2022 Week 2: Neighborhood/Community Organizing

Photo of Aiman Altaf, smiling Aiman Altaf | 29th St Community Center

One of the challenges I’ve faced this week is how uncertain this internship has made me about my career goals. I’m glad that it’s opening me up to new paths, especially because it is reminding me of interests like public health and community engagement that I’ve always had, but kind of left on the back burner as I decided to become premed. In either case, I think this internship will be great whether I choose a career more related to this field of work, or whether I pursue medical school.

Adjusting to in person work has not been hard, especially because my supervisor has been super flexible with timings and gives me a lot of freedom to choose what works for me, as long as I get my work done. I find that going in person gives me more of a schedule and the right environment to accomplish work more efficiently, so I prefer to go in person as much as possible. I also find that the work day doesn’t seem as long, because I really enjoy what I’m working on. I’ve had jobs in the past where I used to dread going in to work and wanted the weekend to last forever, but I really don’t feel that way about this internship. I guess the fact that it’s a 10 minute walk from where I live is also really helpful. I have also been very lucky to have great communication with my supervisor, so we set up a weekly meeting time to discuss what my work each week will look like and if I have any questions about my tasks.

Last week, I attended a few training sessions at the village learning place in preparation for the youth summer camp that will start at 29SCC next week. One of them was on how to encourage college going culture in youth, which was very interesting because I was comparing it to how we were encouraged to consider trade schools and apprenticeships rather than university at my immigrant high school in Canada. I remember how frustrated I used to feel, because at other higher income high schools, students were told that university was the only path, whereas at lower income schools they were pushing skilled labor to address the national skilled worker shortage. Last week, I also attended a training on how to connect with students, which taught me small tips from the student’s perspective about how to make them feel comfortable but also establish a connection with them. I can see this helping out beyond the summer camp at 29SCC, because I also participate in Tutorial Project and generally enjoy working with children, so I will keep that information in mind.

I’m excited because next week the youth summer camp will start up and I will be helping out with that twice a week, working with the PreK/K age range. I adore working with kids, so I am really looking forward to this. On Monday I will also be printing out, creating the decor for, and finally putting together the table I have been working on, which is exciting because it means I can move on to a different project.

Photo of Mimi Avril, smiling Mimi Avril | Central Baltimore Partnership

A challenge I have experienced this week is being assigned larger projects, being in conversation for other ones, while being assigned smaller tasks throughout the week. This is challenge for me because the week prior, I mainly shadowed, sat in on meetings, and did a handful of small tasks. However, this week I’m being assigned more responsibilities and a lot of the tasks, such as creating walking maps to free resources in specific neighborhoods, I have never done before. So in a way, I’m learning to perform the tasks I’m being assigned as I do them and learning the area I’m working in. In addition to this rapid shift in responsibility, I’m worried I’ll become overwhelmed with the workload as I am working on multiple established projects and tasks at once. I’m working on managing my steady overarching responsibilities while completing the daily changing taskings but this is difficult at times as I don’t always know which to prioritize first. A second challenge I have been facing is being assigned work without a deadline. This is very different than what I’m used to because as a student I’m always given a due date with my assignments, but at my placement, due dates are flexible to an extent but the work is still expected to get done in a timely and efficient manner. Although this is initially difficult for me, I plan on learning to prioritize more important and longer tasks. I also plan on establishing more self-direction and taking more initiative which are tied to letting go of my fear of making mistakes such as finishing a task “late” or not doing it properly. In addition to feeling more competent and efficient in my work, I’m working on being able to respect by capacity by asking for more time to complete a task or by not taking some on my plate.

