2022 Week 4: Neighborhood/Community Organizing

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

My goals for the summer started out with a very clear cut list of outcomes I wanted to have from this internship (e.g. write a grant, create nutrition lessons, organize an event). But more recently, I’ve realized that although I’m super busy all week, acting as a helping hand for youth camp, working on the volunteer recruitment guide, having meetings with people, planning for events, learning how to write grants, purchasing and putting together materials for my table, etc, these actions don’t often lead to measurable results. It often feels like I haven’t accomplished anything because of that, even though I know I’ve worked really hard all week.

This is especially apparent because coming from the STEM world, any research I did had data associated with it, and every class and homework I did had a grade associated with it, while this internship doesn’t. That is something I am struggling with because even when I describe my work to friends and family I feel a pressure to embellish it so it sounds like I’m accomplishing way more that I am just to kind of justify the amount of time I’m spending without clear results.

However, when I reassess my goals now, I realize I have genuinely enjoyed and been passionate about the work I’m doing. I am still learning everything I wanted to (grant writing, event planning, understanding nonprofit work, developing relationships) whether or not I tick off the list I had made at the beginning of the summer. Also, I have had incredibly fulfilling intangible results. For example, I have developed great relationships with the kids at summer camp and my supervisor, I have been reflecting about aspects of my identity and how that fits into Baltimore, I have developed a deeper understanding of my career goals and why I have chosen them. I have also gained a lot more independence and comfort in the unknown/unexpected results.

So in short, yes, my goals have changed significantly from the start of summer, and though it’s hard to put exactly into words what I have accomplished or what I have learned, I still recognize that it has been very meaningful and formative.

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

Looking back to the start of my internship, my goals have mainly stayed the same. I started with very broad goals of growing as an organizer, gaining experience in various areas of work, and developing a relationship with the Baltimore community. As the summer comes to a close, I feel that I have dipped my toe in accomplishing these goals as I plan to continue to try to meet them during my time at Hopkins. However, through my experience at CBP I have been able to attend community picnics and chat and eat with residents. I have visited homes, been to schools, and met with local politicians. Secondly, I have expanded my view of organizing as before I only had grass roots organizing experience, but through CBP, I have been able to see how an indirect service provider functions as well as how they interact with grass roots organizations, government, and institutions. I have also been exposed to areas of work such as urban planning, community development, and health communications. I’m thankful to be in the process of meeting my goals, however, I find myself wanting to explore more of community public health. Throughout working on CBP’s public health initiatives, I have discovered aspects of public health that are so intimate, personal, and intertwined with social work. Before my time ends there, I want to effortly try to work on some of these initiatives. In order to meet this goal, I plan to foster a close mentorship relationship with my placement’s public health director and to try to make community connections that extend beyond the summer.

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

My goals for the summer were to provide a curriculum for Greenmount East Leadership Project. I wanted to bring in people to help our youth learn life skills that they don’t otherwise get in the Baltimore City School system. I wanted to bring in experts to teach courses and create a lasting program to help benefit the Greenmount youth who came through our program.

In my time at Greenmount East Leadership, I’ve realized that teaching life skills from an authoritative position is not what our youth need. Yes, life skills are important, and I’m proud of the curriculum we’ve built for this summer, but our youth deserve someone to talk to, a resource to confide in, to help provide a guiding hand and open ears.

At the end of each day, we ask the youth what they liked and disliked about that day. Every day at school, they get talked at, given worksheets, and forced to sit quietly. That’s not what Greenmount East Leadership Project is about. In getting to know the youth, I’ve learned they want a more hands on curriculum. Where they can practice the skills they’re learning, not just sit quietly and memorize them.

On Wednesday, we did a communication workshop. After reviewing active listening, and assertive communication, we did an activity where they got to practice both. Watching the youth show their new skills and put them into practice was so much more beneficial for them, for me, and for the program, than simply providing them with resources.

