2019 Week 2: Law/Policy/Government
Every Sunday, I find myself wanting to put out a perfect blog post. I want to write something that tells a beautiful story, something that eloquently puts together the millions of emotions I feel every day. But actually, I am not feeling that urge today; today I am only thinking about all the tiny moments in life that we don’t notice when they pass, but we catch ourselves reflecting on later. I am thinking about the ordinary things that happen at Martha’s Place, the things people nonchalantly say to me, and the thoughts that naturally come to mind in response. I am very sentimental about these kinds of small moments and their huge implications; I am very surprised by how many of them I have experienced in just the past week. There is no way I can think of to put them together, so here are some in a list:
- My supervisor took me to a directorates meeting, where directors of several substance abuse non-profits in West Baltimore meet and give updates on their projects. The room was dreadfully cold and all I remember was thinking how bored everyone looked.
- Friday was one of our residents’ birthday so I stopped by the bakery to pick up some pie. Then I felt bad, so I grabbed 2 more for my boss and his wife.
- So many of the Martha’s Place women complimented me this week for walking to and from the bus stop/subway stop every day. “You know, just the other day, someone got shot just a block down from here. This isn’t a safe place, just keep that in mind.”
- The church steps across the road are a lovely place to sit during lunch. The sun is perfect, but if you move over slightly to the right, you can catch a patch of shade.
- Sandtown-Winchester is one of the neighborhoods in Baltimore that has the highest number of public artworks.
- I spent the entire day Wednesday cleaning the basement of one of the houses. Piles and piles and piles of donated clothes lay in disintegrating plastic bags. A lot of them were damp and had begun to mold.
- Out of 15 available rooms at Martha’s Place, 7 are currently open. On the phone with a community partner one day, I was explaining that residents are expected to pay a $400 rent/month. “But how exactly are women straight out of recovery supposed to afford that? After an extensive inpatient and paying for ongoing programs and medical assisted treatment?” one woman asked me. I didn’t have an answer.
- On my way home from work on Friday, I bumped into one of the residents at the subway stop. She screamed my name from 20 feet away and we talked for 15 minutes about our days. 2 subways heading in my direction passed by in that time, but I didn’t feel any rush at all.
Since beginning at YouthWorks, I have gone through a wide range of feelings. I started out the job excited and a bit overwhelmed with my first day, but the action quickly died down as I settled into my daily routine at the desk. Although I talked to the three former CIIP interns who have held my position (including my wonderful supervisor Jon), I don’t think I was fully aware of what being the YouthWorks intern included until the end of my first week. The first thing that took me by surprise was the huge amount of independence that my supervisor gives me. He checks in on me two or three times a day with “Hey, everything going alright?” or to give me a small task like data entry or sending an email, but other than those few moments, I am mostly working on my own. As far as I am aware, I am the only intern or college-age person in the office, and apart from greeting people in the hallway, I have limited human interaction throughout the day. This will all change soon when the YouthWorkers arrive on July 1, but until then I am learning a lot about my personal work style and how that is affected by working alone.
I have been working on an independent project of sorts in which I am investigating the ways in which YouthWorks can improve its services for youth with disabilities. I have been reading almost nonstop these past two weeks, and loving it. Jon allowed me to take on this subject matter because he knew that disability advocacy is something I deeply care about. However, there is an overwhelming amount of information and a seemingly endless amount of directions I can take all of this information to create a concrete plan. In my three years at Hopkins, research has not been something I am particularly good at. I am more of a box-checker. Give me lots of small tasks, and I will knock them out of the park. Give me a large-scale problem to examine, and I get easily overwhelmed. With lots of encouragement from my friends and some much-needed guidance from my mother (who is a special education expert), I have been slowly but surely adapting to this challenge.
More than anything, I am optimistic. When it is all said and done, this project has the potential to positively impact the lives of hundreds or even thousands of Baltimore youth. My supervisor, as well as my fellow CIIPers (special shout out to Janaya and Kiahna for your encouragement at this week’s bite sesh) are reminding me that I am capable of getting the work done. I just need to lean into the discomfort of trying something new and appreciate the process.
