2017 Week Six: Education


I tend to think non-profit work is always valiant and exciting. I know that there can be a lot of… menial work at times too, for everyone, from the top to the bottom of the organization, especially in smaller non-profits, but the work still can be wonderfully impactful and validating.

What this internship has showed me that I had never thought about was that the monotony present in most 9 to 5 jobs doesn’t disappear just because your non-profit has an incredible social mission. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my placement—YO is a great organization and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to work, but at the end of the day a 40-hour week is a 40-hour week. Honestly, I would get sick of anything once in a while if I was doing it for 8 hours a day 5 days a week (in a row), no matter how fun or exciting it was.

So, after being in my placement for the sixth week, repetition started to get to me at times for sure. At those times is when it is important to have a good community of people you work with. You can tell the days that come around every once in a while where everyone is feeling a little worn out, usually a Wednesday or Thursday, similarly to most schools or workplaces. At times like that are when it’s great to work in an environment like the one that YO fosters.

A baby is not going to be crawling around the floor of a generic office space on a Wednesday afternoon, but you definitely might see one making everybody laugh in the middle of a classroom where I work. Maybe if there’s no babies around that day, it’s just a conversation after group with the some co-workers and students that leaves everyone in a good mood after a long day. Regardless, the environment created in a community where everyone cares about each other and is working toward a goal together makes tough or monotonous times a lot more bearable.


It’s a Friday afternoon, and I’m the last employee left in the office–even the school. Artscape is kicking up, dishes are waiting to be cleaned in my kitchen sink, my bed is calling me for a nap, and a weekend free of hectic parents and energetic children is laid out ahead of me.

But still I sit alone in the front office–save for a child still waiting to be picked up and the last of the music program practicing upstairs in the library. Mr. Manko had a flight to catch, and Ms. Allen-el leaves promptly at 3 o’clock when her daughter arrives to pick her up. This left the responsibility of making sure all the children got home and locking up the school to me, which seemed easy enough. And then a mother called looking for her missing child, someone came in searching for someone I’d never heard of, and the PTO president walked into the office looking for information she needed as soon as possible.

I realized very quickly the amount of trust and faith Mr. Manko had in me to be the last one in the building, to answer questions and ensure children got where they needed to be with who they needed to be with. The realization was, in some ways, quite terrifying because I wasn’t sure what I would do if things went south–if I didn’t have the safety net of calling someone to solve the problem.

But without even noticing, somehow everything got figured out, and in six weeks the ability to work in a terribly fast-paced work environment has been something I’ve been really able to hone, and be proud of.

I’m immeasurably thankful for the experience this internship has given me, from the leadership to the community members I’ve met to the children who had me dancing with them all afternoon. And with two weeks left, and knowing the warp speed at which things happen in this school, I’m excited to squeeze as much as I possibly can out of the rest of my time here.

But for now, I’m finally shutting the lights off, locking everything up, and getting out of here to enjoy the weekend.


“Can I touch your hair?”

I looked up from my work to find one of my students looking at me with her hand stretched out in front of her. “Sure?!” I replied. I obviously had no objection to her request, but I was a bit surprised and confused. There is nothing special about my hair. Its blacks and slightly wavy from a chemical perm. “I’ve wanted to touch your hair since the first day work” she said, and she just kind of giggled a walked away.

During the duration of this internship I feel like there is an extremely heavy focus on what we can learn as individuals from our experiences at our various placements. And I do not disagree with this emphasis whatsoever, there should be a firm emphasis on listening and learning from the Baltimore community. But because most of my time is spent listening instead of giving my opinion, I forget that I am a unique individual with a unique set of experiences that can help me productively contribute to this community.

So much of my mentality has been focused on what I can take from this experience and what I can learn from the community, that I often forget that I can also teach and contribute to the community as well. My students probably have not worked with an individual like me, whether it is the fact that I am Asian-American, a college student, or live in a foreign country. When my student asked to touch my hair, I took it as a reminder that I have just as much to teach them as they have to teach me.

picture of Tena Spencer CIIPTENA SPENCER | THREAD

I had a lot to be in a good mood about this week! I was excited to be back on site visits, although those were only happening on Wednesday and Thursday and we were going to less than 15 sites total.

The beginning of the week started normally where I made the calls I had to and answered my emails as they came in. While my job is writing emails that go out en masse to all of our employer partners and students’ volunteers, my job was never to actually send them. The task of creating a MailMerge can seem a little confusing, but it’s the prospect of sending out a mass email at once that can be haunting. If I messed up, it just went out to 50 employers, or over 100 volunteers in one second. My supervisor walked me through the first mail merge to the employers, but was offsite when she texted me that I had to send out the volunteer email.

I drafted the email. Collaborated with other staff to make sure it was perfect and contained all the necessary information, and sent the mail merge out. About a minute later, the managing director of programs (I’m talking the big boss) came to where I was sitting and said, “Did one of you just send out a mail merge?”

I guess the fear in my eyes and the (minor) freak-out that ensued because I thought I had royally screwed up was just funny enough to laugh about the next day. I had done fine. My supervisor kind of giggled about how worked up I got over that.

Abby’s site visit this week did have me questioning what I did want to do before I leave this internship. I had really been struggling where I think my role is in working with the Thread students; whether I want to see them more directly, or work closer to programming. I would like to spend time with more Site Coordinators, and also get to learn what my direct supervisor does outside of summer jobs to better understand the organization.

I’ve gotten so much more confident in what I am doing at Thread, and from the site visits this week, our students have been doing amazing and have also grown a tremendous amount. I am so thankful for the passion I have right now, and can’t wait to see where it takes me through these final two weeks and my future at Thread.

picture of Eileen Yu CIIPEILEEN YU | MERIT

The MERIT summer program is coming to a close and I cannot believe how much I am going to miss my students and coworkers. I do not think I realized how much the scholars have improved as students over just the past few weeks. Each day has been so busy that I forget to slow down and examine how these students have changed and matured. In the classroom, I am so focused on pushing and challenging them—continuously giving feedback on how they can be better and better. Although all of my feedback comes with encouragement and positive comments, I think I have forgotten to remind myself that these changes are truly tremendous and possibly life-changing for these kids.

This did not occur to me until we had a site visit from Dr. Hellman, Chairman of the Department of Medicine at the Bayview hospital and a member of the board of directors for MERIT. He sat down with a few of the kids and asked what they had gotten out of the program so far and what were the best experiences they had this summer. I was so surprised and moved when many of them named Francisco (the teacher of the class and former CIIP intern!) and I as motivating and helpful in their academic growth. Many times, I wondered if the kids realized how much I wanted for them to improve. I had heard many of them complaining about how harshly I grade and the workload. But I felt all the work put in by the MERIT stuff for the summer was validated when the kids talked about how much more comfortable they are with doing college-level work and having a college-level workload. It was amazing to hear that they have been both discouraged and motivated by the lack of people of color they shadowed with and they want to fill in the gaps!

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