2020 Week 4

Photo of Sarah AbdellahSarah Abdellah | MOMCares

It feels incredibly surreal as we reach the midpoint of the Community Impact Internship Program this Summer. As a tradition, I look back at my blog and chicken-scratch notes from the first week of the program and reflect upon how far I’ve come – what I have achieved so far and what I still hope to achieve before the experience is over.

On my initial CIIP Internship Goals Sheet I wrote: “I’m a very people-driven person so being online may not accomplish this goal, but I still think it’s feasible: I want to directly hear from the mothers we serve, whether it’s through written communication or via the phone, I want to hear their stories and make them feel heard and use the resources I have in this position to see where are their needs being met and what are the gaps? And what can MOMCares do to bridge the gaps in what mothers need?”

Now, four weeks into the program, I am working on a Holistic Care Plan that does exactly that. I have cultivated a pre and post-test alongside another intern, Nana, to assess our birthing persons’ current needs including: food, housing, financial, legal, security, mental health, and so much more. The purpose of the Holistic Care Plan is to connect our birthing persons with the appropriate resources whether it’s another local non-profit that addresses their needs and/or offer assistance within MOMCares including the mini grants program as well as weekly food and diaper giveaways.

Maintaining frequent, regular, and effective communication throughout the summer with my supervisor, the rest of the MOMCares team, and the Center for Social Concern has been a main priority of mine and has been smoother than I expected! The influx of phone, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams calls has kept the entire team and cohort connected and facilitated a true feeling of connectedness, even behind a screen.

At my most recent weekly check-in with Ana, I expressed that I am becoming more and more interested in health policy, advocacy, and equity work specific to Baltimore and how non-profits work to influence policy. I feel lucky to have a supervisor as attentive and caring as Ana as she listened to my passions and led me in the right direction – sharing resources and plans to have more in-depth conversations with me pertaining to health policy in Baltimore.

Personally, I find as I navigate an experience, my goals change as I change. As I learn about the organization, interact with my fellow interns and staff, and listen to the voices of our community members. It is not only fascinating, but quite beautiful to see how fluid this experience has become.

Photo of Edwin ArriolaEdwin Arriola | CentroSOL

The first week of Youthworks was hectic to say the least. Despite the amount of planning I did in the weeks before, I still stressed myself out on the outcomes of my work. I spent the night before the first day of Youthworks rehearsing my presentations with myself over and over again, not because I was underprepared, but because I psyched myself out to the point where I wasn’t confident in my ability to perform well. Despite this, the first few days went amazingly, but I came out feeling drained. Somehow the interactions I have online feel like they consume more energy than real life interactions. It might be because I have to put out a lot more emotion and positivity to make up for the fact that I can’t read my student’s faces and body language while I present.

After the first few days of the program, I got to know the students and figured out some tricks to keep them excited and active. Breakout rooms have been useful at keeping everyone engaged. It gives them the opportunity to bond with each other and discuss in smaller groups. I can also join the different groups and check up on their work or see if they have any questions about the activities we have. I have a newfound appreciation for Reah, who takes the time to organize the different breakout rooms every week. Another way I keep my students engaged is by starting the day with a writing prompt. I like to get their gears turning with prompts that make them reflect on the people and opportunities around them.

This week came with many challenges and stressors for me, but from last year, I know that the first week is typically the most hectic in Youthworks. I expect to bring many of the lessons I learned into this upcoming week to further improve the experience for me and my students.

I’m usually not the one to create short term goals for myself. Many of my goals are very long term or unachievable. A goal I have had since my sophomore year is to make the world a better place. This goal is vague, but constantly reminds me to think about my actions and the things that I put into the world. And while I’m still not fond of these short-term goals, I have one for this week – go back to having a nightly routine. This week I fell out of the routines that gave me closure for the night and were a part of my self-care regimen, which I think have taken part in why I feel so drained. I hope to slowly ease myself back into this routine so that I can be in the best condition for my site!

