YOUTH & FAMILY WELLNESS

Aisa Moreno-Megui - MARTHA'S PLACE, WEEK 1

"This city ain't shit. RIP Freddy Grey," a black man yelled at us as we stared at Billie Holiday's silent but belting note painted on the walls that house the Arch Social Club, the longest standing Black men's club in Baltimore. We must have looked like tourists -- outsiders --as we stared up at the colorful mural. I shifted my gaze to see him and the group he is walking with continue down the sidewalk. "RIP Freddy Grey," he repeats. Moments before, we were asked to reflect on Baltimore. Even now writing this, it is difficult to describe exactly how I felt when I was pulled out of my head by a shout of disdain at the city that I have now called home for about three years. Of course, my apartment is across the street from the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus and although I technically do live in the same city as that gentleman, our experiences here are different. I cannot speak for him, but my short time here in Baltimore has been filled with growing pains about who I am or what career path to take. My biggest struggle in life right now is indecision – I feel that I have too many choices. I know that this is not a struggle shared by everyone, but it is not a truth that finds its way into my mind until moments like these.

My first week into my internship and nothing about my indecision has changed. Martha’s Place – which is located only a couple of blocks from the large Billie Holiday mural, offers 6 month transitional housing for women struggling with addiction – was my first choice placement. I still do not know if I want to be a doctor or a therapist or something else, but the women here come and excitedly talk about their interviews at KFC and staying clean for another day. The week was difficult because given that there is a lot of policy and procedure in place for residential housing, there was a lot of information that needed to be absorbed. I’m anxious to see what the summer will hold. It does not hurt that I get to see Billie Holiday’s note painted on the wall each morning on my way to work.

 

Ayesha Shibli - Maryland Out of school time network, WEEK 1

I Finally Went Out and Bought Dairy-Free Ice Cream Y’all

If Buzzfeed can get away with a title like this for an article dissecting Taylor Swift's recent break-up, then I think I can title this blog post with *my* most pressing concern since beginning an internship on an empty stomach.

This is not the first summer that Ramadan has overlapped with my summer plans, but it is the first time I've completed two full weeks of meeting people on a completely empty stomach. Pro-tip: avoid this if you can. Unless you know how to play off the obnoxious rumbling of your stomach as if it were a delicate sneeze (who knows, perhaps some people can do this). Regardless, I think I fared pretty well–maybe more butterflies to fill up the empty space, but introductions went something like this, "Nice to meet you, I'm fasting—I mean, Ayesha." So it's not like it was on my mind or anything.

But in all seriousness, to circle back to the title of this post, it really is relevant to something important we covered in training last week that ended up influencing my first week more than the job itself: self-care. I'll be honest, I've been running pretty long days and even longer nights. This Ramadan I wake up around 3 to eat my first meal and break my fast around 8:30. Add in some extra time for prayer and spirituality and there's a lot less sleep in there. When your fasting, even though your brain is doing pretty amazing things (I'm serious, a JHU professor even did a study [hyperlink] http://www.cosmicscientist.com/ted-talk-neuroscientist-shows-what-fasting-does-to-your-brain/) your body can get a little slow and there’s a lot you find yourself pushing yourself to do that you would normally just do. Saying hello to someone you haven’t met before? For me, that’s usually a no brainer. But for me fasting, it becomes “Hmm standing? Do we really need to do this? And the talking thing? Sitting and smiling feels nice.”

Just to clarify here though, fasting is something deeply spiritual and beloved to me. It may tire me physically, but really does give you more clarity of mind (all that brain science). Especially in these last few weeks finding myself in so many new environments, I’ve had the opportunity to be introspective about where I am right now, what I’m doing and how I’m feeling about this and everything around me.

And I’ll be even more honest, the Pulse shootings last weekend—that shook me hard too. I wish more than anything that the media didn’t make it another “Muslim thing,” that they didn’t hijack the pain and grieving of the LGBTQIA and Latinx community to once again discuss everything from gun rights to proposals for religiously specific immigration laws from “certain quarters” instead of how as human beings we stand in solidarity: we hurt together but we will heal together too. I didn’t want to be another Muslim that felt like she had to stand up and condemned this atrocity “as a Muslim” so I kept silent. But the truth is, my allies—my Muslim community’s greatest ally— have been the LGBTQIA community. For years, our respective struggles have been the same as we fight for basic rights in an unreceptive environment—I can’t claim to share this struggle and remain silent. For those of you affected right now, your pain is my pain and may what strength I have be yours at this time as yours has been mine.

So as silly as it seems, I finally went out, after a week and a half of just thinking about it and not finding the time and bought myself ice cream. Self-care, I’ve learned, is as much or as little as we can do for ourselves to just check in, remind ourselves that it’s okay if we need time for processing. It’s okay if we just need to not process just now. It’s okay if we decide we’ll explore these complicated feelings more deeply with a carton of vegan Chunky Monkey.

I apologize if this blog post makes anyone feel uncomfortable, or seems like I am taking a serious subject matter too lightly. For myself, and for all of us really, we process the same event differently whether it be our unique backgrounds or experiences. I welcome anyone to speak up and call me out—I'm willing to listen, and I hope you are too.

 

