2018 Week 2: Nonprofit Management


So week two is in the books, but it already feels like I’ve been with Baltimore Corps forever (in a good, familiar way, not in a time is dragging on interminably kind of way). I feel like this week I hit my stride on everything from taking the bus and packing enough snacks to taking initiative on projects and developing rapport with my coworkers. And even though at an event on Tuesday night I spent almost two hours literally just opening a door for arriving guests, overall I feel like I’m actually contributing, which is pretty kickass.

Most of my work so far has been with the Operations and Administration team, so I’m doing more technical, systems-based, behind-the-scenes projects. Going into this summer, I didn’t really expect to enjoy that type of work because – to be honest – I had a chip on my shoulder about doing “real” service. I’m coming to realize, though, that not everyone’s role has to be (or even can be) direct service. At least for me, it’s easy to fall into the trap of romanticizing this type of service as the truest, deepest form of socially-aware contribution. There’s something that seems more meaningful about face-to-face interactions, about actually being the person on the front lines, about being completely tapped into local communities. And it is absolutely, undeniably essential to have folks in that role. But it is equally essential to have people who make spreadsheets, and facilitate project management, and ease communication between departments. And yes, even people who hold doors open for two hours.

In learning about the nonprofit space, my challenge has been reflecting on what my personal motivation for doing this work really is. If the best way I can contribute, based on my skillset and temperament and all that jazz, is in one of these less front-line positions, can I swallow my pride about being (and, even more, being perceived as) this vision of a true social justice warrior?

Part of it is inherently self-centered of course. Because as much as I might want to imagine myself being driven entirely by serving others, I also want to be in a position where I enjoy myself. But turns out I like this background work more than I thought I would. This week I learned more about different email systems than I ever imagined necessary, and would now firmly consider myself a Gmail expert thank you very much. And even though my understanding of the world of value-driven work might not be quite as developed as my newfound deep understanding of Excel, I figure I’m on my way.



Each day I work at Out for Justice reinforces the people-driven nature of the organization. At first glance, this might be hard to believe considering I spend a decent amount of time at the office working independently. On Tuesday I spent the entire workday alone, unlocking the office in the morning and closing up when I left in the afternoon. I joke with my friends that I look forward to answering phone calls at work just to have some human interaction during the day.

Despite the nature of its work environment, OFJ is a deeply-personal, relationship-driven organization. This is reinforced throughout the week:

MONDAY: Nicole helps a recently-released 20-year-old edit his resume.

TUESDAY: I take a message from a woman calling to thank Craig for helping her fulfill her court-mandated community service hours.

WEDNESDAY: Craig leaves the office to help a friend run a voter registration booth in their neighborhood.

THURSDAY: Nicole pauses our meeting to give legal advice to a woman whose son was just arrested.

FRIDAY: Nicole spends the morning talking to a recently-released man who served an abnormally long sentence for drug charges. She takes notes about his experience that she’ll use to shape OFJ’s policy agenda for the next legislative session.

The most powerful part of OFJ is its strong ties to the communities it hopes to help. Almost all of its supporters, volunteers, and board members are returning citizens directly impacted by the criminal justice system. This shared connection means that Nicole and Craig often drop everything to help their members in any way that they can. They’re constantly engaging with the reentry community, ensuring that the policy and programs OFJ pursues will actually create tangible change for them.

Witnessing this inspires me to also engage directly with the communities OFJ helps. This week, I started volunteering with JHU’s Jail Tutorial Project, visiting a rehabilitation center for those affected by homelessness, addiction, and incarceration. Two weeks working with OFJ has not only strengthened my interest in criminal justice reform, but also showed me the community-oriented nature of nonprofit work. As a student living in the Hopkins bubble, this is the aspect of my internship I need to fully commit to.



My second week at Impact Hub Baltimore concluded with three back-to-back meetings that ate up most of my Friday afternoon. Each meeting was roughly an hour long, with just enough time in between to refill my mug with coffee in preparation for the next. Before joining Impact Hub, if one of my peers would’ve told me the same thing, I would’ve probably responded with a face of grimace that perfectly captured my internal thoughts. I can proudly confirm that I’ve changed my mind since then, and it was a pleasant surprise to find that these “meetings” only furthered my sense of gratitude as I left the office that day.

Meetings take on a different meaning at Impact Hub — Being a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing an inspiring space and programming to connect Baltimore’s social changemakers, meaningful relationships inevitably lie at the core of its mission. Yet the simplicity of its mission often makes it difficult to portray the indefinite value behind having spaces to promote collaboration. This is especially true in a city like Baltimore, where community members frequently comment on the way its neighborhoods can feel siloed.