Photo of Yvette Bailey-EmbersonYvette Bailey-Emberson | Neighborhood Design Center

By 4 weeks into the internship, I have already learned so much. My overarching goal for this summer was to develop skills in community organizing and to learn how to connect data with community goals to help achieve them, and I already feel equipped with these skills within a short period of time. I have been able to use data about an area to gain deeper insight into what the community is like and how we use the data to develop strategies for ways of improvement, such as housing stability in Ellwood Park. It has been extremely interesting to see how all of these small pieces come together to make a larger picture and see a neighborhood plan come into fruition.

While I’ve grown a lot in this position, working remotely has also been challenging. It is difficult to connect with community partners and members from a distance. I can make phone calls or talk over zoom, but I am doing research and brainstorming strategies to help bring housing stability or reduce alley trash on my own, rather than brainstorming together. I feel a strong disconnect between my position and the community members, and while I am sure this may not be the case had this been a “normal” summer, it allows me to reflect on who I am doing this work for and who is–literally and metaphorically–not in the room. Who do the numbers represent? Who am I seeing during my short fieldwork visits? Whose voices am I not hearing? Remote work only widens the gap between organizations and residents that already tends to exist because we cannot interact with them as we need to and it perpetuates an idea of white saviorism that we from afar know how to “fix” their community.

My previous goals were to develop the skills that would allow me to have a successful career in this field, but as I’ve progressed in my placement, I’ve realized that the skills I want to develop must be more centered towards the community I want to serve. By the end of the summer, I want to know that I helped lift someone else’s voice and know how to take their concerns and put it into a plan that can be implemented towards change. I know I am on the path to do so, and I am excited to keep learning.

Photo of Jevon CampbellJevon Campbell | Code in the Schools

This week went pretty well overall. We are about to start with the CodeWorkers and I can feel that people are nervous and stressed but I think also excited to start. I can tell some things are really coming together. Some tasks that I have been working on since I started at Code in the Schools are finally being completed and I’m really happy about that. I feel like, while the program start is getting closer and closer and it is a bit nerve racking, it is also leading to or promoting really productive meetings and actions heading into the next week. I was also happy I got the opportunity to ask people’s pronouns in one of the bigger meetings. I’ve been wanting to ask since I came in the organization but I did not really know a natural way of just asking because, while I was new, a lot of the people had already met and known each other. However I needed to put it on the track selection google form and orientation slides and I got an opportunity to ask for pronouns and put it in each of the managers bios. Also, in a following meeting I realized some people were just letting people call them the wrong pronouns to avoid conflict and I got an opportunity to bring it up and people got to learn people’s pronouns who were not aware of it before. I also got to talk about making correct pronoun use a norm for the CodeWorkers we will be working with and how that was a challenge we had at my site at Dent Education in my previous placement. I was very glad we got to have that conversation, especially because there were people who never got to have someone speak up for them in that space.

Photo of Lyle CarreraLyle Carrera | Bureau of the Budget and Management Research

Growing up, I went to inner-city public schools for grades six through twelve. I didn’t live nearby; they were magnet schools, wherein an advanced academic program open to students from any school zone is hosted at an otherwise comprehensive and neighborhood-based public school. Even though I was in the magnet program, however, I sometimes felt more comfortable with students from the local neighborhood than with my classmates.

It wasn’t that I had more in common with them; actually, it was quite the opposite. My middle and high school stood at the crossroads of two historically ethnic neighborhoods, and they had large first-generation American and immigrant populations. A majority of the schools’ populations lived below the poverty line, and some students faced housing insecurity.

For my part, I grew up in a single-parent immigrant household. Based on that alone, my odds of achieving upward mobility likely weren’t great. While I wouldn’t say that I had the easiest of upbringings — for most of my life up to that point, I didn’t have easy access to transportation or to groceries beyond boxed and canned products — the fact that I could attend such a program spoke to the privilege that I did have. In high school, I took advanced coursework, participated in award-winning extracurricular activities, and was given a wide support network in my early professional development. Today, I attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities, which has opened even more doors for me academically, professionally, and personally.