Chijioke Oranye - LIVING CLASSROOMS FOUNDATION, WEEK 1

Man, kids are exhausting. I’ve been so excited to get up and out of my seat after a week of physical stagnancy during orientation. I remember Abby always looking up to ask me how my leg was feeling. I would say “better” out loud, but inside I was saying when “when do I start?” Now, laying in my bed, finessing this essay, I am dreading waking up at 7AM on a Saturday morning to make that hour commute to work on the MTA. But man, I love those kids. Latino toddlers are adorable. And Jesus is so funny when he purposely calls me “Mr. Cheese,” waiting for me to chase him around the room. And then there is Kofi. He is probably the tallest student in the Living Classrooms summer camp at Patterson Park. Then there is his pride, which forces him to challenge me to a game of basketball every day. Some days his pride will say “Mr. Chi you some butt at hooping,” or “Boy I will cross you up,” or “Mr. Chi you can’t even dunk!” Yet every time I take the kids out to the basketball court behind the pool, Kofi fails to even make a layup. He’s a funny kid. Very funny.
I barely remember the bus ride after my first day of work…I wasn’t awake for it. My eyes slowly opened and caught sites of Lake Clifton Park. I was reaching the Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus, the meeting location for the CIIP bites event. I was supposed to meet with other members of CIIP for the injustice walk. I grumbled at the thought of not only getting up, but getting up to walk, and not getting up to walk to my bedroom. I was hungry, so I got off the bus to buy a vanilla milkshake at Tamber’s. The milkshake gave me energy. So I walked back to the 3 bus stop on 33rd street. I had more energy as I took more sips, and kept walking down St. Paul Street to enjoy the weather. I was close to Homewood, so I decided to check out my dorm for the next school year…I ended up in the Center for Social Concern. We walked around downtown listening to people speak of homelessness. The speakers had once been victims of homelessness. One of them knew my father, and was a graduate of my high school, City College. I reminisced upon my middle school years as we walked on the same grounds where I used to catch the bus after school while I attended St. Ignatius Loyola Academy. I decided then, that the upper Echelon of Baltimore prioritized foreign business and investments over the domestic challenges that plagued their cities. I think I could do a better job, by addressing the realities of the City, rather than creating aggressive plans with unrealistic goals that only ignore the root causes of homelessness, and in effect put more people out on the streets. Vote for me for mayor, in due time.

 

Darius Thompson - SHEPHERD'S CLINIC, WEEK 1

I love my site.
The first day I had a bit of a struggle getting there, but as soon as I arrived I was greeted with a lot of love from my supervisor and the other workers at the clinic. My supervisor expressed how excited she was to have me for the summer and began to explain all the thrilling projects she had lined up for me. A worker at the front desk told me the clinic was happy to have me and that I would fit right in. After I was introduced to all of the volunteers and took a tour of the facilities, the work began.
My supervisor dumped a truck load of information onto my head and I tried to transfer as much of it as I could into my little red moleskine for future reference. After a brief but intense training session, my supervisor left me with a mountain of work to do and went about her business. But that's okay because it was actually enjoyable work. I was going through medical records, checking in patients, checking out patients, collecting donations, reminding patients of their appointments, and more. I enjoyed it because I’ve always wondered what happens on the other side of the front desk at the doctor's office. It was fun pretending I knew what I was doing (I most certainly did not. I asked my co-workers and supervisors so many questions that day. In fact, I still do).
When the day was done, I walked home with someone else in the CIIP program. We got lost several times and ended up in a neighborhood that stimulated my sympathetic nervous system. But eventually we made it back to more familiar territory and I even got the chance to buy a peach snowball with marshmallow topping for only $1.50!
Now I know how to catch the shuttle to and from my site. Every day is still exciting and busy. I’m never at a loss of work to do. Every morning, everyone still says good morning to one another and greets one another with enthusiasm. I’ve gotten to know a few of my coworkers pretty well. They keep my days full of laughs. I’ve been getting pretty good at running the front desk operations of the clinic and handling medical records, and just in time, too! My supervisor’s leaving for the week and she’s trusting me and one of my coworkers to keep the clinic running smoothly.
I’ve learned that you don’t necessarily need a medical degree or any particular qualifications to run the daily operations of a clinic, just the willingness to serve, financial support, and workers. I could be wrong about that, but that’s why I’m learning. I’ve learned that a lot of Hopkins students volunteer at the clinic. Also, one of my mom’s doctors volunteer here. I didn’t know doctors and nurses did volunteer work. That’s dope. I want to volunteer when I become a doctor, if I become a doctor, Lord willing (amen!)!

 

Eileen Ramirez - ESPERANZA CENTER, WEEK 1

When it comes to taking the Charm City Circulator, a word of advice: 

Do not trust NextBus. Or the Charm City Tracker. Don't do it. 

At least not for the Green Route.

The morning of my first day went a little something like this: 

- wake up at 7 am 

- Sleep in for 15 more min

- Rush to get ready because I slept in

- Somehow catch the 8 AM JHMI even though it was crowded as hell 

- Wait for the 8:30 AM Circulator since I work in Fell's Point

- Plan B: wait for the 8:45 AM circulator 

- Plan C: check NextBus to see where the buses are and consider calling an uber

- Plan D: freak out because the uber is 10 min away and you're supposed to be at work in 8 min and it's your first day and omg why did the bus not come

 

In the end, the bus beat the uber and I was almost ten minutes late on my first day. I thought, well it can't get any worse right? 

Aside from getting locked out of the clinic at lunchtime (another story for another day), it was a pretty good day. My boss even let me out an hour early!

Then I had to take the circulator back up to the med campus. 

The bus didn't show for over an hour. I'm pretty sure I even got a slight tan since it was so bright outside and I was waiting so long. I could've gotten an uber. I could've even walked back. But I couldn't let the Circulator win. 

The next morning, I decided to try leaving on the 7:45 AM JHMI because obviously I just missed the earlier circulator right? I even found the charm city tracker which shows you EXACTLY where the buses are. I was saved! 

Yeah no, I had to uber so I wouldn't be late to work. 

Now, clearly there's something wrong with me because I thought "hmm I just missed the circulator by a little this morning, so tomorrow I'll take the 7:35 AM JHMI". I definitely was not late to work that day. 

By Thursday I just gave up and walked to work from the med campus. My favorite part was when the bus drove past me even though it wasn't supposed to come for another 15 minutes.

Friday (today) I left super late so I decided to walk again. However I almost made it to the Popeye's when I decided to check one last time if the circulator was coming. And there it was, the little GREEN tab a block from the med campus. I could've cried from happiness.

So I guess I should say don't completely trust the tracker. 

But don't trust NextBus for the Green cause that thing was just wrong.

