue on to Radford University, next fall, in pursuit of a master’s in social work (M.S.W.) and would eventually like to work with incarcerated clients.
HomeAgain feels blessed to have such a dedicated and caring intern with similar experiences as many of our clients. As he works with us to end homelessness, Robert is an excellent example of the transformation that can occur with the right resources, ambition, and care.