VICTORIA CHEN - CHASE BREXTON, WEEK 6
This week was a whirlwind of packing, fanfares, and rainbows. Though this was my second year marching in the pride parade and tabling at the block party, the entire weekend was still such a fresh and eye opening experience. Seeing the enormous turnout of support and allyship for the LGBTQ+ community as people lined up and down North Charles Street--their cheers drowning out the background of self-righteous protestors--was such an empowering sight. As I threw rainbow beads into the crowd, I couldn't help but think of the sheer bravery and courage that people have had to muster just to live their authentic selves. Though Mt. Vernon is locally known as the gayborhood, it's easy to forget that not everyone in this city is as tolerant and accepting. From neighbors who leave aggressive notes about front yards being "relentlessly gay" to the targeted hate crimes against transwomen of color, working within the LGBT health resource center has reminded me daily of the blatant discrimination that many still face.
Marriage equally is far from the end of this fight. People all over the nation are constantly being questioned, judged, and persecuted for their sexual orientation and gender expression--especially if they don't identify with L, G, B, or T. Recently, I overheard a staff member from another community organization mock the term "Lithromantic," which is a person who experience romantic love but does not want their feelings to be reciprocated. Perhaps it's inconceivable to him, but somebody out there worked hard for that word, and truly identifies with all that it encompasses. So naturally, I was mad when he said, "why would anyone ever want that for themselves? That just sounds lonely." Because honestly, why do we care how others perceive themselves? Why do we feel like we have the authority and power to pass judgement on someone else's identity? But most importantly, why do we as a society feel this desperate need to categorize everyone--to fit people into straight-edged boxes.
Being an ally does not mean knowing what all of the letters mean in LGBTQIA+, because who people identify themselves is fluid and constantly changing. I've realized now, more than ever, that being an ally simply means being open to learning and accepting. Because honestly, who people choose to love and how people want to dress does not concern anyone else but themselves. So my hope for the world is that all people will eventually pull their heads out of their butts and realize that people's lives are their OWN.
LUCINDA CHIU - JOY WELLNESS CENTER, WEEK 6
Coming into CIIP, I was most excited to not only volunteer at a holistic healing center focused on serving an uninsured population, but to create my own programs at this site. This week, I was finally able to teach my first nutrition class. The focus of my hour and a half was to discuss why sugar is necessary for our bodies, but detrimental at high dosages, as well as physically measuring out the grams of sugar in foods we don't normally suspect to be chock full of it.
Though my class consisted of only four patients, the atmosphere was intimate and conversation flowed easily. While writing my lesson plan I was worried we would run out of things to say. At the end of each section, however, whether we were comparing glucose and sucrose, discussing natural sweeteners, or guessing the amount of sugar in a can of Coca-Cola, I was impressed by the amount of questions they asked me, their self-motivation to take notes, and most importantly, how they gave advice to each other. It was also challenging, however, to explain concepts, such as dopamine release, to explain how sugar acts in the brain. I found myself relying on metaphors and working cooperatively with my students to help those confused better understand the topic.
The second part of my food demo was an interactive cooking demonstration, where we paired homemade tomato sauce and sautéed vegetables with whole grain spaghetti. Everybody participated, and together we sat down and ate our home-cooked meal, almost like we were family. While reflecting on the class, three of the patients told me that though they normally disliked carrots, mushrooms, and sweet red bell peppers, respectively, after cooking it themselves and trying it again tonight, they found they weren't so bad at all. Witnessing that providing the environment and resources to these patients was enough for them to go ahead and try eating healthy, inspires me to continue tackling the social, economical, and political barriers to their access to fresh produce.
