April 18, 2024
overcast clouds Clouds 52 °F

Public administration grad’s love of working with nonprofits began in community theater

Julia Rakus '22 expanded her skills at the Crime Victims Assistance Center in Binghamton, helping victims and at-risk youth

Julia Rakus will earn her master's degree in public administration from Binghamton University. Her internship at the Crime Victims Assistance Center in Binghamton helped grow her interest in working with nonprofit organizations. Julia Rakus will earn her master's degree in public administration from Binghamton University. Her internship at the Crime Victims Assistance Center in Binghamton helped grow her interest in working with nonprofit organizations.
Julia Rakus will earn her master's degree in public administration from Binghamton University. Her internship at the Crime Victims Assistance Center in Binghamton helped grow her interest in working with nonprofit organizations. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

Julia Rakus’ passion for working with nonprofit organizations was born on the modest stage of community theater.

The stage taught her the power of personal connection, and she’s hoping to channel those skills into a public administration career supporting victims and at-risk youth.

The 22-year-old native of Olean, N.Y., has performed the leading role in a community production of Anne of Green Gables, as well as Mary Lennox in her high school’s performance of The Secret Garden. She’s also appeared in Broome County, N.Y., local theater productions of A Christmas Carol.

Community theater, Rakus said, has always been a “second home.” She’s thrived on performing for an audience of her friends and neighbors, pitching in for plays wherever she’s needed, even toiling behind the scenes to ensure the show always goes on.

Rakus, who is graduating with a Master of Public Administration from Binghamton University’s College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA), said theater helps shape the soul of a community. As she moves forward with her career, she hopes to replicate that sentiment.

“A lot of what I’ve done in my life has led me to wanting to work with nonprofit organizations, because nonprofit theaters really helped me build my life. There needs to be a place where you can feel safe and supported,” Rakus said. “I’ve always been drawn to helping people, whether it’s for someone in the audience who finds a personal connection with my performance or by being the person someone needs on a day when they’ve hit rock bottom.”

Rakus majored in theatre and English during her undergraduate years at Binghamton, but when it came time to purse her master’s degree, she felt public administration offered wide-ranging opportunities.

“Public administration gives you skills that can be carried across a lot of different sectors,” Rakus said. “It could help you work in any nonprofit organization, like the nonprofit theaters that I was interested in, or in something else like local government. I really liked the versatility of this program.”

Work experience and internships taught Rakus how to use her theater background to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable members of the community.

While earning her master’s degree, she worked as a box office assistant at the Goodwill Theater in Johnson City. There she learned how the administrative side of nonprofit theaters works, and how theater could be used to help at-risk youth and other members of marginalized communities.

“Everyone needs a creative outlet, but not every school has a thriving arts program, and theater should be made even more accessible for people,” Rakus said. “Specifically for groups such as at-risk youth, creative outlets like community theater can help with expressing difficult emotions and providing a safe space to go, no matter what you’re going through.”

During her fall 2022 internship at the Crime Victims Assistance Center (CVAC) in Binghamton, Rakus discovered creative outlets and safe spaces can be even more critical for those experiencing trauma.

She spent much of her internship assisting case managers in CVAC’s Safe Harbour program, which works with at-risk youth to prevent human trafficking and exploitation. She also took shifts answering CVAC’s 24-hour crisis hotline.

“The big thing in advocacy is that you are there for support, to listen to whatever they’re going through,” Rakus said. “This was the first organization I worked for that wasn’t theater-oriented, so it was a great opportunity to find ways of drawing on what I gained from those experiences to help people on their worst days.”

Any time she’s performing on stage, no matter what size the role, Rakus has tapped into her own life experiences to draw out her best portrayal of a character. Working in nonprofits often requires a similar mindset, she said, because these organizations rely so heavily on the dedication of people involved to make their missions successful.

“What nonprofits produce is what they stand for,” Rakus said. “Through the experiences I’ve had, I’ve gained more insight about the social issues I’m passionate about and now I can’t see myself not doing something like this, to help people in the future.”

Posted in: Campus News, CCPA