NONPROFIT MANAGEMENT

Dikshant Malla - IMPACT HUB, WEEK 1

My first week has been awesome. On my first day I attended the opening of the Foundry near Port Covington and got to hear political figures like Elijah Cummings speak about the importance of manufacturing in Baltimore. I also had a chance to sit in on two team meetings about the work we are doing and offer suggestions to improve how we function in the future. I also got to attend two events, one where Impact Hub hosted Lester Spence and another one about Hip-hop in Palestine and the interconnectedness between Baltimore and Palestine. Tonight I will be attending my friends play about the Baltimore Uprising from a youth activist perspective, which I am very interested to see! This has been such a hectic week both on and off my work site, but I am so humble to have these great experiences already in the first week and cannot wait to see what's going to happen next!

 

Tarah Fitzgerald - UNITED WORKERS, WEEK 1

MLK was executed by the US Government. This is the belief of Willie the Baptist, discussed in his interview with Jan Rehmann published in the book Pedagogy of the Poor. This reading was my first task as an intern at United Workers. Every Tuesday we have an organizers meeting where we discuss a weekly reading, as well as, the challenges we are facing and develop solutions together to combat them. In this reading I was educated on the life of MLK, as a long time leader, and not just the author of the famous “I have a dream speech.” I learned that he was not just a civil rights leader, but a human rights activist. MLK was widely supported as a civil rights leader, the government and the public alike, he even won a Nobel Peace Prize. However, when MLK turned his energy toward human rights and not just civil rights, which Willie explains ended up only profiting the upper-class black population, MLK lost that administrative support. I learned it wasn’t the theory of civil rights that the government supported, it was the implications of the theory. With slavery illegal, the South lost its work force and the North could finally compete with the Southern industry and production once again. The result of the civil rights campaign, also serviced the wealthy black population disproportionately. The end of segregation opened the doors for black people to many businesses and schools, but if you didn’t have the money for the business or for the supplies and transportation to get to the schools, did it matter that you couldn’t get in in the first place? MLK realized the disparity in the success of civil rights and therefore created a new campaign, the Poor People’s Campaign. This campaign was meant to reach past racial divides and unite the poor so that they could rise up against the systematic oppression that kept them from ever overcoming poverty. Willie explains that it was this campaign that scared the government, it was anti-Vietnam and highlighted many of the systematic measures taken to keep the poor in their place. MLK was actually forbidden any media coverage of this campaign, no one would give him airtime or interviews because of the decline of administrative favor. It is this example of systematic oppression that we don’t read about in the textbooks it is hidden from our knowledge. Willie believes the transcripts of the assassination trials of MLK shows that it was not just the act of a “lone racist” that led to MLK’s death, but an “execution” by the US Government.
 

Through the discussion of this reading I realized the importance of creating your own media in order to tell your own authentic narrative. United Workers has their own media team that creates videos and tells stories on topics of housing, healthcare, and environmental justice free from the censorship of hegemonic forces. It is this free narrative that will not only free our media, but free our society from the labels the hegemon has placed upon us to further divide us. We discussed that it is the class system set up by the hegemon: Upper, Middle, and Lower, that keeps the poor divided and powerless. We must create a new language that actually depicts our current realities. The middle class has fallen; we must recognize this. Until we create a new language that reflects those who have enough and those who do not, we will never be able to truly unify those who are suffering in the way that MLK imagined. We must revive the Poor People’s Campaign, and that starts with organizations like United Workers taking the control of our narrative back from the oppressor.

 

Ryan Lucas - STATION NORTH ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT, WEEK 1

I would have never thought that my first task at my internship for the summer would be looking at wholesale prices for mini golf putters. But there I was, going on minigolfamusement.com to see how much a club would cost (it would set you back around $9.95 if you were curious). This past week, I was thrown right into the hurricane of a non-profit with only three staff members, writing grant proposals, sending out newsletters, finding potential corporate sponsors, and dealing with a forgotten painting left at the Ynot Lot.


The primary project I will be working on this summer is the installation of a public, artist-designed mini golf course that will span the Station North district, starting in Penn Station and having subsequent holes in several plazas and spaces before returning to the Station. Our organization received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, and now we’re spending a significant amount of time figuring out how to actually implement it. There’s a ton of logistics to plan regarding having this come to fruition, and much of my day to day routine is devoted to figuring out how to make this work, whether looking at previous examples of artist-designed courses in Minneapolis and Indianapolis or analyzing disability access requirements that the federal government has created for mini golf courses.
 

The most valuable component to my week so far was the tour I was given of the Station North area on my second day, where I was able to see the community that I was working in for June and July. We walked through the residential areas of the district, then visited OpenWorks, an organization under construction that later this year will open up a community workshop across from Greenmount Ceremony. Visiting OpenWorks and seeing the variety of projects that have emerged recently in Station North have shown to me the creative spark of this city, the innovation that has emerged from brilliant artists and entrepreneurs. There are plenty of organizations that have emerged in the district in recent years that are fulfilling a need. The Tool Library allows people to rent out equipment to complete their projects, and Impact Hub is enabling startups to actually create their products. Additionally, I’ve loved learning about the art scene in our district. There’s a culture and flair to Station North that is apparent in buildings like the Copycat and the dozens of galleries and studios that exist. I met Gaia on Wednesday, who is arguably Baltimore’s most famous street artist. Connecting with Baltimore’s artistic community is a daily occurrence with this internship, and it only makes me more excited for the next seven weeks and everything else that is in store.

NEIGHBORHOOD IMPROVEMENT

Celine Shanosky - STRONG CITY BALTIMORE, WEEK 1

“The day is as beautiful as we prayed for it to be,” says Ms. Lottie, smiling broadly into a crowd of community members. A drummer taps out a short roll of agreement on his instrument, and the light breeze catches her orange and silver African dress. 
This is the dedication of The Nate Tatum Center, formerly known as the North Barclay Green Community Center. Telesis, the corporation constructing affordable housing units in Barclay, honored community leader Nathanial Solomon Tatum by dedicating the center in his name. My supervisor, Ms. Lottie, was among many speakers who testified to Mr. Tatum’s positive influence. A television displayed images of The Barclay Boys, a group of African-American preteens that Mr. Tatum mentored and took through rites of passage. “He saved those boys from the streets,” says Ms. Connie, a community leader, as a rap song put together by The Barclay Boys proclaims, “I love my mama, and I don’t smoke weed.” 
 