My goals have changed from wanting to provide a curriculum, to wanting to provide experience with these skills, and help our youth flourish in practice, not just in concept.

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

This week of CIIP was the closest thing I’ve had to a midlife crisis in my young, spry life. Insofar, I’ve taken the long dog days of summer for granted. I’ve assumed there’s infinite time to do all of the things I want to do and make all of the impacts I want to make. If I haven’t tried some new restaurants, no problem! If I haven’t done a big community engagement event with NDC yet, no problem! The summer is young (or so I thought), and time is on my side.

Then, as I gulped down Camden Yard hot dogs at our CIIP midpoint event (shoutout to Kate Overbey for beating me in a hot dog eating contest, and shoutout to the Orioles for their 8 game win streak), I realized that time has morphed from my friend to my enemy. Half the summer is gone! If I don’t get my act together quick, I can’t brag to friends next semester about how much more I know about Baltimore than they do (just kidding, sort of).

This prompted me to change my attitude about both my work and my pleasure. First on the agenda was reaching out to some of the NDC staff, inquiring about any community engagement positions I can help fill before summer subsides to fall. Though I’ve grown a great appreciation for my office, for my co-workers, and for Station North, I don’t feel like I’ve gained much depth in the greater Baltimore area — largely because NDC has slowed down on community engagement in recent weeks. I hope to change that.

Second on the agenda was being much more intentional and cognizant of how I spend my personal time. There are so many places I want to explore — Druid Hill Park, Fort McHenry, even Washington, DC — and I need to lift myself up to make it happen. No longer can I assume that plans will fall into my lap; I need to preemptively make them. I already have a DC trip planned for Tuesday that never would’ve happened without my quasi-midlife crisis. Let’s keep that momentum going!

After this week, I plan on taking more initiative to make this CIIP summer transformative in my relationship with Baltimore. I need to take full advantage of the resources at my disposal.

And let this be a formal notice that I challenge Kate Overbey to a hot dog eating contest rematch. Any time, any place. Rules are simple: two hot dogs, one Dixie cup of water, and a whole lot of tenacity. May the best Neighborhood/Community Organizing intern win.

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

Week 4!
It is bittersweet to see how far into the internship we are out now. As time ticks away, I feel the pressure to get all my tasks done that I had set out to do this summer. I feel like Ive been saying it every week, but it rings true as we get closer to the end. In terms of achieving all the tasks and goals that I intended to, it is only natural to reflect on my goals for this summer and see if any had changed or the progress Ive made on them. In terms of getting professional experience and living through a “real adult job,” I feel like I am definitely on track and continue to learn more. I see this is the commute and having to communicate with coworkers and prioritizing different tasks throughout the day. I feel like I have been adjusting well and gain confidence as I try new things and learn more.

I came into this internship pretty open, hoping mostly to learn more and I feel as though everything has lived up to that expectation. I have gotten some new goals and takeaways, especially in terms of interpersonal connections. Every time I get to hang out with the cohort, I am reminded of the value of surrounding yourself with inspirational, knowledgeable people. I have been learning that I enjoy small talk, but also sometimes you need to determine times when you have to create your own space. These importances are something that I will be sure to remember post graduating and going into the next chapter of my life.

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

The goals that I made at the beginning of the summer are a little bit different, or delayed at least. I’m learning so much about law and immigration law specifically, estate and property law, as well as how that works when it comes to public interest/ public service. I’ve been so lucky to have access to great training that has educated me for free on these topics and also typically are meant for practicing attorneys. Further, I wish I could have had some more in person training and work, which I would have had if it wasn’t for my COVID and some traveling that I did. I really want to talk to clients!! I hope I get the adequate opportunities throughout the rest of this summer to pursue that goal and gain the experiences I would have otherwise lost.
Also, to share an update- last week I spoke to Cate at PBRC who manages the Maryland Immigrant Legal Assistance Project (MILAP), which is not a PBRC specific project and works with many other groups and organizations doing immigrant rights work. We discussed what the court would look like and how that would best fit my schedule for the summer, since I mostly work with the Housing Preservation Project (HPP), as well as what my goals look like. Since one of the main goals I did have was to attend court and be able to learn more about practicing law in that setting, I was so excited about this opportunity and Cate also seemed to share that excitement with me which I was grateful for. I’d need to complete the interpreter training and also some Immigration Legal triage trainings, since the representation and advocacy that PBRC does is more on the short-term scale. I really wanted to be prepared, and while I have been in courtrooms advocating mostly on immigration style proceedings and witnessing people get deported right then and there, this will be different since I’m in a different position than before with a trusted organization that has done much of this style of work for many years. Further, I will also be going into court likely 2 times a week, considering that there are not that many in person commitments and much of my HPP work with Jade is remote.

