A summer that started in sadness for Tanya Podpolucha ended up as one of the most fulfilling of her young life.
In June, her aunt, Kathy Hylanski of Oxford, died unexpectedly at age 59, and an aunt and uncle from California, Ruth and Gary Strachan, came east for the funeral.
Ruth Strachan, who works in the Office of California State Senator Patricia Bates, had an idea.
Why doesn’t Tanya spend the summer in California and apply for an internship in Bates’ office?
Tanya, who had never been away from home, flew out to the west coast on July 3, boosted, her family believes, by Hylanski’s spirit.
“She was supposed to go out there,” Tanya’s mother Donna said. “Kathy
always wanted her to visit California.”
“It was a way of her saying, ‘Here, do something,’” she said. “It was her saying ‘It’s going to be OK.’”
Tanya was one of many applicants for the internship, and her acceptance had to be approved by the Secretary of the California Senate.
“I competed against college students,” she said. “I applied and had an interview, and I was selected. I was excited.”
At 17, she was the youngest of the four interns chosen to work in Laguna Hills, in the Orange County office of Senator Bates, who represents California’s 36th District.
The work was demanding, she said.
“I did a lot. I answered phones and dealt with constituents,” Tanya said, including fielding calls about bills they wanted passed or proposed on topics ranging from kangaroos to Planned Parenthood.
Tanya also tackled a new computer system, scheduled meetings, wrote letters, organized files and sent out emails.
She attended a “Senior Citizens Summit’ focusing on identity theft, contacted people who could help constituents with specific problems, and trained interns.
She worked closely with Erik Wagner, district director, who represented the Senator when she couldn’t attend a function.
Bates visited the Orange County office every two weeks.
“She’s well known in the county,” Tanya said. “Everyone loves her. Everyone was nice in the office. I formed bonds with them.”
Tanya’s summer internship has garnered her a resume and a letter of “high recommendation” from Senator Bates.
“She exhibited an outstanding work ethic and proved to be an invaluable asset to my office,” Sen. Bates wrote.
Her California summer wasn’t all work. Tanya said, and she spent her days off taking trips with her aunt and uncle to places like Seal Beach, Universal Studios and Chinatown in Los Angeles.
“They spoiled her rotten,” her father said.
He and his wife flew out and spent a week with her before they all flew home at the end of August.
A major accomplishment for Tanya was coping successfully away from home.
“She made it,” her father said. “She’s grown up.”
This fall, Tanya is entering her senior year at Shelton High and also attends Bridgeport Aquaculture School, taking seafood science and navigation courses and working toward a boating license.
She also works at Angie’s fish market at the school and at Vazzy’s, an Italian Restaurant in Bridgeport.
The Podpolucha family, which also includes Tanya’s three older brothers, was originally from Bridgeport and has lived in Shelton for ten years.
Frank Podpolucha is a financial crime detective for the Bridgeport Police Department and an adjunct professor at Sacred Heart University, where he currently teaches a course on race, ethnicity and crime.
Tanya is considering attending Sacred Heart University or going to college in the San Diego area.
She plans to major in child psychology and minor in political science.
Her interest in child psychology stemmed from the plight of a niece and nephew in her family who had to be removed from home by the Department of Children and Families.
“I want to help kids and be there for them,” she said.
Her summer internship has opened other doors for her.
“I think it was an excellent experience,” her mother said. “People in Sen. Bates’ office have told her, ‘If you come out here, there’s a job for you.’”