At the reception, Ms. Lottie floats effortlessly between tables, ensuring that all guests from grandmothers to nephews to Telesis project managers feel welcome. Ms. Lottie seems to know everyone: in her office, a binder of names and house numbers is transformed into a web of families and friends. During the week, the flow of visitors is ceaseless: young mothers with children in tow need affordable childcare, teenagers want summer jobs, and the frequent seven-year-old visitor Ms. Lottie dubbed “Be-Bop” just wants to help. 
 

My first week was event focused: Ms. Lottie and I stayed late in the evenings for Block Ambassador Training and Ladies’ Night Out. My first day she filled a white board with to-do lists for July’s signature events: the BMOG Neighborhood Cookout and the Annual Women’s Empowerment Conference. Everything must be donated, from the food to the gift bags to the bicycle Ms. Lottie wants to raffle off to the kids. My work began instantly: I completed online donation applications, mailed request letters, and drove to ten different businesses throughout Baltimore. 
 

My week is hectic but never boring: I attend a BMOG community meeting, a Strong City Baltimore staff meeting, and a discussion held by City Councilman Bill Henry on Baltimore’s affordable housing crisis. I pass out flyers to publicize the dedication ceremony, run to the Parks and Rec office to inquire about free summer activities, create an Excel spreadsheet of visitors to the employment office, and type up an application for a church-run summer camp. I seek to emanate Ms. Lottie’s demeanor, her ability to pause in the middle of a task and greet every visitor with a warm, patient smile. With some, I succeed: I entertain two four year olds with coloring books while their mothers print resumes, and befriend ninth graders who express interest in holding a basketball clinic for the younger children in the neighborhood. With others, I fumble: on my lunch break, a formerly incarcerated man taking our employment placement test calls me over and points at a question. “You have to complete that,” I say, staring blankly at him until I realize he cannot read it. 
 

I’m still forging relationships and learning on the job – but it only took me one week to realize that I would do anything for Ms. Lottie. I admire her dedication to Barclay and her ability to create meaningful and inspiring relationships with so many people. When she introduces me to community members, she calls me “her angel”. This title is reflective of her incredible generosity, and it is my goal over the next six weeks to relieve tasks from her hectic schedule and help her in any way that I can. 

 

Charlotte Green - MAYOR'S OFFICE OF COMMUNICATION, WEEK 1

It was weird for me to both be working in the Mayor's Office at City Hall, and then going on the Injustice Walk and hearing what those who led the walk had to say about the Mayor's Office. It has become clear to me that both sides (The Mayor and the men leading the injustice walk) want the same outcome and have similar views on things, but because there is a lack of communication between these two populations, things are often perceived differently then they were intended to be perceived. For example, the men who led our injustice walk were not huge fans of those who worked at City Hall due to what they perceived as their lack of support for the homeless population and the crime they see in their areas. However, after working in the Mayor's Office for a week I have seen the effort that the office put into bettering the community through the use of unused space for recreational purposes, and holding the police department more accountable.

This week has also been eye opening due to the knowledge I have gained regarding how City Hall is run. I have toured almost the entire building, meeting people in all wings of it and hearing about what they do. After sitting in on many meetings and listening to what their meetings are about, I have realized how interconnected the entire building is.

I have also been able to see how Baltimore is a city that is leading many others across America. I sat in on a CitiStat meeting, a meeting that holds organizations across Baltimore accountable by meeting with the mayor and presenting data to her. Due to communication of ideas in this meeting the organizations are able to better themselves weekly and hear many opinions regarding what they have been working on and the data they are collecting.

 

Kaetlyn Bernal - ST. FRANCIS NEIGHBORHOOD CENTER, WEEK 1

I could hardly sleep the night before my first day at my internship site. I picked my favorite outfit, made my lunch, pumped up my bike, and got ready for the big day since I couldn't sleep. I rode to work on my bike for the first time and struggled because of the constant upward climb but made it right on time although a bit sweaty. I got settled in and after a blink of an eye, it was time to leave. This repeated until Thursday morning when my day began a bit differently. As soon as I got to work I noticed my supervisor and her husband struggling to move things from their car into the center. I immediately put my tote and food down outside of the center and began helping them. As soon as we finished moving things I heard, “Kaetlyn, get inside close all of the doors and just start working…babe, call 911.” My heart began pounding but I grabbed my stuff and raced upstairs. After things settled down, my supervisor came up and explained everything to me. One house away from our community center, over 30 people trafficked the park at ten in the morning buying and selling drugs, leaving fresh needles strewn about the sidewalks for our children to find. The police came and took care of it—or so we thought. Hours later a volunteer ran in yelling for someone to call 911. As soon as the police arrived she yelled and we all ran downstairs to stare through the one window where we could see the park. Drug dealers and buyers scattered like roaches; two of which jumped into our backyard to hide. As the police ran around trying to get everyone they could, they found drugs hidden in the flower pots of our center. I had never seen anything like this before; I was used to my beautifully sheltered Hopkins lifestyle in Charles Village. I hadn't been afraid of going into Baltimore, but now I was—not for myself however. The kids that come into our center rely on us to keep them safe and instill values in them that they are not able to receive from the resources provided outside of the center. Now, we could not even take our youth outside to play at the park that they love so much. I fear that the nature of those trying to contaminate our community will pull one of our kids in and ruin everything we work toward. I had felt so good earlier that week feeling like I was ready to change the lives of the youth in our center through my work, but so quickly that all crumbled. I realize now that I can’t stop all of the bad things that happen in our community, but for the duration of this summer, I will work my hardest to instill resilience in the youth that I am lucky to work with—the future of our community.

 

Tommy Mee - 29TH STREET COMMUNITY CENTER, WEEK 1

After an extensive tour from my coworker during my first day, I began to feel comfortable on the couch in the reading room, soaking in the natural light. The center was quiet and I had just finished reading the operational manual and meeting my other coworker when I heard excited cries to obtain computers. More voices joined in as I ventured down into the main lobby, suddenly realizing how tenuous this job may be. Chaos erupted as about half of the kids took their rented laptops into the multipurpose room and started playing their favorite game, "Roblox." They emphatically exchanged information about which game lobby they should be playing in and I realized I could not truly offer much by sticking around. I awkwardly roamed through the center, looking for an activity to join in. Luckily, I found someone playing on the dry erase board, drawing pictures of herself with her family. Soon enough, I learned that she is in first grade, her favorite animal is a giraffe, and her favorite color is yellow. Going into my placement, I feared that I would not be able to connect with the kids, as we have vastly different backgrounds. In reality, it has been a breeze as the kids are lighthearted and care free, and are experts at hide and go seek.

