Interview with Karen Pallansch, CEO, and Johnnie Wallace, Environmental Health and Safety Manager
Alexandria Renew Enterprises, also known as AlexRenew, operates one of the most advanced wastewater reclamation facilities in the United States and is located on a 35-acre site within walking distance of Old Town Alexandria. AlexRenew serves about 320,000 people in the City of Alexandria and part of Fairfax County, processing an average of 13 billion gallons of wastewater every year. AlexRenew is committed to being an environmental steward, good neighbor, and industry leader in the day-to-day work of making dirty water clean again.
Why did your company partner with Urban Alliance?
We were looking for opportunities to get involved in Alexandria and have a meaningful connection with the community. We have an organizational vision that has community engagement front and center, and it made great sense for us to work with Urban Alliance. When we signed up for this program, we were under the impression that we were going to help youth in Alexandria. In reality, though, our partnership with Urban Alliance has had an impact on both our interns and everyone at AlexRenew.
Our vision also focuses on supporting a healthy and resilient local economy, and one way to do this is to invest in those students who are the future of Alexandria. We want to guide them, open their eyes to possibilities, and show education paths that are needed for different types of careers.
What is your return on investment for this partnership?
Really, the return on investment is the positive impact on all of our employees and the amazing impact on the UA interns. Our team members love sharing their knowledge about what we do here at AlexRenew. Our operators have taken the interns under their wing, and we have noticed that the morale of our employees has been enhanced as a result of our UA partnership. We chose to double our investment in Urban Alliance and the future of our great country by renewing our partnership for a second year and doubling the number of interns we host.
Have you encountered any challenges working with high school interns?
Actually, no. I’ve been amazed at how they’ve done with some of the tasks. One of our interns, Fredis, was tasked with recreating a file from 1989. Within an hour he had created a document with a very similar fit and design that we were able to use. It’s amazing some of the things that these kids are able to do.
How have the interns been involved in your company’s growth?
They are always a part of our organization’s growth, and they are very much involved in the organization and its processes. We want them involved in the process to see the results and feel that they were a part of it all. Our intern, Petrona, processed construction invoices. Ten years from now, she can say I helped with that [building]. She’s in meetings and helping to make decisions. She’s going to see how her work helped. She’ll have a great impact on projects now and in the future.
What advice would you give to current or potential job partners?
You can’t look at this as just extra help. Yes, you’ll have an extra hand to help with daily tasks, but this is an investment of the staff. The return on investment for our team is undeniable. We’re working with Urban Alliance to give students with great promise a great future. This partnership is a win-win-win, for the interns, your organization, and our community.
If you are on company or nonprofit boards, if you work for an organization that doesn’t have Urban Alliance interns, please talk up this amazing and impactful intern program or ask your organization to provide internships or resources to Urban Alliance.
Would you recommend the program to other companies?
Absolutely! Sign up and be ready for the commitment. Support the interns, provide assistance, and understand they’re high school seniors making decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. Be interactive with the process. If you are already investing in UA and its interns, invest more. Honestly, I don’t know why every company and government agency doesn’t have at least one Urban Alliance intern in their office. We should be fighting for these interns.