2022 Week 3: Neighborhood/Community Organizing

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

Highlight of the week: summer camp started up! I’ll be working with the PreK/K students twice a week and it has been great so far. The kids have such open hearts, love chatting, and are just such a joy to be around. When we had circle time, story time, play time, etc, I was having flashbacks to when I started school and it was such a strange experience because I haven’t thought about that in a long while. Although I have tutored and worked with kids before, they’ve never been this young, so trying to sort out conflicts and know what to say at certain times can be tough.

Because of the summer camp, the community center gets quite distracting to work in since we only have one room that is not being used for the camp. On days that I don’t help out with camp, my supervisor and I usually go home earlier to work from home. This works out because I have also been printing and getting supplies for the booth that I will set up on July 9 and at events every week after that during the summer, and it’s easier to use my own space to put together the materials.

This week, I think I’m really getting a deeper understanding of the function the community center serves in the neighborhood, and I’m developing stronger relationships with people other than my supervisor. I always enjoy hearing about people’s stories and how they got to where they are today, and it’s been great to step out of the high stress pre-med bubble I find myself in during the school year to hear about newer more unique stories. Next week, I’m excited to learn more about grant writing.

Photo of Mimi Avril, smilingMimi Avril | Central Baltimore Partnership

A typical work day at my placement begins with arriving at 9:30 to start the day. I usually begin my day by login on to Google workspace to check the shared office calendar. My supervisor and I do a check in and outline the projects and goals I’m working on for the week. Most recently, I have been helping with our Summer Connect Series, a series of outdoor events held at different neighborhood events to increase local healthy food access and to facilitate the use of outdoor green spaces. I have been working on signage and resources flyers to hand out at the events, as well as creating a one pager on sleep and stress for a table I will hold at the events once the series starts. After some independent work, I will usually sit on a staff meeting in the conference room. There, I listen as everyone checks in with each other about their individual and joint projects and touches base on how to best move forward. After a staff meeting, I usually take a lunch break. My lunch usually consists of tuna sandwiches and a large bottle of water that I bring from home or I run a to nearby locally owned restaurant for a quick bite. After lunch, I usually feel refreshed and energized to continue the second half of my day. In the second half, my day usually changes pace from independent work at my desk to joining my supervisor or CBP staff on going on into the neighborhood, sometimes this looks like going to public housing building to see residents or to a recreation center to oversee planning for the Summer Connect Series. After this, I usually get back to the office and finish up any tasks that can be wrapped up for the day, Then, I finish up the day and head to the bus stop to go home.

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

A typical day of work at East Greenmount Leadership Project is anything but typical. Our program works through a series of different life skills that aren’t taught in schools to young adults. Things like how to open a bank account, how to set up a Baltimore public library account, how to have healthy relationships (romantic or otherwise), and how to take care of your body mentally, physically, and emotionally. Because our program has such a broad range of goals, every day looks slightly different.

A few things are constant. When the youths first come in, we begin the day with an opening activity a check-in to see what they’re excited about for the day. This puts them in the right headspace to learn and have a good time that day. After the morning activity then we usually get into some physical activity. This could be yoga, a short exercise routine, or a brief sports game. Exercising helps meet our goal of maintaining a healthy body.

After exercising, the youths have a journaling exercise based on what they may be feeling or experiencing that day. Then they’re invited to share or not share depending on how comfortable they are discussing what they wrote. Journaling helps meet our goal of maintaining a healthy mind.

The rest of the day is what is less typical. It depends on what it is that we are working on that day and the availability of our partners who come in to help teach life skills to the youths. For example, if we are doing a resume workshop that day, the professional development partner will come in and help teach the youths how to write edit and maintain a resume, and what makes a good and bad resume. This sets them up for success when they begin applying for jobs. Our professional development activities helped meet our goal of maintaining a healthy life.

Overall, each day looks a little different, but is ultimately driven by the wants and needs of the youths.

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

When I’m not surveying the fields of the Northwood Baseball League or plugged into Zoom meetings with community partners, I’m at my desk in the Motor House (whose back wall anchors Graffiti Alley, the artistic destination of Station North) working on a map of community partners we’ve helped pro bono throughout Baltimore. The idea for this map stemmed from CIIP orientation, when we asked important questions about working conscientiously in the city. Are we supporting the Black Butterfly as much as the White L? Are we working with small community associations just as much as institutionalized nonprofits?

These questions were at the forefront of my mind when I first came to the office and reconciled a beautiful workspace in the flourishing Station North Arts District with NDC’s mission statement of helping disinvested residents. Interestingly, unlike many other CIIP locations, our office is located in the White L, not the Black Butterfly where we try to do most of our work. And during onboarding, when my supervisor showed me a list of all of our projects, I noticed that crucial information was missing. Addresses, council districts, and neighborhoods of each project were left blank. I wanted to see if our work had been as intentional as we thought, so I spent a lot of Week 1 and Week 2 retroactively filling the blanks. By Week 3, I was finally able to use mapping software to chart the projects together.

The results of this project were eye-opening. NDC has certainly done great pro bono work throughout the city, but the map made clear that our greatest impact has actually been in our own neighborhood of Station North — where we’ve worked with businesses and community partners that I can see from the office window. If we want to ensure that we represent all of Baltimore in future work, we should aim to leave the comfort of our immediate vicinity.

This map has also shown great things about our work. When I overlayed our projects over the specific Baltimore neighborhoods, I saw that we had high density in Penn North and Upton — both are neighborhoods that we explored during orientation! When I overlayed our projects over the city council districts, I saw that we’ve had a least a couple projects in each underinvested district. There was much worth celebrating.