Week 2 with the Parent Community Advisory Board (PCAB) and the Office of Engagement was a better experience for me, as I was able to get more acclimated to my schedule, the people around the office, and the work expected of me. The majority of my week in the past week was revolved around conducting inquiry interviews with members of the different stakeholder groups of PCAB – that is, the parents, community, students, and BCPS staff. As part of the information gathering portion of my Entry Plan into the internship, I have to schedule meetings to learn about different ways that I can be of help to their mission. I have had to apply many of the skills that were pressed upon during orientation, especially active listening. I realized that people have a lot to say. They are all experts in their field and have a plethora of knowledge and wisdom to lend—I just have to take the time to sit down with them and listen. In fact, this has been the best part of the internship thus far. Aside from the daily tasks that I am given and the pressure of developing my project for the summer to assist PCAB, I’ve found that taking the time to ask questions about a person’s life opens them up to deeper connection with you. In one of our visits to a restaurant venue for an event coming up, I had the privilege of talking to my supervisor in a context outside of the office. The busyness of her job makes it nearly impossible to talk about topics outside of my work, so I was glad to have the opportunity to hear more about her story, as well as the little things such as her favorite things to do in Baltimore. I’ve found that Baltimoreans have a unique passion and love for their city that drives them to truly want to serve their community and make impactful changes. I am continually inspired by their fervor and it has ultimately inspired my own burgeoning love for the city.
This week, I’m going to tell the story of how I managed to get stuck in Linthicum, Maryland. As an intern at the MTA, part of what my boss wants me to do is to learn how to take Baltimore transit to understand what it’s like for people to use the services we aim to improve. To that end, it became my mission Tuesday morning to take public transit from my house to Glen Burnie, where the MTA was having an important commissioner’s meeting about the in-progress regional transit plan. Enter me, 8:40am. After walking in the wrong direction and missing the bus, I ended up ubering to the Light Rail station by Light street. Once at the Light Rail station, my uber driver had me get out of the car and run across the street to get to the light rail on time, which resulted in me sprinting across the rails over the crossing in front of the train car to get to the other side (I made it on, but the operator was NOT happy). From there, I took the light rail to Linthicum, where I was supposed to transfer from the rail I was on to the one going in the right direction (this was necessary because the route split in two at the end, which was not at all explained well at the station). I ended up going to the wrong side of the tracks (again), and at the urging of nearby passengers, ran around the train across the tracks to the other side (literally across the rails this time, since the covered part was blocked by the car). I ran back to the train doors and waited for them to open, and knocked to no avail as the train doors sat shut until the Light Rail moved away. I didn’t realize until it was too late that users have to press a button to get the door to actually open. After a brief trip to a nearby doughnut shop, I ended up ubering (again) to the meeting, finally managing to finish my trip.
Hopefully whoever reads this finds that story at least a little funny, but the reason I chose to bring it up is that it really was a valuable lesson. I’m an able-bodied person with good eyesight and the ability to run to catch trains I was late for, along with having access to the Transit app on my expensive phone, and even I wasn’t able to figure out how to use the light rail on my first time for a simple one way trip. I learned that the app can be inaccurate, the live updates can be incorrect, and that the sign saying to press the green button to open the door was barely visible to me, let alone people with poor eyesight. Trying and spectacularly failing to take the light rail taught me how much harder it is for the elderly and the disabled community to access transit, and how important it is to work to expand access, which I have the luck to be involved with through helping with an inclusive signage showcase at Charles Center Station in July. Getting lost was stressful in the moment, but in the end, it helped me find another aspect of transit that I’m interested in learning more about.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how temporary my internship position is and how much of an impact I’ll actually be able to make on the community. Compared to a lot of other CIIP interns, who are working at small organizations with just a few employees, the staff of the Office of Sustainability – not to mention the entire Department of Planning – is large enough for me to feel lost in the crowd. The work I do there is definitely helpful in reducing some of the burden on my supervisors, and thus increasing the impact of the Office overall, but in the back of my head I can’t help thinking that the time I will spend there is barely a blip on the radar of the other employees and the City as a whole.
I guess to the intern, the value of an internship typically lies more in gaining experience and making connections than in performing meaningful, lasting work. For the first two summers of college, I pursued internships because I felt like I should – I had this idea that it would be better for my professional life to work in an office rather than being, say, a camp counselor, which might have been more enjoyable. This summer, I applied for CIIP because I care deeply about Baltimore and the people who live here. I would like to stay and work here after I graduate, possibly at a community organization or government office, so through this experience I’m definitely learning about the kinds of issues I would encounter if I do go on to work here permanently.
In my first two weeks alone, I’ve seen countless new parts of the city and met dozens of new people. I’ve learned that to make Baltimore thrive, it’s going to take a collective effort. Everyone has a responsibility to contribute anything they can – whether they’re a local farmer, a government employee, or even an intern. It’s not huge monetary investments or sweeping legislation that will have the greatest impact; it’s the individual actions of people who want to do right by their community. And I’m grateful I get to be a part of that.Tags: Baltimore City Office of Sustainability, Baltimore City Public Schools, BCPS, Martha's Place, Maryland Transit Authority, MTA, Youthworks