Carlos Gamboa | CIIP 2023 Blog Portfolio

Orientation Week

This week, I experienced orientation from a new perspective, developing different skills than as an intern. Last summer, orientation was simultaneously disorienting and validating. I started the week knowing almost no one and worrying about the summer; however, by the end of the week, I had forged strong friendships and felt prepared to work my first full-time job. I also learned invaluable historical, political, social, and cultural information about Baltimore City. Coupled with presentations about interpersonal skills and best practices in community work, this information proved fundamental to my future interactions with Baltimore residents.
As a peer mentor, though, orientation was no mystery to me: by Monday, I had already reviewed the schedule, planned the activities, and practiced facilitating my assigned presentations. Besides minor variations, the orientation’s content was roughly the same as last summer, and I was slightly worried that I would be less engaged as a result. However, my familiarity with the material was ultimately a blessing in disguise, allowing me to focus on developing and refining new and emerging skills. Guiding my mentees through orientation provided me with leadership experience, teaching me when to step back, step up, or delegate. Luckily, my mentees are an unbelievably attentive, kind, and dedicated bunch, so I felt safe and confident from the start. Leadership now feels more natural to me, which will serve me well during the summer and beyond. Additionally, orientation deepened my pre-existing understanding of Baltimore City and its challenges, such as the relationship between Baltimore and Johns Hopkins and the enduring effects of racist policies on city residents. Facilitating rather than simply participating in discussions allowed me to think dynamically about key concepts and draw connections with my experiences last summer. This opportunity for reflection not only strengthened my passion for community service, but also consolidated my capacity to do so respectfully and effectively. Lastly, I now have a heightened appreciation for all the work that goes into structuring and implementing orientation. In addition to meetings during the academic year, the peer mentors flew back to Baltimore early to help buy supplies and set up. Naturally, this was sometimes tiring, but it was immensely satisfying to see our hard work pay off. That said, the program assistants and staff at the Center for Social Concern put in even more effort on the administrative side, and it does not go unnoticed! I hope to develop the leadership and organizational skills necessary to fill such a complex role in the future.

Week 1

My first week at my placement, the Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP), went by more quickly than I expected. Although much of my time was dedicated to on-boarding and programmatic work, it was nonetheless fulfilling: I forged relationships with the staff and fellow interns, familiarized myself CBP’s current initiatives, and adjusted to my new routine and professional responsibilities. However, the experience that affected me the most this week occurred not at work, but during my walk home.
It was about 4 PM, and I was exhausted. I contemplated taking a nap, but I did not have enough time that afternoon, as I needed to run some errands. Against my better judgement, I decided to buy an energy drink at the first store I saw, which happened to be a gas station. This gas station would be entirely unremarkable if not for the drug market in the parking lot. The sales mainly take place in an ever-present trailer, with buyers entering through one door and exiting through another. During the day, a surprisingly conspicuous “open” sign is displayed in the window; at night, the sign is flipped to the side that reads “closed” Used needles and empty baggies litter the sidewalk. The market’s customers often gather on the curb, chatting with one another and smoking cigarettes. I catch the bus home in front of this gas station every day, and it always draws my attention. As I wait, I note any changes to the area and watch as people come and go. If I have time, I like to stop and talk to the folks on the curb, who are generally kind and outgoing. I have never once felt unsafe there: instead, I am happy to build relationships with community members, especially given the stigma around drug use and addiction.
At the same time, I was curious about the gas station’s store, which I had never been inside of. The owners had to be aware of the drug market: why did they allow it to operate on the property? As I approached the gas station that a, I hoped not only to get an energy boost, but also to understand how the market continues to operate. When I walked through the door, I first noticed was the bullet-proof glass separating the cashier from the rest of the store, which is common in Baltimore. The second thing I noticed was significantly more jarring: the shelves were completely empty. I looked around for a drink cooler but found no products of any kind. Puzzled, I walked up to the counter and peered through the glass, where I found the only item available in the entire store: cigarettes. I opened my mouth to ask the cashier a question, but I couldn’t think of one. I left without saying a word.
After this experience, I no longer wanted an energy drink. I went home and took a nap.
Through my studies in public health, I consider myself well-educated about the issues Baltimore faces, including substance abuse and food insecurity. That said, there are limitations to what can be taught in a classroom. Graphs displaying that Baltimore City has a high rate of overdose deaths or maps indicating that certain areas are suffering due to food apartheid (“food deserts”) fail to capture the full picture. Without firsthand experience in a community, it is impossible to truly understand or solve its challenges. For instance, if I was looking at online data, I never would have known that the drug market existed. Though this requires time and commitment, it is more than worth it. I can think of nothing more fulfilling than to get to know and work alongside community residents to positively affect others’ health in the long run.