Overall, I am just really excited to learn and grow from this, and do what I can to support the clients I encounter in the next few weeks. Maybe immigration law and court will be for me, maybe it won’t. Maybe court and litigation work will be for me, maybe it won’t. That’s why this internship means so much to me because these experiences are one of a kind and the support is also unique to this program. I’m growing and learning to figure out what my role can be in this legal realm and guide people towards safer futures, one that works for them and where they are protected and knowledgeable about their rights. I just can’t believe that we are already more than halfway done with the summer, but hopefully that can push me to really take advantage of every moment and learning opportunity that comes my way.


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

Coming into this summer, my main goal was to engage with the Baltimore communities impacted by the systemic issues of disinvestment, housing segregation, food apartheid, and over-policing that I have learned about in my public health and sociology classes. In engaging with these communities, I also hoped to explore and experience more of Baltimore’s neighborhoods by attending NHS-sponsored community events outside the White L. Finally, I hoped to learn about the day-to-day operations of a non-profit and how it functions and interacts with parent organizations, funders, other local non-profits, and the public and private sectors.

I am so grateful to my supervisor and my NHS family for helping me make significant progress toward those goals in just 4 weeks at the organization. Through door-knocking outreach, showing open houses, tabling at a farmer’s market, and new-construction celebrations, I have spent a significant portion of my hours thus far in the Greater Mondawmin and Rosemont neighborhoods of West Baltimore where NHS’ work is concentrated. These neighborhoods are full of history and culture, and most of the residents I have spoken to have deep roots in the community and many stories to share. I was lucky enough to get a taste of West Baltimore through the vendors at the new Walbrook Mill food hall. I still drool just thinking about the catfish nuggets and lump crab-baked potatoes. I got to experience the area’s natural beauty by tabling at the Druid Hill Farmer’s Market at the Rawlings Conservatory and buying soaps from a local small business. Finally, I am grateful to have met the people of West Baltimore who have welcomed me onto their porch while I am spreading information about NHS’ services with my supervisor. These folks often share both their frustration with the disinvestment and vacant housing in their communities but remain hopeful for better days to come- largely in part to the collaboration between these communities and NHS.

When I am not out in the community, NHS has done an incredible job providing me a behind-the-scenes look at the day-to-day operations of a non-profit. Throughout my first two weeks, I spoke with a member of every department of NHS- from intake specialists to real estate acquisition, to grant writers. I am grateful to my coworkers for taking the time to introduce me to their specific role at NHS, and even more appreciative of their efforts to show me how the different departments connect to each other, and specifically to the comprehensive community development team that I am a part of this summer. These conversations both helped me wrap my head around the complicated nature of nonprofits and figure out what my role in the well-oiled machine of NHS is this summer.

Moving forward, I hope to be able to frame the housing-specific work that I am doing with NHS into the bigger picture of urban planning and thoughtful community development that I am interested in. The best way to achieve this will be through continuing to have conversations with my coworkers and the residents of West Baltimore who are the true experts in this area. By summer’s end, I want to be able to effectively communicate all that I have learned at NHS with my peers at Hopkins so that others in some small way, can learn about our Baltimore neighborhoods and communities as well.