On the other hand, I often felt that quite a bit separated me from my friends and classmates in the magnet program. It was as if I was dropped into a world completely foreign to the one I’d been familiar with for so long. I was the loud and unpolished counterfactual to my friends, who, for the most part, knew how to navigate an educational pipeline seemingly designed to parlay the opportunities they’d been given into even bigger and better ones. (There were, of course, those who came from circumstances closer to my own; I tended to feel most comfortable around them.) As an example, until they rapidly became accessible to me, the very notion of a “prestigious college” wasn’t anything more than an ideal that my mom would push me to look into.
In short, there was both congruence and disparity between me and the various groups of people and ways of life that made up my middle and high school communities. Each illustrated the blessings and misfortunes that created my lot in life, and looking back at it all, I’m faced with the truth at the core of my life: It was largely thanks to having the luck of meeting the right people and being able to access the right opportunities at the same time that I’ve been able to live such a life. Almost every day of the last eleven years has been a humbling reminder of that fact.

That is the reason that I find myself called to public service. It shouldn’t take an immense amount of luck for someone who grew up like me to find themselves where I am today. The good news is that, to this end, the funding, resources, and opportunities necessary to give everybody a viable path to the life they want to lead already exist. It’s a question of whether or not people have access to those opportunities. Public service and policymaking are the mechanisms through which entire systems can change to reflect the needs of its population.

In this light, the work that I’m doing with the BBMR is an especially good fit for where I see my life leading me. For a government, a budget is more than just a line-item listing of things to throw money at. It’s a moral document outlining your priorities and to whom those priorities cater. The equity work that I’m doing blends the data visualization and communication methods that are central to public health advocacy with the ultimate goal of making Baltimore’s budget align with the values and desires of the city’s communities. For me, this type of work hits close to home.

Photo of Smitha MaheshSmitha Mahesh | Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, DewMore Baltimore

As I reach the midpoint of the Community Impact Internship Program, I have been reflecting on the progress of my goals while interning with Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition. In a broad overview, I see that some goals are in the process of being achieved, while other goals have changed and taken on a new form.

For instance, one of my goals for interning with BHRC was to make substantial progress in the BRIDGES Neighborhood Associations Project. Thanks to immense guidance by Rajani, Harriet, Amos, and other team members, I have been able to make progress through robust communication via email and ZOOM calls and working together to clarify and proceed with a set of actions that best reflect the mission and intention of the BRIDGES Coalition.

In addition to this goal, I am pleasantly surprised to see I am achieving my goal to stay connected with my team members. One way that I achieve this goal is by having a bi-weekly meeting with Rajani, Harriet, and Awoe to check-in on the progress of projects and have honest talks about the workload in this remote internship. Another way that I achieve this goal is by calling a BRIDGES once a week just to say hello and do a check-in on their day. Lastly, email threads of positivity keep everyone’s spirits up and motivated!

In addition to these goals, the goal to “support BHRC team members in their work” has changed. Initially I was planning to take on the Neighborhood Associations Project. Now, I am collaborating with BRIDGES members for the upcoming Supporters Meeting and BHRC members for the upcoming BHRC Educators Meeting. The BRIDGES Supporters Meeting is a quarterly meeting with supporters and advocates who want to promote safe spaces and justice for people who use drug by gathering people for a direct action in the community. On the other hand, the BRIDGES Educators Meeting has the goal of educating the audience with facts and equipping them with the tools to carry the conversation forward within their communities.