CIIP and NDC have shown me that little activities like these — looking back and reflecting on our work — help us be more intentional and resourceful in the future. Though I’m not sure how we’ll use this map going forward, I hope it instilled important reflection amongst the staff members of NDC.

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

Week 3 done and I cannot believe how time has flown!
In some was, I feel very adjusted to work, in other ways, it is hard to believe that we are fast approaching the mid point of my internship as I reflect on what I have worked on and what I have gotten done so far this summer. As I continue to go into the office everyday and learn more, it seems like the things I can do and need to be done grow larger and larger, while time keeps ticking away. Though slightly intimidating, it is a good reminder that there are certain projects that need to be prioritized this summer, and that every day of work really does add up to this internship period.
A typical day at my placement starts with packing my lunch in my apartment, and making a smoothie for breakfast. I’ve gotten a pretty solid routine going on for my mornings, and it’s nice that my roommate follows a similar schedule (don’t have to feel to guilty about using the blender in the mornings!) I then hop onto the bus and listen to a podcast on the way to work. The commutes to and from work were definitely an adjustment, but have become really valuable parts of my day where I can recharge. I walk 6 blocks from the bus stop to my placement and stay there all day. Every morning I am greeted by Elaine who works the front desk, and we always talk about how we are doing. It has been so nice to start my days with her smiling face. I drop my lunch box in the fridge, make a cup of coffee, and head to my office. Now, the tasks differ from day to day, and I could be working on the website, researching past materials, or attending online webinars. I check in with my boss and office neighbor, Jenny, and we talk about work, current events, and random things that come up in the day. One thing I love about my office hallway is that everyone is always yelling over walls to talk to different people and have people stop by from other sections of the building to chat. The little conversations that are sprinkled throughout the day oftentimes become highlights.

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

So far there has not been a real typical day at my placement and this past week was definitely not normal. I finally went into the office for PBRC in person and also had my check in with Eli and Maca. The office space was very nice and I definitely got to learn more about the work and other staff that are usually there in person. We also got to get lunch at Artifact Coffee, which I will definitely be going back to because of the ambience and the food!! It was really good and I enjoyed the time I had with my supervisor to not do work and just get to know each other a bit better.

Also, towards the end of the day on Monday, Jade told me about the Right to Water Coalition for Baltimore and how they have meeting bimonthly. I decided that I should try and go, especially because I had a shorter week planned for work and wanted to learn something new! It was really insightful, but not super related to the PBRC work that we do now since it’s not as much legal as it is advocacy. Jade informed me that any advocacy work that PBRC does, needs to be approved by Sharon, the executive director of PBRC which I didn’t know earlier and thought it was interesting! I am going to help the Right to Water folks and Food & Water Watch with outreach, though, since I did a similar plan for the estate planning postcards we want to distribute. I also will begin to deliver those this week and next week for the clinic happening at the end of the month.

I did some more virtual work in Virginia and at home for the rest of the week, mainly making amendments to the grant spreadsheet, reading a bit more on the Water Equity and Accountability Act that I learned about from the RWC meeting. Jade and I had a great check-in also trying to figure out the trainings that I need to complete to start going to immigration court and assisting with those clinics. I had trouble setting it up with my password but Jade helped me through it and also shared one for the estate planning clinics we do so I can feel more prepared for when they happen.

I’m really excited for more in person days and wish I could have started this a few weeks ago but I am just happy to get started with things and become apart of PBRC in a different setting.


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

My day begins around 9:15am when I make my way to the purple Charm City Circulator stop from my house and hop onboard for the brief ride down to Station North. When I get to the office, Sombo, our intake specialist, always asks me if I want some breakfast (on Tuesdays and Thursdays she generously cooks for the whole office). I spend the first few minutes of each in-person day catching up with my fellow cubicle workers. I love hearing about Victoria’s 3-year-old son’s adventures and Sombo’s latest culinary creation. Mona Lisa always has good recommendations for what to do in West Baltimore for the coming weekend and funny stories from her role as a community organizer in Greater Mondawmin. Then, Maria, my supervisor, makes her way over to our little corner and we start to formulate a game plan for the rest of the day.

The work in the comprehensive community development department that I am a part of varies daily because our time in the office is entirely formed by the needs of the community. Some days, I am preparing PowerPoint presentations for community feedback meetings or NHS-led training on leadership in neighborhoods. On other days, I help low-income seniors fill out grant applications to get their houses renovated. Many of the clients I work with have been living without heat for years because their furnace is out, lack accessibility features in their homes, and need major repairs on their roofs, front porches, and windows. It is frustrating that these people, who have given so much to the community over the years, are left alone when they need the most help. Often, I spend the mornings supporting NHS’ community organizers with their “spruce-up grant” projects. While as small as a community fridge or a little neighborhood garden, these projects are integral to keeping West Baltimore neighborhoods beautiful and fostering neighborhood unity. I have become a self-taught Canva expert, designing marketing and outreach materials for the mobile toolkit, community fridge, and calling for landscaping help for NHS’ properties awaiting renovation.

While my mornings are largely spent behind my desk, my afternoons are spent out and about in the Greater Mondawmin and Rosemont neighborhoods with my supervisor. We have distributed door knockers to notify the community of our foreclosure prevention programs, spread the word on NHS open houses, and talked to people about our home rehab loan and grant programs. While I am grateful for all of the projects I get to work on NHS, I have valued my time spent out in the community with my supervisor the most. I have loved talking to neighbors and hearing directly from them about the history of these neighborhoods and what they envision for the future. I return home from my in-person days at NHS exhausted but happy. All of the work is so interesting and I am learning so much. The summer is flying by and I can’t wait for what the next few weeks have in store.