Photo of Kate Overbey, smiling Kate Overbey | Greenmount East Leadership Project

Recently, I’ve been working remotely, as the youths don’t begin programming until July 5th. Working remotely has had both a lot of challenges and some benefits for me. I love having the freedom to choose my own hours, run errands during the day and work late at night. I love being able to do my work in my pajamas, but at the same time, remote work can be increasingly lonely. Working just by yourself, all day, without the casual conversation of coworkers or more official meetings can make working lack vitality, and suppress the excitement that comes with a program such as CIIP.
For me, I run off of social energy, and so working from home while convenient is also frustrating. Beyond my own personal work style, I am very excited to be going into work and connecting with the youth we have this summer. I think I will find that working with the young adults in our program on a daily basis will prove not only helpful in terms of life skills for them, but beneficial for myself in getting to know the Greenmount community in more depth. We have planned workshops with important life skills such as first aid, CPR, how to file taxes and apply for a job, how to write a resume, financial skills, physical fitness, emotional wellbeing, healthy communication styles and relationships, and computer literacy. I didn’t learn a lot of these skills in high school, and I am so grateful that not only can I be part of a program that provides that programming to Greenmount teenagers but that I’ll get the experience of learning them myself. Overall, I’ve had trouble adjusting to remote work, but my remote work will be over after this coming week and I’m so excited to begin working with the Greenmount youth.

Photo of Will Polen, smiling Will Polen | Neighborhood Design Center

This week marked a great change in my relationship with Baltimore, and it’s all stemmed from my work at NDC. It feels like I’m surrounded by little charms of Baltimore wherever I go. Even my office — on the second floor of Motor House, a historic car dealership-turned-event space — has a story to tell. And the staff at NDC are an encyclopedia of the city (our landscape artist told me all about the native birds of Baltimore this week, information I never realized I’d want to know). I now find myself jumping at the opportunity to go to local events, like Thursday’s Peabody Heights Brewery fundraiser for the victims of the Abell arson and Saturday’s Pride festivities. It’s bringing me joy to shirk my Hopkins identity and do things rooted in the city.

I owe my supervisor Julia a lot of credit for this. Together we’ve spent much of the week planning how I can contribute to a project with the Northwood Baseball League. This storied little league, just outside of Morgan State in East Baltimore, needs help redesigning its fields and park for the community. To that end, I’m going to do survey work where I watch park usage and conduct mini-interviews, trying to discover how we can maximize the space. This task is admittedly simple. But Julia has made sure that I gain a full appreciation for Northwood and East Baltimore first; on Friday, for example, she took me out for a site visit where she showed me the problem areas of the current park and then drove around the surrounding neighborhoods, explaining their history to me as well. This really goes a long way — the more I know about the city, the more at home I feel in it.

I want to end this with a closing thought: in past work experiences, I’ve gained all of my fulfillment from physically accomplishing tasks. Week 1, I tried to emulate that by taking on random assignments of little significance to me. But in Week 2, I’ve realized that I’ve gained even more fulfillment from hearing stories from locals and my co-workers, researching impactful NDC projects in the city; fully immersing myself in Baltimore (even if I’m not physically accomplishing something every second). In the end, this immersion into the city is what CIIP is really about. If I’m filling out a spreadsheet and a co-worker wants to tell me a fun fact, you better believe I’m putting my laptop down and listening.

Photo of Cecilia Ramirez, smilingCecilia Ramirez | Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition

Week 2!

Wow! It is surreal to think about how time is passing during this summer. I don’t know how many times I will mention that this summer, but it really is so crazy! So much is happening and there is so much to take in and process.

I think something that has really been setting in is the structure of nonprofit work, especially from an organizational/administrative standpoint. Having had the opportunity to get to listen in on more conversations and observing how the different programs interact with each other. With an organization that houses various programs each with their own specific mission, it requires a lot of communication and reflection to understand the connections within the network of resources as well as upholding the mission of the organization as a whole.

