Intern Rachel Cox, center, joins Ketchum colleagues Tamara Braunstein and Maura Devlin as volunteers at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Intern Rachel Cox, center, joins Ketchum colleagues Tamara Braunstein and Maura Devlin as volunteers at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Interns have never worked harder than they do today, but they need experiences beyond grunt work of compiling media lists and shipping new products to bloggers. Realizing all-work-and-no-play is not in the best interests of interns, many enlightened agencies are offering real-life professional and volunteer experiences for their interns.

Rich Jernstedt, a great mentor and senior counselor at Porter Novelli Chicago, urges interns and young pros to gain professional insights outside of the office. “A critical component of an internship is the valuable learning opportunity.” He young pros need to launch or accelerate their networks by joining professional organizations, attending workshops, volunteering and developing informal  occasions to connect with other practitioners.  “Find or develop every chance,” Rich said. “They make internships even more beneficial to the early stages of your career. And, jump-start the options for the first full-time job.”

Confirming the value of such experiences, intern Camden Robertson says, “In addition to giving engaging projects and allowing client face time, Porter Novelli encourages participating in professional development outside the agency. This includes attending seminars, association meetings and networking events that all give additional insight of what it is like to be a PR professional.”

Volunteer activities also are valuable real-world experiences for interns and employees. As part of Ketchum’s impressive social responsibility outreach, some 20 staff members and interns last week volunteered at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, a nonprofit that coordinates donations and purchases of food for a network of 650 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters that serve 678,000 adults and children in Cook County every year.

Commenting on the value of the volunteer effort she coordinated, Ketchum’s senior research associate Erin Salisbury, said: “Through my involvement in Ketchum Social Responsibility and our partnership with Room to Read, I have had the opportunity to connect with employees across the country, as well as our executive leadership. My role as office representative enables me to fulfill my passion for volunteerism and utilize my skill set to contribute to nonprofit organizations in a unique and meaningful way.”

“It’s not every day that you have the chance to see your supervisors, mentors and colleagues outside of the office– but being able to give back gave me that opportunity,” says Patrick Messenger who was on his last week of a Ketchum internship when he helped pack food with Ketchum colleagues.  “For me, it means so much to be able to give back to the community and having this opportunity will be a lasting memory.”  Patrick is now a client staff assistant at Burson-Marsteller.