This summer, I’ve been entrusted with the grand task of bringing three years of quantitative data on Impact Hub’s progress to life. For me, my three-hour meeting period gave me an opportunity to put a face (or rather, faces) to the diverse journeys individuals and/or organizations are taking to promote social change in the city, and to Impact Hub’s success. Despite the diversity of work occurring in Impact Hub’s space, all projects were united by a mutual passion for the city in which they live, and visions of a better Baltimore.

These stories always leave me with a strong sense of inspiration. While numbers can provide concrete evidence, I think the true testament of an organization’s impact is best captured through the art of human connection. Even if the rest of my summer purely consisted of “meetings,” it wouldn’t be an issue for me. The stories I’ve heard thus far have consistently left me in awe, and also served as a humble reminder that I am where I need to be to grow my own capacity to promote social change.



Week 2: “People not Machines”

Two events this week presented the opportunity to interact with the Baltimore community in ways I have never. The first was the MTA’s transit ambassador’s (TA) program. This week marked the official public launch of Transit as the MTA’s official app of choice for navigating the city. The TA program was comprised of MTA employees flooding the most populated bus stops around the city at peak rush hours to manually spread the word about the app. The program lasted from Tuesday through Thursday and my time was split between working bus stops and checking in on employees. While working the bus stops, I quickly found myself comfortable enough talking to random people on the streets. I found that is came naturally to lead into a conversation about app while standing at the bus stop. I tried to pay attention to any biases that presented itself however, I found that you really couldn’t predict who had the app or not based on their appearance.

The second opportunity came in the form of an informal “in-reach” to gather some information about late-night operations for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). In-reach is a chance for MTA planners to engage with bus operators to properly inform planning decisions. It’s program with great promise as it would not only improve planner-operator relationships but also improve services for the Baltimore community. At this informal in-reach I had the chance to speak with a few operators about their experiences when working overnight shifts. This is part of a small project the CTA tasked us with as they are trying to improve their late-night operations. After my ignorant fumble last week calling the operators “bus drivers,” I was a bit nervous before talking to them and this was important job for me to do since we had a hard deadline. However, once I started chatting with the operators, they were not only receptive, they were open to share some of their hardships. Here is what I learned: being an operator is no easy task. Any sentence I write will be an understatement compared to what operators actually go through. They must not only display incredible patience and diligence in high pressure situations, but also do so under extreme conditions such as working 8 straight hours without a proper lunch or bathroom break. You see, people (like us) rely on public transit to be on time and to get us where we need so operators must be incredibly precise. They must adhere to a strict schedule and have very little room for error, but in the real world, error propagates in all kinds of ways. On paper, operators are to be like machines reaching their stops on time and managing individuals with great composure. However, as one of the operators stated, they are “people, not machines.” They get hungry, tired, and frustrated especially with an often-impatient customer base. As I spend more time with them, the more I realize how important the community engagement portion of an organization like the MTA is. As I stated earlier, In-Reach is program with great promise, however it is not there yet. It still feels like there is a huge disconnect between operators and planners. As key people in transit, they need to have a bigger voice. Maybe I am being too naïve about this, but this is what I am seeing. I plan on digging in and learning more.



Lately, I’ve been seeing the word “neighborhood” pop up everywhere I go.

Scrolling through my newsfeed, I see several articles on the new documentary about Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. At a meet up with local journalists, one editor says that the role of journalism in Baltimore is to connect people across neighborhoods. And every morning, I walk through the glass doors inscribed with “The Center for Neighborhoods,” into the office kitchen to put my lunch in the fridge and pass by a mural of bright orange and blue letters that reads “The City of Neighborhoods.”

The person I share a desk with says that Baltimore is a territorial city, one in which people seldom cross the borders of their designated neighborhood. He says that one of the biggest challenges in fostering collaboration between people across the city is that there is a lack of communication between neighborhoods. Someone living on 26th Street may have never traveled to 28th Street. They may never have met the people who live on the next block. People who may be their neighbors.

All of this has made me think, what is a neighborhood anyways? The dictionary defines it as “a district, especially one forming a community within a town or city.” This seemed marginally helpful, so I Googled “number of neighborhoods in Baltimore” and scrolled through different lists. Then I opened up a bunch of maps.

The neighborhood can offer a sense of identity and help form a feeling of community and camaraderie between people. But it can be used as a geographical way to restrict people. I’ve been thinking a lot about the role geography plays in reinforcing systems of oppression. How where a person lives can determine everything from the quality of education they receive to the kind of health problems they may or may not have.

I wonder if the neighborhood can be used to create compassion and empathy and open people up to each other, rather than form insular communities. Perhaps we need to redefine what a neighborhood is, so we can build from it, rather than be limited by it.

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