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This UNC Chapel Hill Senior Turned an Internship Experience Into a Life-Changing Donation

When Matthew Harding, a senior at UNC Chapel Hill, accepted an internship with First Citizens Bank he expected it could change his future. What he didn’t expect was that his experience would change someone else’s future too.

Matthew didn’t participate in a traditional internship program. Sure, he gained real-world experience working alongside professionals in the bank’s mortgage group but he also gained intangible experience in personal branding including how to build it, how to avoid diminishing it, and how to use it to build relationships with others.

That’s all because Matthew didn’t intern with a typical bank.

First Citizens Bank was founded in 1898 and has since grown to have more than $37 billion in assets and become one of the largest family controlled banks in the country. The concept of family is core to the bank’s identity from its “Forever First” philosophy — which commits to forever being the company that puts people first — to its commitment to serving the community, which it does through its support of United Way of the Greater Triangle and other local organizations.

It’s also deeply embedded in the framework for their summer internship program.

Family, according to First Citizens, isn’t just the people that you’re related to. It’s also the people you choose to associate with, the ones you learn alongside, and the ones you lift up along your journey.

First Citizens interns pose in front of First Citizens Center in Raleigh.

That’s why two years ago, Carmen Thompson, Program Manager of the Headquarters’ Internship Program, wanted to expand relationships beyond the bank’s walls and sought a nonprofit partner that could open interns’ eyes to the struggles that other people, including their customers, face on a daily basis.

“We wanted to do more than just have them interact with a nonprofit behind the scenes. While that is extremely important, we wanted the interns to be able to interact directly with the community members who had a need so they would have hands on, face-to-face experiences,” Thompson explains. “So our thought was, wouldn’t it be great if the interns had the opportunity to feel the impact of leadership and to be a positive influence, if they were in a position where they could share what they’ve learned so far?”

She partnered with The Hope Center at Pullen, a United Way-funded partner, which connects young people aging out of foster care in Wake County with the resources and support they need for a successful transition to adulthood. The Hope Center also has their own internship program.

Together, Carmen and Meredith Yuckman, The Hope Center’s Executive Director, brainstormed a program that could be mutually beneficial for both sets of interns. They decided to focus on the topic of personal branding.

Matthew was a key participant in that day-long program and together with his fellow interns, shared his own experience with personal branding and helped to facilitate breakout discussions.

While he’s grateful for the internship program, at the end of the day it wasn’t the topics or structure that stood out, it was his experience with The Hope Center’s interns and getting to see their tenacity and strength despite the struggles they’d already faced in their young lives.

“What really got to me is that they have such difficult pasts. However to them, it’s almost normalized, which was really

After participating in a day-long workshop with interns from The Hope Center at Pullen, Matthew was moved to share his experience with his parents.

saddening to me,” he shared. “I’m very grateful for my upbringing. I grew up in a very stable, blessed family. So just understanding the hoops that others have had to jump through to get to where they are, it really tugs at the heartstrings.”

The Hope Center’s interns were also impressed.

“I think that seeing people who are their near peers, who are doing an internship just like they are doing, I think it really helped them to get their head around the idea that internships are a key building block for their careers,” Meredith shares.

Matthew is close with his parents. They talk every day and when he told them about how the experience had touched him, he thought he was just sharing a normal anecdote. His parents took it so much further. They donated to The Hope Center for Matthew’s birthday on August 10.

“My parents and I talk almost every day. I was just filling them in on my day. I never mentioned to them that I wanted them to make a donation because I really enjoyed it. But I guess they could feel from the way that I was talking about it that this deeply touched me,” he said.

Matthew Harding recently began his senior year at UNC. He plans to give back his time between classes and volunteer in the community.

Then his grandparents found out about Matthew’s experience and also gave a donation.

“I was totally shocked. When I wrote the thank you note back to them, I let them know that even aside from the amount of the donation, just knowing that the donation started from someone who actually saw our work in action felt so validating for the entire staff,” says Meredith. “It felt like people were recognizing the value of what we’re doing here.”

Matthew recently began a new semester and only has classes three days a week. Unlike many of his classmates, he’s not filling his free time with late mornings, re-runs, and study breaks. He plans to volunteer.

That’s just the kind of guy that he is.

“My parents have always emphasized that you should give back when you can and what you can, whether time or money, and that’s carried through with me.”