This week has had an irregular schedule compared to what most weeks will consist of for me. Usually, there will be programming all day without a specified time for the kids to come in. This week, the center opened to the kids after school every day for two hours and a variety of programming took place in the evenings. In the mornings, there were miscellaneous events that took place, ranging from a visit from a mission group visiting from Cincinnati to a grant meeting with a Hopkins liaison. One of my main tasks has been creating a preliminary website for the center, which has been a learning experience. Most of my tasks revolve around community outreach, which has been one of the biggest challenges for the center. My coworker likes to joke that when he asks what programs community members would like to see at the center, they respond by requesting yoga, Zumba, and dance classes, all of which we already offer. Emails, social media posts, and other forms of indirect communication have not been effective in the local Baltimore community. Instead, the best way to reach locals has been handing out fliers about upcoming events and speaking directly to the target audience. Overall, my first week has been a fun, rewarding experience.

Homelessness & Poverty

The morning of June 13th began much earlier than what I had grown accustomed to during the past semester and the couple of weeks of "summer vacation", much earlier. Although I had spent time the weekend before planning to wake up to an unwelcoming alarm at 6:30, take the Circulator from 33rd at 7:15 to E. Fayette Street, and step into the office a comfortable 15 minutes before 8:00 am, I couldn't have planned for what the first day had in store. Thankfully, my irrational fear of being thrust into a corner cubicle to fill out Housing First voucher forms dissipated within the first half hour. Similarly, I appreciate my expectation of being viewed as the summer intern who would spend half the summer simply learning how to navigate Coordinated Access and the other half constantly asking questions that constrained the flow of the referral and matching process was swiftly corrected. Immediately I was included into the Housing Policy workgroup as I attended meetings to prepare for the HMIS committee meeting the following day, interacted with potential partners to discuss what they have to offer to the Coordinated Access system, and reassured that my days would not be spent typing away in front of a computer screen. At the conclusion of my fourth day in the office, it’s evident that my fears of attending to duties that full-time employees felt wouldn’t challenge the intern or that wouldn’t have much responsibility can be discarded. Yes, I have little to no experience in this field and environment, but my fellow co-workers see that as an asset rather than handicap. With that in mind, my excitement and curiosity for what the summer has in store grows with each day I spend in the MOHS as a member of the homeless services program. My initial assigned projects might be small in size and importance, but I already have found my niche and do not have any sense of unimportance or uselessness in the office. As many of the other interns are certainly discovering as well, the fears we had for the summer did not develop haphazardly. My fear of only being present in the organization took root from the fact that I know very little of local government policy regarding homeless and have never spent time in an “office” environment. However, as I previously stated, my fears dissipated and were replaced with realistic expectations of being a productive, dynamic member of the MOHS team.

 

Sam Paek - YOUTH EMPOWERMENT SOCIETY, WEEK 1

I could not have found a better placement than Youth Empowered Society. To be honest, I was initially a little freaked out; I had never worked directly with youth suffering from homelessness before, although I had often come across them at home. While most of my previous engagement with homeless youth came as simply greeting them and handing out food, at YES I am almost forced to come face to face with them for three hours a day. Not that this is in any way a bad experience; working with the youth has been an absolute pleasure for me this past week, but that initial fear being the "new guy" on the block had me on the ropes for sure.

I'm not even saying that it was easy to transition into the new job; Monday consisted of trying to introduce myself to all the youth that come by at YES, building rapport and trust while also trying to meet all of their needs for that day. It really reminded me about how privileged I was to be able to eat three meals a day, to have a place to shower and sleep; one youth in particular admitted to us that he had slept in the Ynot lot the previous night.

It really amazes me how many of the youth maintain such positive attitudes. Despite their situations, they choose to remain optimistic, often coming in to find housing and job assistance, trying to find a way to better themselves despite having almost nothing to begin with. It was also quite amazing how they quickly accepted me despite being the new guy at work; some of them even know my name already!

While so many youth in Baltimore struggle with homelessness, it is an area that receives little attention in government funding and in mainstream media. Many of the youth do not have parents with them, or have been disowned due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.; I have heard stories about parents simply kicking their kids out once they turn 18, the only reason being that they were adults and should fend for themselves. With so little parental support, many youth are forced to turn to other sources of support, which often leads down to a life of drugs, violence, incarceration, and a cycle of constant poverty. Caught up in a system that refuses to give second chances, they are often left with no options in their life.

Going to work often gets emotional for me. I don't show it outwardly of course, but inside I am a tangled mess of empathy, compassion, frustration, and confusion--struggling to find a peace of mind when so many youth my age are suffering from homelessness. I am clearly not better than them in any way, so why am I enrolled in college and they struggling on the street? Coping with the injustices I witness daily is difficult, and I constantly feel insignificant and useless. However, I believe strongly that the youth that come to YES drop-in every day have the potential to turn their lives around, to find housing, jobs, and stability in the future.

Here's to more great weeks at YES.

 

Victoria Lui - THE FRANCISCAN CENTER, WEEK 1

If I said I wasn’t nervous, I would be lying.

This week marked the first week of my CIIP Internship at the Franciscan Center, a non-profit organization that serves as a “one-stop shop” that serves the homeless in order to help them get back on their feet. They provide everything from food to computer skills to clothing appropriate for interviews and jobs. This past week, I spent a day in each of the different departments in the Center in order to gain a global perspective of what the organization does as a whole. I can say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience this past week, but it definitely wasn’t easy.

The first day of work, I was extremely nervous. Even though I had already gone in for a tour of the organization the week prior, my heart thumped faster and faster as I got closer to the Center. My palms got sweaty and my breaths got shorter and faster. But that quickly went away when I arrived.

