Audrey Henson was a lot of us when we first moved to DC: eager, ambitious, ready to take on the world — and also broke. She struggled as an intern working on Capitol Hill and recognized that she wasn’t the only one. That’s why she started College to Congress — so she can motivate young college interns to remain eager and ambitious, and power past the “broke” so they, too, can take on the world.
It’s 2018 – Describe College to Congress in 280 characters or less
College to Congress is a nonprofit creating a more inclusive and effective Congress by empowering the next generation of public servants. We help low-income students intern on Capitol Hill by securing their internship, training and developing them, and covering all the cost!
When did you first realize you needed to create this organization?
I can actually pinpoint the exact moment. It was Friday night April 22, 2016 and I was sitting on my Capitol Hill porch sipping rosé and feeling super grateful that I had passed the three-year-mark in DC. I was writing about the journey that led me to DC and thinking about all the amazing opportunities I was so lucky to have had — Opportunities like working in Congress, serving an amazing team of political consultants to win historic races, and traveling the country to talk about digital communications for political campaigns.
For so many students who come from low-income families like mine – the cost of taking an unpaid internship isn’t just an obstacle – it’s a concrete barrier. With student loans and some side hustles, I made it work, but not everyone can. And to be frank, I’m a big believer that a privileged upbringing should not be a prerequisite for entering public service. My story is not unique, and that’s exactly why I created College to Congress.
As a struggling, non-paid intern back in 2012, what was your go-to meal?
It’s pretty cliché, but I truly took advantage of every Hill reception. Given that I was constantly eating off a trade association menu, the go-to meal was pretty unpredictable. One night it was just finger foods like quesadillas and the next night would be shaved beef. I think I’ve had the entire Capitol Hill menu at least twice. I also used to eat gluten back then and was a big fan of We The Pizza!
You provide opportunities for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – what’s one valuable lesson you’ve learned from your interns?
No one belongs in a box! I’m such a big believer that identity politics do not work because you can’t sum someone up by a bunch of data points. People are complex and bring a lifetime of varying experiences to DC with them. At College to Congress we run a program called Bipartisan Allies where we pair our interns with Hill staffers of a different political party in order to combat hyper-partisanship. The purpose of the pairings is to create a space to confront prejudices and understand differences in political ideologies.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from this is even when we have paired the two most opposite people we can find, they are able to find areas of common ground. My hope is that these relationships go on to aid both our interns and allies in the future when they are negotiating legislation that requires compromise.
I have someone very special on my heart lately! My dear friend and #c2cintern @daquawnb was shot at his home in Chicago on Friday night. He was simply spending time with his family in their front yard and holding his baby niece when he was hit by a drive-by bullet. Thankfully God spared his life as no vital organs were hit. Unfortunately, the bullet did damage though and shattered his pelvis. If you were lucky enough to meet DaQuawn this summer then you know firsthand his joyful spirit! Even in this trial he is handling it with compassion and forgiveness for the unknown gunman and thankfulness for another day! I can’t wait for him to complete his physical therapy so we can walk to the Capitol together again! 💪
What’s on deck for Fall?
We’re taking C2C on a road trip! Call it the Congress to College Tour!
Now that our incredible Class of 2018 completed their program and they’re back home wrapping up their degrees, we are so excited to start our search for the next C2C Class of interns. This fall, we are visiting 10 Universities across the U.S. to find driven, talented, and passionate students with a heart for public service. Our applications for summer 2019 will open up September 15th.
For those in DC, we’re also planning our first annual Gala! Spoiler alert, it’s going to be huge! Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest scoop on ticket sales.
BONUS! Favorite spot in DC – OR – What do you do in your downtime?
I live and work in the H Street corridor so it’s safe to say H Street is my jam. If I’m not at a work-lunch then I almost always eat at the Whole Foods hot bar, especially on Taco Tuesday. I really love everything H street has to offer, especially the new Solid State Bookstore, political spin classes at Election Cycle, and awesome events at WeWork Apollo like Rooftop Goat Yoga!