Week 2

This week, I encountered an unexpected, but familiar challenge: getting sick. Though the illness was not serious, it was unpleasant, forcing me to work remotely for two days. This proved to be the most difficult adjustment for me this week.
During the last few years, I learned that I perform poorly in online environments. This came as a surprise to me: at least in theory, what could be better than working from home? It is more comfortable, and less taxing, than sitting in a cubicle. There is no need to get dressed up, commute, or pack lunch. Staying home also provides flexibility: I can set my own pace and take a break at any time. However, the superiority of remote work is illusory: while appealing at first, it presents myriad obstacles that, in my case, are insurmountable. My most immediate challenge is to remain focused. Despite my strong dislike for cubicles, I must admit that they help me focus: I have no desire to stay longer than I need to and have little else to do besides my work. If I am working in my room, however, there is always something more appealing to focus on, reducing my productivity. My only solutions to this problem are to complete my remote work outside the home, such as at the library, or recreate uncomfortable conditions in my house, usually by working on the floor. At that point, though, I might as well just work in-person. That said, online work’s biggest pitfall is the lack of human contact. This isolation not only prevents me from getting to know my coworkers and local community, but also devastates my mental health, causing me to feel disconnected from others and lonely.
Thankfully, my internship with the Central Baltimore Partnership is usually in-person. I spend my days either at the office or in meetings with community partners throughout Central Baltimore. The in-person format presents several challenges, including packing myself lunch, commuting, and remaining focused in a cubicle for seven to eight hours. However, the benefits of working in-person easily outweigh the drawbacks. Commuting through the city, while sometimes frustrating, has introduced me to many new restaurants, shops, parks, and neighborhoods. Working in the office provides opportunities to bond with coworkers and supervisors, whether through collaboration on projects or simply chatting by the coffee machine. Perhaps most importantly, working in-person allows me to truly immerse myself in the community. It is much easier to forge lasting and meaningful connections in real life than online; additionally, some residents will only trust outsiders if they consistently show up in the community, as most volunteers do not stick around for long. Ultimately, there is no substitute for in-person work: whether planning a project with a community partner, talking with a resident at the bus stop, or just walking around the neighborhood, showing up in-person is by far the best practice, especially in community work.

Week 3

As an intern for the Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP), I spend most of the day in my cubicle at the office. Generally, I despise offices, and cubicles even more so. However, myriad positive attributes make CBP’s office an exception to this rule. Notably, my “cubicle” is only one corner of a larger, four-person cubicle in the center of the office. I share this “super cubicle” with another CIIP intern, the Station North Arts District manager, and a rotating cast of part-time staff and interns. The cubicle’s central location and open design provide me with countless opportunities to interact with the office’s other occupants, including my supervisor, CBP employees, and staff from the other non-profits that share the space. This proximity to my co-workers facilitates forging new connections, both professional and personal, and makes it easy for me to ask questions or seek guidance when necessary. Additionally, the office’s range of amenities make my shifts quite comfortable. Unlike my last placement, this office has a communal kitchen with a coffeemaker, microwave, and refrigerator, allowing me to pack lunch and consistently satisfy my raging caffeine addiction.

Another advantage of CBP’s office is its location in the heart of the Station North Arts District, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite neighborhoods in Baltimore. The abundance of murals, theaters, events, stores, and restaurants, coupled with Baltimore’s omnipresent eccentric charm, make Station North an excellent choice for outings with friends, family, and dates alike. In fact, I brought a group of friends to the Station North Art Walk this past Friday: despite intermittent rain, we had a great time! Lastly, between breaks and meetings, I rarely spend the entire day at the office, thereby preventing me from getting tired of it. By regularly eating lunch at a local restaurant, I treat myself to some good food and fresh air while supporting small businesses. More importantly, though, I attend multiple meetings each week, many of which take place off-site at local schools, recreational centers, housing facilities, and non-profits. These meetings, as well as my walk to and from them with my supervisor, provide me with countless opportunities to directly interact with and explore the community. These experiences not only deepen my understanding of the neighborhoods CBP works in, but also offers some much-needed respite from the cubicle.

Week 4

As I have settled into my role at the Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP), my initially broad and ill-defined goals have grown more specific and realistic. Though I am on-track to accomplish, or have already accomplished, most of my goals, I have had to temper some of my expectations due to time constraints and limited personal capacity.
My most general hope for this internship was that it would allow me to learn about how non-profit organizations operate and discover if I enjoy working with them, thereby narrowing down my career options. I will be attending graduate school in a few years, and choosing a course of study requires at least a vague conception of my professional aspirations. I achieved this goal over the course of my first few weeks: I observed the grant application process, attended myriad meetings with community partners and CBP staff, read through yearly organizational reports, and helped organize several community projects. This knowledge will surely serve me well in any career I pursue, but ultimately, I decided that I prefer working in government over non-profits. This should not be read as a slight: CBP is a wonderful organization that has a vast positive impact on Central Baltimore and its residents. However, I have found that my aptitude for written and oral communication; persuasion of key stakeholders; “herding cats”, or organizing diverse groups of busy individuals; and public policy design, implementation, and evaluation, are best suited for a government position.

