Third-year University of Virginia architecture student Taylor Thompson is spending his summer working with Habitat for Humanity’s Government Relations and Advocacy Office in Washington, D.C., thanks to a grant from UVA’s Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center.
The Beth Garrett Memorial Grant provides $2,000 to a student who has the opportunity to serve as an unpaid intern in the field of public policy.
“This grant is making this all possible, and there are not sufficient words to express my gratitude,” Thompson said.
His duties include preparing project examples and stories of Habitat for Humanity homeowners for federal officials considering funding for the organization, and creating templates for other advocacy efforts at the state and local level.
“We want lawmakers to have faces to put to the numbers, so that they understand the real lives they are affecting through the dollars they are advocating,” Thompson said.
It’s a topic the UVA student is very familiar with and passionate about. Thompson has served with Habitat since the age of 16, when he raised $85,000 and volunteered to build a Habitat home in his mom's memory. Maureen Thompson, an architect who inspired her son to pursue the same field, died in 2014 after an 11-year battle with breast cancer.
Throughout his teens, Thompson’s involvement with Habitat and with the discipline of architecture grew deeper and deeper. His work with Habitat to date has included volunteering on home sites in the Austin, Texas, area where he grew up; a Habitat Global Village Build trip to build homes in Thailand; and three Carter Work Projects, special weeklong Habitat for Humanity builds led by former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn.
Thompson also participated in a University of Texas summer program in architecture for high school students before enrolling in UVA’s School of Architecture, where he has brought a new level of energy to the University’s student Habitat chapter.
His dedication to Habitat has given him the opportunity to see firsthand the work of professional leaders at all levels of the organization, including spending time on Capitol Hill with Dan Rosensweig, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, during Habitat’s annual advocacy conference, and meeting Habitat CEO Jonathan Reckford at a Carter Work Project in Memphis, Tennessee.
According to Thompson, his summer internship offers a chance to become better-versed in the relationship that exists between design and public policy, as a way to address affordable housing domestically and internationally.
“Serving in this role over the summer will provide me with the opportunity to understand the complexities and interactions of federal, state and local governments by attending the upcoming House [of Representatives] budget meetings, interacting with different offices’ legislative assistants and researching recent advocacy successes within the ministry after the launch of ‘Cost of Home,’ [Habitat for Humanity International’s] national advocacy campaign,” Thompson wrote in applying for the Garrett grant.
Advocacy is a bit outside of his comfort zone as well, as he is not working directly on architecture projects. but rather on the government policies that affect those projects.
“That was probably the hardest thing the first few weeks. There was just a big learning curve,” he said. “It has been really interesting to see a different side of Habitat that I had never really understood before.”
With support from the School of Law, the Women’s Center established the Garrett grant last year to honor UVA’s 2016 Distinguished Alumna, Beth Garrett. A 1988 alumna of the School of Law, Garrett built a successful career in public policy and service and was serving as the president of Cornell University when she was selected for the alumna award. Sadly, she died of colon cancer before the award could be formally bestowed. She was 52.
The inaugural Beth Garrett Memorial Internship Grant went to alumnus Shaun Khurana, who interned with Equality Virginia in 2018. He graduated from UVA’s College of Arts & Sciences with a philosophy major and is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree at the John Glenn School of Public Policy at The Ohio State University.