Sophia Esdaile is settling in now at Virginia Commonwealth University, looking back at her experiences as an intern with Martinsville Councilwoman Jennifer Bowles as helping her prepare for this step.
Esdaile, the daughter of Michael and Sherrill Esdaile and a Magna Vista High School graduate, left Saturday for VCU. “I picked it because it’s really diverse,” she said of VCU. “I saw a lot of people who looked like me.”
She said she plans to major in political science, with an eye on a law degree, a goal helped along by years of watching news with her dad plus the internship with Bowles.
Growing up in Martinsville, Bowles, 29, said, there weren’t many opportunities for internships or other ways for students to get involved in workplaces or government. When she was in college, she said, she realized that many of the other students, who had come from other cities, had had tremendous internships behind them, from young ages.
At the University of Virginia, she was around fellow students who “were so much more advanced than I was with their resumes.” They were from places where students got competitive internships from 15 and 16 years old.
After Bowles was elected to council for the first time in 2014, she said she thought she would get an intern, to open those doors for someone else, just as soon as she had a chance to settle into her role.
“Since I had this blessing and was fortunate enough to be on City Council, I wanted to share the wealth,” she said.
Bowles’ mother died when she was 16, which was “a tough time. … I think about what people who did help me did for me. I hope I can be a bright spot in somebody’s” life, she said.
A business mentor can help a teenager with more than just business matter of the internship, she said: “Sometimes you need someone close to your age who hasn’t known you all your life” to give a fresh perspective on things.
Bowles and Esdaile’s father, Michael Esdaile, used to work together at Hooker Furniture; now Bowles works at New Heights Foundation. One day, she mentioned to Esdaile that she would like to have an intern, and he said he knew just the girl for her.
When Sophia Esdaile learned she had been offered up as an intern for a member of City Council, “I was kind of nervous” at first, she said. It was the summer between her freshman and sophomore years at Magna Vista.
Over those past three years, Esdaile answered emails and made calls for Bowles, attended most City Council meeting and helped Bowles campaign for re-election.
A big project she did was to create a map of voting districts to help the pair in the door-to-door campaign, Esdaile said. She looked up maps of the voting districts and labeled each street on a city map with the district it was in. Although a council member represents a particular district, residents city-wide vote on each council member.
The pair went together to canvas neighborhoods, each within sight of each other but knocking on different doors. “I had to warn her that sometimes people aren’t friendly,” Bowles said.
However, the few-and-far-between unfriendly constituents don’t appear to have harmed either of the women: The pair chuckle about the encounters they had with the few grumpy folks they met.
Esdaile also helped with an academic summer camp sponsored by New Heights Foundation.
Sometimes Esdaile made presentations at City Council meetings during the business-from-the-floor segment. That included the first and last meetings she attended, when she talked about her role with Bowles: once when she proposed glass recycling for the city (too expensive, she was told), another time giving occasional updates about the Harvest Youth Board.
Often after the meetings the pair would go out to eat – and to analyze what went on during the meetings. It helped Esdaile understand politics, the pair said – plus was fun.
“Sometimes it can get heated” during the meetings, Bowles said, adding that she would explain to Esdaile “the reasons behind” the disagreements.
Esdaile has been interested in political science since she was a kid, she said. It started “watching news with my dad. I didn’t really know what it meant, but I thought it was interesting.”
However, she wasn’t interested in politics at the school level, she said. “I stayed away from that. It was too hectic.”
She said she saw how a friend who was president of her class always had people “coming up to him” with problems and suggestions.
She was a member of the marching band and was on the Harvest Youth Board, which meets monthly to plan charitable events for kids, funded by The Harvest Foundation, the Kiwanis Club and other charitable organizations.
She said she has noticed that Harvest Youth Board and city council meetings are “definitely similar. In council, when they vote, they say, ‘If you all agree, say aye; [If you don’t agree] say nay,’” she said.
When her father first told her about the internship opportunity, she said she pictured “an older lady who was really strict, scary.”
Turning to Bowles, she said, “You’re like my sister.”
“I want to think about providing opportunities for our youth,” Bowles said, adding that “relatability, context and understanding cultural” backgrounds is important.
Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.