When Rep. David Trone (D-Maryland) in February 2019 visited University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Western Maryland’s new behavioral health unit in its emergency services department, he was briefed on its plans for a Center for Hope and Healing. An advocate for individuals struggling with addiction, Trone discussed the opioid crisis ravaging the local area and spoke about sponsoring related federal legislation.
Little did he know that standing in the audience that day was his future Capitol Hill intern, Stephen Kraft.
Trone’s words stuck with Kraft, who moved to Cumberland, Maryland, a few years ago. He had just returned to college full-time as a nontraditional student and was only a month into Allegany College of Maryland’s (ACM) human service associate program. A self-described military brat who attended high school in Colorado and had tried college once before, he discovered friendship, support and community in Cumberland after years of working jobs in multiple fields.
Kraft’s motivation to become a social worker and advocate for others stemmed from his own journey. After fighting his own demons and overcoming adversity, Kraft committed to his sobriety on September 14, 2018. Two years and two months after that pledge, and less than a year after hearing the congressman speak, Kraft was selected to intern in Trone’s Washington, D.C., office. He is the first student ACM has placed with a member of Congress.
‘A natural fit’
ACM Professor Cherie Snyder recommended Kraft for the internship.
“Given his interest in social policy, legislation and advocacy, an internship with the congressman seemed like a natural fit for his third internship,” Snyder said.
By the time he applied for the internship, Kraft was working and volunteering six days a week. While training to become an addictions counselor, he was employed at Archway Station and completing an internship at Maryland Wellness after previously interning at the Allegany [Halfway] House through the county health department and Potomac Behavioral & Occupational Therapy. In addition, he was a prisoner visitation and support volunteer at a local federal prison and served as ACM’s student representative to the NAACP 7007 Allegany County chapter’s Community Safety and Wellbeing Committee, a group he co-chairs with local police chief.
“Congressional interns play a key role in constituent services, something that’s especially critical during a pandemic and the difficult times we’ve been experiencing as a nation,” said David Jones, ACM’s vice president of advancement and community relations and executive director of the ACM Foundation. “These are incredibly competitive internships. Having Stephen represent our college in this capacity is a true point of pride.”
Due to the pandemic, Kraft is assigned to work remotely in Trone’s D.C. office from his Cumberland residence. His internship coincides with his final semester at ACM, a college work-study assignment, a new position as an addictions counselor at Maryland Wellness and volunteer responder for the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps. He was admittedly nervous.
In the first week of January, a week that saw a riotous attack on the U.S. Capitol, Kraft officially logged into Trone’s office for the first time to begin his semester-long internship. During such an unprecedented time, his focus for 15 hours every week is on helping constituents. He answers correspondence and assists people facing problems with federal agencies, frequently with two “assistants” at his side: his faithful canine companions, Brady and Lady.
“Stephen has been an incredible advocate for thousands of Marylanders in our office, especially the folks dealing with mental health challenges and substance use disorders during this pandemic,” Trone said.
After graduating in May, Kraft plans to transfer to Frostburg State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in social work. For his graduate work, he is torn between pursuing a master’s degree in social work or a law degree.
“Law school wasn’t in my original plans. But as I think more about advocacy as it relates to social justice reform, a JD could enable me to help others more successfully,” Kraft said. “Whether that leads to becoming an attorney or starting a career in policy, only time will tell.”