Despite having changes to the original goal, I have adjusted well to the new projects by keeping an organized project management task list and journaling my reflections over the projects’ progress. More importantly, the various projects have helped me see the various ways of engaging with the community on an issue. Given that we are advocating for end of overdose and criminalization through the promotion safe spaces and justice for people who use drugs, I have learned there are multiple ways to take the issue from a talking piece to a direct action implemented in the community such as social media campaigning, facilitated discussions, educational forums, surveying. I have also realized that every member of the community – from neighborhood associations and businesses to community leaders and educators – is critical in advocacy work.

As I reach the midpoint of the Community Impact Internship Program, I have been reflecting on the progress of my goals while interning with DewMore Baltimore. In a broad overview, I see that some goals are in the process of being achieved, while other goals have changed and taken on a new form.

One of the goals that I have achieved is maintaining communications via the DewMore Baltimore Newsletter and social media posts. DewMore Baltimore releases a thorough Newsletter every other month to inform their audience of the recent events, upcoming events, staff highlights, program highlights and featured poetry. While the Newsletter is dense with content, I have been able to accomplish the final draft of the Newsletter through robust email communication and Google Meet video calls. Also, I have successfully designed, scheduled, and uploaded numerous social media posts that highlight inspirational young poets, artists, and upcoming events. Furthermore, I have been able to maintain a collection of interviews and programming organized by youth on YouTube. Having this content available beyond Instagram allows a larger audience to engage with the work and programming of DewMore Baltimore.

In addition to this goal, I am pleasantly surprised to see I am achieving my goal to stay connected with my team members. One way that I achieve this goal is by having a weekly meeting with Olu, Jessica, and Awoe to check-in on the progress of projects and have honest talks about the workload in this remote internship. Another way that I achieve this goal is by having a weekly meeting with Olu, Jessica, and Slangston to look over the progress of projects and define the next steps.

In addition to these goals, the goal to “support DewMore Baltimore in their work” has changed. Initially, I was planning to focus the majority of my energy on communications such as the Newsletter, social media posts, and Onboarding Video project. But in addition to these projects, I am soon to begin the larger task – surveying and collecting information on how best DewMore Baltimore can serve their audience, whether it be youth or educators. This new project takes a lot of flexibility and brainstorming, but that is the exciting part of it! I am looking forward to attending more meetings, actively listening to young people who participate in DewMore, and learning how to create an engaging survey to gather information.

Photo of Charlie NguyenCharlie Nguyen | Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs

It’s strange that we’re halfway through our CIIP experience already. Something about this summer feels less eternal, and I’m not sure if this is due to the four months at home, the instant commute to work, the effortlessness of diving into my Google Drive, or the fact that I tend to set my internal deadlines a little too early.

With my time running away from me, I often find myself questioning if I’ve actually accomplished anything during this placement. Especially in a virtual environment, it’s easy for me to devalue my own work, but I now see how important it is to acknowledge the energy I have put into it. During my last peer mentor check-in, Reah asked me to simply name what I’ve been able to achieve within the past few weeks, which provided me with a much-needed boost of motivation. I think it was being able to see that my tasks have been attainable and finite that really proved that the same goes for my other goals too.

Another source of motivation for me has been envisioning the role that our volunteers will play in supporting our immigrant communities. My current project is coordinating volunteers to help limited English proficient community members who need help completing an application for Baltimore City’s temporary rent support program. That so many people have called the city agency in charge of the program asking for assistance is a clear indicator that there are gaps when it comes to reaching people who are limited English proficient. It’s frustrating to come across application portals translated by Google and barriers relating to providing documentation of income or the digital divide, and I think this speaks to a larger notion that government agencies have a long way to go in terms of clearing these barriers. For now, we have volunteers who can help to alleviate these, but how can city services be restructured so that these obstacles don’t even appear in the first place? It’s also been important for me to recognize the multiple layers of privilege that influence the way I understand this. As a native English speaker and a U.S. citizen, it’s easy for me to not notice some of those obstacles, so it’s been extremely beneficial to work with volunteers who are eager to share their insights on how to best address these.

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