For the duration of my internship, I will be working towards my remaining goals, most of which I expect to fulfill. Generally, I will continue to explore how CBP functions and solidify my existing knowledge about non-profits. My benchmark for this goal is rather flexible: I can only learn so much in one summer, so I am not worried about falling short. Additionally, I am committed to completing both my programmatic work, tasks assigned to me by my supervisor, and independent project, research about interventions to increase access to healthy food in corner stores. By handling programmatic tasks, which range from attending meetings to creating models connecting community projects to CBP’s theory of social change, I help alleviate my supervisor’s workload and gain valuable professional experience. I am on-track to complete my programmatic work; however, I may have to temper my expectations for my independent project. I initially set out to create a comprehensive intervention model for increasing access to healthy food in Baltimore. However, I now realize that I may not have time to produce a fully functional model; furthermore, I am only an undergraduate student, so I do not feel qualified to propose a real-world intervention yet. Instead, I will compile guidelines for designing, implementing, and evaluating a corner store intervention by determining the barriers to healthy food access in Baltimore, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of past intervention models, and adjusting these models to Central Baltimore’s specific conditions. My research about best practices for healthy corner store initiatives could then be revised by public health professionals and, hopefully, serve as the foundation of a future intervention. Therefore, even though I had to revise my goals somewhat, I believe that I will nonetheless feel fulfilled at my internship’s conclusion.

Week 5

Throughout my internship with the Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP), I have developed and refined a variety of professional skills, including communication, public health intervention design, and program evaluation. I even learned how to create informational maps! Perhaps most importantly, though, I have had two realizations about myself that have significantly altered my career goals.
My first, and broadest, conclusion was that I prefer working in government over non-profits. During my time with CBP, I have paid close attention to how non-profits operate, both in the long-term and from day-to-day: I observed the grant application process, attended meetings with community partners, read through yearly reports, and helped organize or support several community projects. While I both enjoyed and learned a lot from these experiences, I felt more “in my element” at the office of Councilmember Cohen last summer. That is not to say that I have felt lost or incapable at CBP: my communication, persuasion, organizational, and policy design skills are equally suited for government or non-profit positions. That said, affecting widespread change through public policy and representing constituent voices that would otherwise go unheard is more fulfilling to me. Honestly, I also crave the excitement of politics: uncertainty and conflict bring out my ingenuity, flexibility, and perseverance. Even so, the government frequently collaborates with non-profits, so my familiarity with them will serve me well.
I had another crucial realization last week while visiting a public housing facility in Central Baltimore. My supervisor and I have been supporting a free blood pressure testing program along the Greenmount Corridor, which has disproportionately high rates of chronic disease. Testing was supposed to be available at the housing complex on that day; however, due to internal miscommunication, the partner organization’s staff failed to materialize. Although we were slightly frustrated, we decided to make the best of the situation by spreading the word about the program. We ultimately spent an hour and a half asking residents if they wanted their blood pressure tested and signing them up for the next testing event. Of course, we also made plenty of unrelated conversation, chatting about everything from residents’ hobbies to their personal challenges. In the process, I realized that I am most satisfied when directly interacting with and supporting members of my community. At CBP, I spend most of my shifts in the office focusing on higher-level intervention design, implementation, and evaluation. While I find this work intellectually stimulating, I feel more fulfilled when frequently interacting with the community and lending an ear to whatever is on their mind. I will keep this preference in mind while searching for jobs in the future.

Week 7

As an umbrella organization, the Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP) is defined by intersectionality and collaboration. CBP applies for government grants or funding from donor organizations, which it then distributes to partner organizations. Community partners use this funding to create programs and interventions: though CBP provides support, it ultimately relies on these partners for implementation.
Therefore, not only has CBP collaborated with other placements, but there is boundless potential for future cooperation. In fact, the Station North Arts District, another CIIP placement, is a part of the Central Baltimore Partnership; their intern sits across from me at the office! CBP is dedicated to the revitalization of Central Baltimore, and the Arts District furthers this goal by attracting investment, supporting Baltimore-based artists, and promoting local events. Additionally, CBP cooperates with many community centers and schools on youth programming, several of which are CIIP placements. For instance, my supervisor and I met with the Village Learning Place’s staff last week to learn how we can better support their after-school programs. One of their priorities was collaborating with a nearby school: given CBP’s extensive connections in the community, we often facilitate communication between partners that may not have collaborated otherwise. Overall, our support of youth programming furthers CBP’s vision for Central Baltimore by providing professional and personal development opportunities. Lastly, as part of CBP’s public health initiative, GLOW, we partner extensively with local health clinics and hospitals. For example, I spent last Tuesday afternoon visiting one of our partner organization’s programs: free blood pressure testing at public housing facilities. We both provided funding for this initiative and facilitated communication between the healthcare clinic and interested housing complexes. In the future, CBP could partner with other CIIP placements in the health sector to expand service provision, provide educational programming, or advocate for policy changes.