POONAM GUPTA - STAR TRACK, WEEK 6
This week was Pride week! (Mostly) everything that I'd been preparing for in the last 4ish weeks has been leading up to the events we had this past week, the major ones being our Gay Skate, Free Ball, and the Youth Zone at Pride. This week was definitely challenging because of the longer hours, and halfway through I really began to question the point of all our events. Gay Skate was our first event, and after preparing tons of materials and practicing my tabling schpiel, I was really excited for the event, which ultimately didn't have a huge turnout. This was also the trend for the Karaoke Night, and the staff was so busy that we weren't able to attend the SpeakFire Panel Series the next day. However, our Free Ball had a huge turnout! I was finally able to meet loads of different people and seeing the crazy amount of skill people have when it comes to vogueing was so fun to watch.
I think the hardest part of this week was Saturday, the day of Pride. Given that it was so hot, just making it through the entire day was really difficult and the heat exhaustion made me count down the hours until it was finally over. But, as we finally began to pack up at around 9pm and the final singers were going on stage, I had my first moment of clarity. Even though I was exhausted from the heat and running around, and had spent almost the entire day thinking about myself, I looked around to all the smiling attendees of Pride and thought about what this was for them. It was a place for those that felt like they didn't have a place in society to feel comfortable, to feel recognized, and to just love freely. This was finally a time where they could express themselves however they chose and with whomever they chose with 0 judgment -- something I take for granted everyday. Nobody was asking them why they were dressed a certain way, what their "real names" were, if it was "just a phase" or "something they'd grow out of." It didn't really matter how hot it was that day or all the little things that seemed to be going wrong like missing face paint or a lost banner. At the end of the day, Pride was what we should aim to always have everywhere and everyday! A place where people can love who they want to love, dress how they want to dress, and just be who they want to be.
JOYCE LIN - CHASE BREXTON, WEEK 6
The first half of the week I completed the HIV testing and counseling training in order to get my certification to conduct rapid HIV tests and Pre/Post HIV test counseling. It was an incredible opportunity and consisted of 3 full day informative sessions about HIV in the state. Even if I don't get to do much testing at Chase Brexton before my internship ends, I feel like I learned a lot both about HIV facts and interpersonal interactions with patients. I'm every excited to shadow some rapid tests and maybe start testing on my own in the near future. But first I am still waiting on the state to issue me my counselor number before I can start testing.
Aside from the HIV testing training, I have also been helping with pre-Pride set up and organization, making condom packs and collecting inventory. I have also been getting the chance to work more often covering the front desk which is a great change of pace. I have been enjoying every opportunity to leave my computer and interact with clients either it be over the phone or in person, over the counter.
Looking forward to conducting my first test!
VIJAY RAMASAMY - CHARM CITY CLINIC, WEEK 6
"It's going to be a fast eight weeks so make the most of every minute."
That was one of the main themes of orientation and every time someone said it, I couldn't help thinking to myself 'There is no way an 8 entire weeks is going to go by fast, August 6th seems a world away.'
Boy, was I wrong.
As we quickly approach less than two weeks left, I am really starting to feel the time crunch. The block party project Tommy and I began is in full swing, and we have less than a month to get the word out to the community. The most important part of this project will be outreach to individuals and families who need the services we are providing the most, and we need to work extra hard over the next couple of weeks if we want to meet our goal of 100 attendees.
I never really realized how difficult it is to plan an event until we started this process. You have to take care of everything, from water coolers to sponsor ships, to flyers and tables. It is going to be hard work, but we are ready for the challenge.
In terms of day to day clinic operations, I am feeling the time pressure as well. My co-workers who are a part of the AmeriCorps program are beginning to leave, meaning that in a short period of time there will only be 2 full time employees at the clinic. Even though I will still be volunteering at the clinic after my internship, I want to make sure that all my clients have their main needs met before I leave. It will be a hectic next couple of weeks as I work with my supervisor to complete any remaining clinic duties and fulfill major clients needs but again, I feel like I am ready for the challenge. These past six weeks have been incredibly wonderful, and I have a renewed motivation to finish strong, not just for me but for the many incredible people who have supported me along this process.