2019 Week 6: Family Wellness & Services
Very often in the context of refugees, immigration, and asylum, society tends to focus on the tragic: forced displacement, deportation, and the violation of human rights in our country that we’ve been made aware of in recent months. Don’t get me wrong. We need to focus on these. I would even argue that most people still are not paying enough attention. But at the same time, I’ve realized throughout my time at ERICA that it can be refreshing—and crucial—to highlight the successes, triumphs, and beauty that our neighbors have achieved even in the face of attacks by those actively attempting to erase these stories of hope.
This week, for example, I was able to attend another farewell party at ERICA’s housing program for an asylum seeker who found a great job and was able to rent their own apartment, with their asylum case continually progressing so that they and their family can regain agency and self-sufficiency. Another one of the asylum seekers in the program recently came back from a summer camp and has started their second week of English classes, all while getting ready for upcoming soccer tryouts. Yet another participant now drives their very own company van, on the fast-track to a long-term career.
I bring this point up a lot, and I hope not to belabor it, but we need to remember the human aspect with respect to asylum: whether it be these narratives that remind us of what our society gains when we uphold our tradition of humanitarian generosity, or the recognition that as humans, those coming here for help must be treated as such. It’s honestly been frustrating these past few weeks, hearing refugees and asylum seekers being framed as burdens to society and as numbers that leaders want to limit. It’s going to be hard to confront such rhetoric as friends, family members, and neighbors, but I wonder how things would be different if there was a way to reframe the narrative.
Last week my boss and I signed our Youthworks kids up for a financial education training. It was scheduled to be at Morgan State at 9am so I told them all to meet me there at 8:50. By 9 I had rounded up all but one who tends to have a difficult time communicating. He had gone to Morgan but was at a building on South Campus while we were all at the auditorium on West Campus. For some background, the kid who went to the wrong place is 15 and over the last month I have noticed that his problem solving skills need some work. He also has a difficulty time communicating with people of authority which is likely why it was tough to figure out where he was in the first place.
This brings me to the question that I have been thinking about. First I sent him a map of Morgan state and told him the number building that he had to get to. I said to text if he needed anything and expected him to get there on his own. But after 5 minutes of no replies and knowing that the presentation was about to start I rushed over to South Campus and found him dragging his feet in front of one of the buildings. We walked back together in time for the presentation and that was that.
Looking back, I’m very on the fence about whether or not I did the right thing. I know the young man from the incident reasonably well at this point. Enough to know that he has a tough time taking initiative and often needs some prodding and help in order to solve some of the problems we do every day in the gym. That being said I decided to allow phones in the classroom from day 1 because we only have two computers on site and in the world we live in I think it is unreasonable to rule them out as an information gathering tool. My hope in doing this was that when given a complex problem with no clear answer and no clue where to go there could start researching the issue and gain enough information to start thinking more deeply about it. For this reason, I would have hoped that this YouthWorker would have gone through all of these steps on his own and made his own way to the auditorium.
On our walk back together, I asked him if he had thought to use his phone to look up the location of the building and then make his way there. His response was that he tried but it didn’t work. To summarize I’m unsure if I should have let this kid miss a chunk of the training in order to work through a real world problem on his own, or if I did the right thing by intervening so that he got the full experience of the financial training. If I got to repeat the day I think I would have left him to his own devices, though I’m unsure of the outcome that would have had.
In one of the readings my supervisor assigned to me, it stated that many nonprofits feel frustrated at having to make reports to its funders which do not actually help with the nonprofits’ goals. I have a better appreciation for that statement now that I have had to write a mandated quarterly report to the Baltimore City government about St. Ambrose’s work. The reporting form, a badly photocopied sheet that I filled in with Adobe Editor, asks for the number of people of each race and ethnicity that our organization served, how many female-headed households, number of people from each income group, etc. Fortunately, the process itself is simple and repetitive. For every department that St. Ambrose has, I ran a report in our database and filtered entries in Microsoft Excel by the field I was looking for.