An adjustment I have undergone since starting my placement has definitely been getting used to maintaining a work life balance. Even with commuting to my placement and back, there have been times where I am at home and thinking of the tasks I could be doing, or even feeling bad that I am not working during my personal time. I think the student life is so ingrained into my lifestyle that not being productive in a work sense at all times means not doing enough. I found myself talking this past month getting excited to have a more distinct work life balance, but putting those words into practice has proven to be more difficult. I m excited to tackle this old habit though, and have found myself enjoying even the more mundane calmer moments such as the commute on the bus and taking a stroll during my lunch break.

Photo of Laís Santoro, smiling Laís Santoro | Pro Bono Resource Center

I really struggled with working from home this week – I was talking to my friends a bit about this and also at BITES but I just get really distracted!! There are so many other things I could start doing at home, like errands that I am behind on or cleaning or decorating and it sometimes takes over my work. Also, I’m mostly complete the virtual work that my supervisor has given me and so I think I just want to do it well and end up overdoing it when I wasn’t able to go in person still. I really did appreciate the check-in I had with Jade last Thursday, though. I learned so much about new programs that were started by the state of MD or Baltimore City during COVID to help homeowners, rental assistance, and others from the CARES act that I was confused about and Jade did a great job of talking me through them and how PBRC connected to that work. Also, I mentioned that I wanted to learn more about grant writing because I feel like that is an important skill to have especially working in a non-profit space. She reassured me that you really don’t need any special skills to do grant writing besides being able to write and do the research that backs up why you want to do what you want to do. PBRC received an Innovation Fund grant from Hopkins actually, focused on community based violence prevention programs. PBRC makes the connection that housing stability increases generational and community wellbeing, stability, and helps children grow in safer spaces that prevent future violence as well. So hosting these legal clinics all over the city to educate people about what resources exist and providing the legal guidance that homeowners need. I wanted to learn more about that and so Jade shared so many great resources and walked me through the entire grant, essentially. I learned about the steps involved in applying for a grant and how specific or supportive they can be, or not. Hopkins wants weekly reporting numbers on how many people PBRC works with but some grants just give the grantee the money and don’t check in that much on them. So despite some of the challenges I experienced, I do feel really supported by my supervisor and well-guided to do some really beneficial service this summer.


Photo of Lily Sheth, smiling Lily Sheth | Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore

Prior to the pandemic, I would have defined myself as an extrovert. I felt energized after spending time with other people, and rarely needed time to myself to “recharge”. However, the shift to a more virtual world and online interaction with others, coupled with months spent in lockdown over the course of two years has shortened my “social battery”. I still love talking to other people and getting out of the house and into my community. Yet I no longer have endless reserves of energy to do this. I need more alone time to rest and reflect before and after social interactions.

Knowing this, I have had to ensure that I take time myself throughout the week at NHS. Although I am hybrid, I spend most of my time in meetings with various NHS staff to learn about what their department is working on to achieve the organization’s mission of developing sustainable, equitable neighborhoods in West Baltimore. If I am not in a meeting, I am out in the Panway, Wallbrook, and Greater Mondawmin neighborhoods with my supervisor going door to door distributing information and talking to neighbors about their lives and how NHS may be able to support them in their housing goals– whatever those may be. These afternoons in the community have brought me so much joy and help me constantly center the work I am doing around the community that NHS is serving.

That being said, I have been more tired than I ever thought possible at the end of each day! While speaking with neighbors I work hard to ensure I am actively listening, responding appropriately to their concerns, and coming up with potential ways to help. All of this takes more out of me than I realized it would, especially because it is the most intensive and prolonged social interaction with strangers I have had since before the COVID pandemic. Therefore, I make sure to take breaks for myself throughout the day and practice self-care outside of the work day. For me, this looks like going for runs, cooking, and talking to my friends and family about my experiences.

I am grateful to my NHS family for being so supportive as I navigate this important work and for opening up to me about their lives outside of work and how they make time and space for themselves outside of the office. I am also grateful to the CIIP cohort for sharing their challenges and talking with me about how they are navigating those. I am excited for all that is to come this summer!