The second I walked into the building, the staff members happily greeted me, welcoming me to the Center and asking how I was. That day, I was going to be working in the food line to serve clients lunch from 10am – 1pm. I thought to myself, “This shouldn’t be too bad. Just put food on the plate and listen to their requests. Not too bad. You can do this, Victoria.” Turns out that there was much more to consider.

Serving on the food line made me think about a lot of things that I normally don’t think about in my daily life. Growing up with more than enough, food was never an issue. I never went hungry, since I could easily go buy a snack from overpriced vending machines at school or wait until I got home to get something to eat from the cabinets. Portion sizes were dependent on how hungry I was, and if I wanted more food, I could just eat leftovers from the pot. As I was serving on the line, a staff member showed me the portion sizes for each plate. She stated as she placed the vegetables and cheese on the plate, “This is how much everyone gets. Even if they ask for more of something, you can’t give it to them. Portion sizes have to remain consistent.” There was only a limited amount of food, and we needed to be fair to individuals by giving them the same amount.

It was much easier said than done. As I started serving, the customers were fairly easy to please; they took what they got and were content with it. However, as time went on, it got more difficult. The clients that came in grew pickier and pickier. Many asked for more cheese, but because I had to keep the portion sizes the same for each plate, I couldn’t give them anymore in order to have some for everyone who comes to the Center for lunch. There were a good amount of times when the customers would yell at me for not being generous with the food. Yet I had to stand there and smile while they yelled at me for not doing my job correctly. And I took their comments to heart because I got a little hurt by them.

As the week went on, I learned that this job required me to be firm and thick-skinned, qualities that I do not have. I am normally a weak-hearted person, quiet, and a pushover. Because I was a new face at the Center, clients who have been going there for services noticed that I was a new face and tried to talk to me in order to get something they normally won’t be able to obtain had a regular staff member were there to serve them. The week of orientation didn’t prepare me at all for this, yet I can’t blame them because the fifty of us work at completely different placements, so it’s hard for them to prepare each and every one of us for our individual placements. It’s something that I have to learn for myself, but I’m up for the challenge. I may not be tough, but I hope that through my experience at the Franciscan Center, I would be able to stand up for myself more and be able to brush off the negative comments that are directed to me. I still have much to learn, but I am determined to do better.

 

Lauren Zingaro - UNITED WAY - PROJECT HOMELESS CONNECT, WEEK 1

After the unease of waking up Sunday morning to hear about the tragedy in Orlando, I was less than excited to begin a new job the following day. The week prior I was surrounded by a group of open-minded and diverse people, voicing my opinion on sensitive topics without feeling out of place. Sunday morning, I woke up in a much different reality. The harsh reality of the world around me was painfully apparent, and it left me feeling very insignificant, especially in relation to the 8-week internship I would be starting the next day. My first day working at the United Way of Central Maryland was not a 180-degree reversal of my outlook the day before, but I did leave work excited to return the following day. I spent most of the day reading literature on homelessness statistics in Baltimore, as well as best practices executed in other cities to combat poverty issues. I went home with a larger vocabulary and an enhanced ability to articulate some of the issues that make self-sufficiency nearly impossible for many people. My understanding has grown greatly in this short week and I am able to explain, with confidence, exactly what I am learning at my internship and why my project is so important.

I was surprised to learn basic office skills that I thought I had already perfected. For example, I spent the last few days sending out hundreds of emails to service providers who participated in the Project Homeless Connect event last year. When I presented the email draft to my supervisor he made edits and explained some good practices that I should keep in mind for writing future emails. Although a bit embarrassing at first, his suggestions were constructive and I feel much more comfortable writing professional emails. 

I met employees in other sectors of United Way and learned about their impact on the community. Specifically, I sat in on 2-1-1 phone calls for an hour, and was able to listen to Baltimore community members receive help from concerned United Way employees. 2-1-1 is an information hotline that connects people with assistance available around the city and the surrounding counties. Many people called with concern about a turn-off notice they received, warning that their electricity or water would be turned off shortly if their bill was not paid. The 2-1-1 aid was able to connect people with utility assistance options available in his or her area and send out applications on that person’s behalf or share contact information of organizations that specialize in certain assistance programs. I enjoyed experiencing the direct contact that United Way workers had with community members, and recognize how helpful this service is, especially for people who are unsure where to begin seeking help.

This week I expanded my knowledge of homelessness and poverty in Baltimore and met great people with real concern for community members. Although the week began at a low point and I recognize my role is a very small one, the gratitude my supervisor and other coworkers have make my place at United Way feel important. I also got to work from home on Friday, so it was a really great week!

Healthcare & Health Policy

VICTORIA CHEN - CHASE BREXTON, WEEK 1

With a wide smile plastered on my face, I strode nervously into Chase Brexton's glossy, marble lobby. Despite this being my second year in the program, it's still equally as nerve-wracking to walk into a new workplace with hundreds of unfamiliar faces. As I reflect back on my last summer with STAR TRACK, I can't help but year for the sense of belonging and community that I eventually felt at the end of my 8-week internship. Determined to forge new friendships and experience a new workplace culture, I took one last deep breathe and walked into the HR department.

On paper, Chase Brexton and STAR TRACK and very similar in many ways: both are healthcare providers, both advocate for the LGBT community, and both are leaders in providing primary care to people living with HIV/AIDS. However in reality, so much of the workplace culture is different. Whereas STAR TRACK is youth-centered and focuses on black empowerment, the LGBT Health Resource center at Chase Brexton is known for its flagship elderly program SAGE CAP (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, Caring And Preparing). Additionally the POWER (Protecting Ourselves with Every Resource) Project not only conducts HIV testing, but also serves as a case management resource for people living with HIV. In many ways, the work that case managers conduct mirrors my volunteer experience with Health Leads, so it was reassuring to be in a semi-familiar environment.

My main goal for this summer, and the reason why I chose my placement area, is to compare and contrast how Chase Brexton serves the LGBT and/or HIV+ population, since it is a vastly different model from STAR TRACK. Since the demographics of each organization's population is also quite different, I want to explore the adaptability of different healthcare models and discover how branding can affect patient perceptions and outcomes.