I talked with my supervisor about how well these numbers actually reflect the quality of St. Ambrose’s work. The answer: Not much, but we need to keep doing this to receive funding. The mandated reports show the diversity of our clients by race and income, but say nothing about how our services impacted people’s lives. For instance- did housing counseling make it easier for people to buy a home? Did foreclosure prevention efforts contribute to greater housing stability? This information, while it might be harder to procure, would be much more useful for evaluating our programs. I am framing this in terms of one of the concepts I learned in Epidemiology: Validity, how well a test measures what it purports to measure.
These are questions I had to wrestle with as I created an evaluation form for Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors (HUBS), a program which provides home repairs to ensure that seniors can continue safely living at their residences.
It is not always the most exciting thing to sit at a desk fiddling with Excel sheets and Adobe PDFs. However, my classes have helped me realize how important this work is. As I have learned through Public Health Biostatistics, data is crucial to the functioning of public health programs. In a world with limited budgets, they can clearly show what interventions are the most effective. They can also highlight what areas have the most need. For example, one of our partner organizations, Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP), asked me to compile data on HUBS referrals this year which originated from the neighborhoods that they serve. They receive funding for each neighborhood separately, so this data will help them determine which areas may require more resources.
My internship has also made me appreciate how challenging it is to use data effectively. The HUBS program’s stated mission is “improving their (older adults) health and safety, preserving the integrity of their properties, and extending the time that they can remain in their homes.” Since we cannot measure these goals directly, we rely on proxies. In my case, I asked questions in the survey such as, “Please rate the quality of the repairs you received”, and “To what degree did the HUBS program help you continue living in your home?”
I am grateful that through my internship, I have the chance to both design a survey form and meet with the people who will fill out these surveys. It is one way that I can incorporate a variety of perspectives into my work. I love meeting people during my work, and being reminded that Public Health has amazing, meaningful impacts on individuals.
This summer, there have been two instances in which another site has intersected with our work at Esperanza.
A couple of weeks ago, Angie, one of our long-time patients with end-stage renal disease came by. Angie was supposed to be at her dialysis appointment but accidentally took the wrong bus and ended up on our side of town. She has no source of income so she has to budget each bus ride exactly. This one wrong bus could have stranded her, had she ended up elsewhere. We gave her some cash to pay for her rides that day and for the rest of her appointments that week, but recognized this was not a sustainable solution. We have known that inaccess to and the inability to afford transport are barriers many of our patients face, but this instance pressed its urgency. Some of us got to thinking about purchasing bus passes, which is where Sam came in.
Sam kindly sent me a complimentary MTA bus pass application and from that, I got connected with the director of their reduced fare program. We are still in the process of deciding whether we will follow through with the application, but it has definitely opened up the extremely necessary, but often overlooked conversation about how to address our patient’s transport issues. I have also been working with a couple of our patients to help them apply for the MTA mobility program, which can provide a shuttle service with caregiver accompaniment if patients cannot use the buses because of some disability. I hope these steps get us closer to supporting our patients once they leave our premises.
The second intersection has been with Centro SOL. Every day I see Mariana and Maria’s names and numbers taped to our front desk computers for Centro SOL Testimonios (mental health support group) referrals. I know we send many of our patients there, but that’s really the extent of the collaboration I have seen from here at health services anyways.
The Esperanza ESOL summer camp has youth workers and Centro SOL has some part to play in organizing that. One day, Diana, a summer camp ESOL coordinator at Esperanza, was unable to get in contact with Monica from Centro SOL about one of our Youthworker’s transport. Cue Edwin. He was able to speak with Diana and figure out the Youthworker’s details.
This CIIP summer more than last, I have been proactively thinking about how sites (not just in CIIP) can collaborate. I’ve been able to act on this in the small instances above, but there’s so much potential to have a stronger network of collaboration. The Latino Provider’s Network (LPN), is supposed to structurally support this type of network for organizations serving Latinx populations, but I still haven’t seen any practical benefits resulting from this. However, I am excited by its presence and potential and I look forward to learning how LPN could optimize its structure to support the community it’s trying to reach more effectively, as well as how Esperanza Center could contribute to the network. We do a great job of doing the day to day work and giving day to day love to our patients, but I wonder if there are other ways we can support our community members beyond their consults with us.