 

Lucinda Chiu - Joy Wellness Center, WEEK 1

On my first day volunteering at the Joy Wellness Center, I spent the morning hours weeding the garden. Coming in with no prior experience, I was incredibly nervous, due to my inability to distinguish between weeds and sprouting vegetables. A couple minutes into the process, as I was beginning to feel more confident, I plucked a weed, whose leaves and stems were actually part of a sprouting squash seed. Though it seemed to be a minor mistake, I was devastated. My supervisor had spent the morning explaining how very few plants were sprouting this year, especially the squash. All the harvest from this garden is collected, washed, and then given to the patients. Now, I had just uprooted one, leaving only two to bear fruit for the patients. Despite my mistake, I informed my supervisor who then spent the following day with me, planting more seeds for all the other vegetables that had yet to sprout.
 

When I first began orientation week of the Community Impact Internship Program (CIIP), I felt that I knew so little of the city around me, despite having spent my past three years exploring and volunteering in different sectors. The feeling made me nervous to express my own opinions, given that I was not experienced in the topics being discussed, whether it related to homelessness or healthcare for illegal immigrants. Especially this past week, during Bites of Baltimore, we went on an Injustice Walk in an area of Baltimore I had never walked in. The discussion focused on homelessness in the city, and the various policies and structural changes that have occurred to either help or create additional challenges for this population. During the walk, I had many questions, but I didn’t ask a single one because I was scared my inquiry would be phrased wrong and I would end up coming off as offensive or ignorant.
 

Similarly, when I began at the Joy Wellness Center, I didn’t know how the office or the garden was run. After showing me where everything was and who to ask for help, my supervisor left to make some coffee. A patient walked in and my first instinct was to run and grab my supervisor. It was my first hour on the job, and I was incredibly worried I wouldn’t have the answers to her questions, and she would then view my supervisor badly for having an untrained staff at the front desk. Instead, I took a deep breath and greeted the elderly patient. We ended up having a forty-five minute conversation and she is now giving me crocheting lessons. This positive experience has continued throughout the week at my internship. I have now met many of the volunteers and between checking in the patients for the classes and appointments and calling them over the phone, I’ve spoken with many of the regulars as well.
Overall, I am excited for the next seven weeks. Though all the ins and outs of running a center was unfamiliar territory initially, I already feel comfortable in the office, not only doing the daily duties, but also in attempting to learn a new task each day. If orientation week has taught me one takeaway concept, it is to not let fear stand in the way of practical improvements and productive actions.

 

Poonam Gupta - Star TRACK, WEEK 1

"And this is the condom room! Here you'll find the dental dams, lube, flavored and magnum condoms, female insertive condoms, and dildos."
As one of the last stops on my tour of the building, I was definitely thrown out of my comfort zone within literally the first 10 minutes of my internship. The idea of redefining my comfort zone and my ability to step out of it has definitely been one of the larger themes of this week. As someone who didn't come into this experience with a strong competency in the LGBTQ area, especially what sex positive messaging looks like and what the issues around HIV consist of, I was caught off guard at the sheer amount of things that I just didn't know, and things that I wasn't sure I even wanted to know. Specifically, I had never been in an environment where sex was discussed both openly and positively, almost celebrated even. Their 3 words, safe, consensual, and pleasurable, to describe sex made me think twice about how I was always taught about it (basically as a surefire way to either an STD or pregnancy). Thus in my first week here, I learned a lot about sexuality, gender, and honestly even condoms.

I can't exactly say that at the end of this week I'm fully, or even half, competent now. However, what has increased is my awareness of the injustices present in the community and, more importantly, what has decreased is my propensity to judge and categorize others.

It’s not that I came in on the first day with a closed mindset – in fact, the exact opposite is true. I knew I’d be working in an LGBT clinic that focused on portraying sex in a positive way, and came in with an open mind filled with research on the definitions of sexuality I had looked up the night before. Upon first meeting people, I didn’t realize how quickly I boxed people into the categories I thought I knew, whether they be “straight” or “gay” or “ambiguous.” The more people I came into contact with, the harder I tried to figure out what they were and assign them to the boxes I had in my head. Usually, my assumptions were completely wrong or only partially true. Only when I started having real conversations with people did I start to realize that it didn't matter at all what box in my head they fit into, or if they were in multiple boxes or no box at all. Realizing that I don't understand people as much as I thought I did definitely made me step out of my comfort zone. However, I don't fear it as much as I did before! In fact, I look forward to being pushed even farther out of it in the weeks to come.

 

Joyce Lin - CHASE BREXTON, WEEK 1

This first week of my placement at Chase Brexton has been a huge kick in the face. The 9-5 life is not easy, but at the same time, I look forward to the summer at Chase Brexton because I feel that there are many opportunities that I would be interested to get involved in, after all the logistics get figured out.
As much as I enjoyed packing a variety of condoms into plastic giveaway bags, the highlight of my week was definitely shadowing a case manager while he performed rapid HIV testing on the clients who were of questionable HIV status. I'm looking forward to move beyond office organization and condom packing in the next few weeks and potentially have more interaction with patients!

Food Access & The Environment

Anna Lindsay - BALTIMORE ORCHARD PROJECT, WEEK 1

A gorgeous Baltimore summer day, hands stained purple, arms becoming heavy as we tried to hold out the cloth tarp to catch every last mulberry, and… “oh, wait is that the harvesting pole still in the tree?” Of course I would be the one to find a way to get our sole piece of equipment used for collecting our funky fruit stuck on a branch FAR up. After the three of us made several poor attempts to grab the pole that was beyond our reach, my supervisor managed to finagle it out by climbing a flat wooden fence onto the back of my other co-worker. I was so worried they would be annoyed or even mad that I had no experience in harvesting this fruit (which was unknown to me until this day). But they weren’t. We all just laughed about it and went on harvesting mulberries, literally from a tree whose branches happened to hang over onto the sidewalk of a major road (I learned that the branches and its fruit are technically public property despite the tree being in some stranger’s backyard!). At that point I realized that this internship just might be perfect for me. None of us wanted to be inside on that beautiful day, and decided to take a spontaneous trip to go harvest and expose me to the fruit that will be the highlight of my work for the next week. So, we went to a tree in Remington that my supervisor knew had to be full of mulberries by this point. And we did, no questions asked, no worries in the world beyond picking this sweet summer fruit.

Coming into my organization this week I was both excited and frightened. When I showed up to the office my first morning, my supervisor told me we were going to be heading out to our staff meeting soon. That freaked me out even more. However, when I got to the room where the meeting was held, I was immediately greeted with 8 welcoming smiles. I have to say that CIIP orientation week prepared me very well for most aspects of working with my nonprofit, yet somehow it had slipped my mind how small and close the team of members would be. This week they haven’t yet failed to amaze me in how they coordinate their work, manage tasks, and work together to bring together a greater goal. They never waste a moment of time or opportunity at a resource, and that is commendable for any group of people working together.

My perception of Baltimore is currently quicksilver, constantly reshaping itself based on my emotions and experiences since CIIP has began. Yesterday I got a new “bite” of Baltimore which I had no idea about, an Injustice Walk hosted by 3 men who at one point in their lives had experienced the hardships of homelessness. This was a very heavy and intense way to end the day, but I believe that it is something that every Hopkins student should be encouraged to do prior to freshman year. Poverty and homelessness is a major problem even in such a developed world power such as the United States. It amazes me that these problems still exist to the extent that they do all around us. We as Hopkins students walk past several homeless people on Charles and Saint Paul streets every day, and most people act like their invisible or simply not their problem. It pains me to constantly hear how people think that there’s nothing to do in Baltimore or how terrible of a city they chose to came to. We need to look beyond this condescending bias and see this as OUR city now, which we ultimately can have an immense impact on with our privilege of merely being from Johns Hopkins. This summer I will change the way that the people I work and interact with think about Hopkins students by showing them that I am not here to “save” them, but to be their partner in fighting against these issues of social injustice and oppression.

 

Willah Peers - BY PEACEFUL MEANS, WEEK 1

“This here is uh… Peaches and Cream Mint? No, I believe it’s Berries and Cream. Put a leaf between your teeth and you’ll taste the sweetest thing.” An older nurse in a bright green Baltimore! shirt hurries from plant to plant in her busy, scrambled urban garden, giving the origin story for each hard-earned fruit. “Now over there we used to do watermelon and cantaloupe. Now if we do it we just do watermelon. Any city gardener knows the rats will eat a cantaloupe faster than you can pick it.” In the streets just east of the elegant Mount Vernon neighborhood, acquiring fresh food is no simple task. The Peace Camp I am working at this summer has identified campers’ access to the food they need for fuel as a significant challenge. On Thursday I began to explore the options that are actually available. The air in the area surrounding the historic St. Frances Academy hangs bleak and heavy on a gray day. Many students in the area are separated from their neighbors by crumbling, vacant row houses. Just behind the school is a prison, old and imposing, that was closed just a year ago for poor living conditions and corrupt gang involvement. Weeds have crept through cracks in the sidewalk and spread all around to entire lots, almost hiding the garden on which the nurse works. The closest corner grocery store sells little and shows less-- customers are separated from the goods by bullet-proof glass, and anything bought must be asked for through a small revolving window. I had hoped to visit the corner stores in the neighborhood, investigate the food that was on offer, and purchase a selection so I could start experimenting with healthy local recipes for the campers. However, the reality of discussing every item from behind 3 inches of glass with my time constraints put the second half of those plans on hold. Just around the corner is a popular takeout with good prices for breakfast sandwiches, waffles, burgers, and more. Down the street is a store for liquor, cigarettes, and grocer, with the food as unreachable as in the corner grocery. The gardeners work on with their gate flung wide open, knowing that anyone from people to rats can and do take the food that they have cultivated. From farming to local stores, accessing healthy food has great and quite literal challenges in this area of East Baltimore, and for many who live in impoverished urban areas. I was so glad to make a great new friend in a local garden who wanted to get the kids involved. But my first steps as I hope to help find the solutions we can for the kids we will be with were small and likely too tentative. Next week I’ll be back to dive in and do some groceries. “This is the curry plant. Smell that! I’m trying to figure where I can plant it so it doesn’t overpower the other plants with the taste.” I walked away after half an hour with six stalks of Berries and Cream Mint to make lemonade with the campers. It’s great for a city garden because it keeps away the rats, but it grows like crazy and my gardener friend says she only needs so much.

 

Veronica Reardon - Urban Resources Initiative, WEEK 1

"Nice bike! You're going really fast!" I hear as I'm going down 33rd. I turn my head and I see one of my coworkers hanging out the window of the city truck we drive bikes around in. "Shut up!" I yell back, "I don't need your attitude!" Biking in Baltimore has been an experience and a half. Work is mainly in several parks around the city: Gwynn's Falls/Leakin Park, Lake Montebello, Druid Hill Park, and Middle Branch Park. I've biked to the first three. The most terrifying was definitely Leakin Park although biking on 33rd came in close second. Besides working on getting comfortable on a bike in the city, this week I've been on kayaking, canoeing, and biking programs. One of my favorites so far is our public biking program, which is very simple: we check out bikes to people for an optional donation (often then for free), in exchange for a photo ID so that they don't walk away with the bike. It turns out (not too surprisingly I guess) that folks like it when a program isn't about making money off of them, but is about giving them access to a resource. My supervisor will even teach people to ride if they want to try it but don't know how. People will come up and say they haven't biked in 40 years, and you get to watch them bike around the reservoir in Druid Hill Park or the lake at Lake Montebello, getting happier and more comfortable on a bike with each lap. While I know that Recreation and Parks seems like an unnecessary program, I've been thinking a lot this week about how there are many, many jobs that people do that benefit others, many of which aren't necessarily needed by us all. However, we'd all notice if those jobs weren't getting done, and things might be a little worse. If you don't have a roof over your head or food, of course riding bikes isn't going to be your first priority. Checking out bikes for no required charge doesn't fix major problems like homelessness. The idea of resources that can be available for everyone, though, and that the government and organizations can is an important one, and that's what I've been thinking about this week.