Teenagers, we were all one at some point (some of us still are teenagers, including me!). Somehow, teenagers have become one of my biggest fears this summer. Anytime I’m told that I’ll be working with a new group of teenagers, I get filled with a surge of anxiety. Are they going to make fun of me? Are they going to think I’m weird? How do I become their friends while maintaining some sort of authority? Maybe it’s the fact that I, myself was a troublemaker when I was younger. I never responded well to authority up until my junior year of high. I doubt myself when it comes to my ability to communicate with youth.
On Thursday, I was told I would have to join in on a session of Teen Testimonios, one of our programs that provides support for teenagers who recently immigrated to the United States. It’s a safe space for them to talk about what stresses them out in hopes of helping them feel more comfortable in the states. This would be my first time joining a session. I’m usually in charge of helping the program from the office. That day however, three out of the four interns who work at the program on site were going to be absent and I needed to step in.
On the morning of Teen Testimonios, I met with the other intern to debrief on the day. She let me know that there was no need to be worried and that the youth would love me, but I knew she only said that to make me feel better. The youth came in at 9:30 AM and my colleague introduced me before running an activity with them, a modified version of rose, bud, thorn that I suggested a while back.
Later that day, we split the youth into two groups. We talked about our favorite music and how we deal with the stress of school. They were all okay with being vulnerable around me and responded well to what I said. A few teased me playfully and asked me for advice about high school and applying to college. When we ate lunch, they went out of their way to sit next to me and ask more questions. I felt like I was at a family gathering with all my cousins, but in a space where we lowered our walls and barriers.
When we dismissed the youth, many of them asked me if I’d be returning next week. I told them that I’d have to talk with my boss about it but that I’d love to come back even if it’s for just an activity. I think this experience has motivated me to go into things with more confidence. I shouldn’t be doubting myself as much as I do, because I am capable of anything I put my mind to. I also learned that teenagers really aren’t that scary.
It’s just starting to hit me that summer is coming to an end, which means it’s almost time to start wrapping CIIP up. Where has the time gone?! *insert crying face emoji*
Despite that realization, I am really happy and grateful that I got this opportunity to begin with, especially with a placement like MOMCares. This week was a pretty smooth one, in which both the mothers in the program and I learned about some new things outside of the realm of motherhood. I loved that the information covered this week could generally be applied to anything, for both personal and professional purposes, like the SMART goals that we made action plans for. We started off with a continuation of our “Kitchen Series” by introducing more household, multipurpose ingredients and to mothers and teaching them how to combine ingredients with desired properties to replicate specific products (like mixing eucalyptus or peppermint and ginger or cayenne to mimic Icy Hot pain relieving cream, for example). This was another fun hands on lesson for our mothers as they learned while creating their own products such as deodorant (which actually worked better than store bought deodorant for one of our moms), all while staying on a budget. Speaking of budgets, another highlight of this week was a guest presentation on financial literacy from two leaders at BB&T Bank. As a team, we created a budget for an average mother in Baltimore that really helped us put the necessity of having a budget in the first place into perspective because we ended up exceeding the budget we created, leaving no room for saving or investing. Besides reiterating and amplifying what I thought I knew about having children (that being a parent is super expensive!!!), this workshop better equipped young mothers to face their current financial situations and make appropriate money decisions accordingly instead of resorting to alternatives that may lead to debt, which is a great lifelong skill to have.
The rest of my week consisted of tabling at the Govanstowne Farmers’ Market with Taegan, working on an attendance tracker, interviewing freelance volunteers on Catchafire to produce promotional materials, creating flyers, and a lot of printing because as the month of July is coming to an end, our monthly Healing Circle is approaching so that means I have flyers to distribute. Can’t wait to see what next week has in store for us!Tags: CentroSOL, CIIP, ciip 2019, Corner Team Boxing, Erica, Esperanza Center, MOMCares, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center