Emily Baca | CIIP 2023 Blog Portfolio
Posted: July 5, 2023
Going into orientation, I fiddled with the ruffles on the collar of my shirt and kept questioning if I should have worn brown shoes instead of black ones. I sped walk to FastForward U, feeling tinges of nervousness and excitement simultaneously. After grabbing an everything bagel abundantly filled with cream cheese, I met my mentor Frank, and the other interns in my group. From that point forward, it was the start of a week overflowing with knowledge, first-hand experience, and preparation for my work with the Hampden Family Center.
The first speaker was a great introduction to some of the history behind Baltimore and Hopkins, which set the scene for further information provided throughout orientation. On the second day, a speaker from MOMCARES questioned what our three core values were, in which I chose empathy, love, and patience. We were given only a couple of minutes to decide upon these values, which was difficult for me to choose. What did I value the most? What represented my perspectives genuinely? This was a great exercise to delve into more meaningful thoughts and discover the driving factors for my interest in community work.
The scavenger hunt was my favorite day of orientation, in which I brought my reliable walking shoes and sporty shorts to prepare for a day of running around Baltimore. Originally, our group (soon to be named CIIPy), thought of the scavenger hunt as a competition, with a secret prize at the end. Immediately, we started solving riddles, mapping out routes, and encouraging each other to get in the mindset of winning this “competition.” We ran through Lexington market, Edgar Allen Poe’s grave, and talked to Baltimore residents about how to get to the Phoenix Shot Tower on the orange line bus. The most memorable moment was when we reached the Arch Social Club. After exiting the subway, we skipped up the escalator and entered a scene I was not quite expecting: streets filled with people yelling profanities, the ground littered with trash, and some of the buildings near dilapidation. And although the scene was a bit daunting, we walked up and down the street looking for the Arch Social Club. A group noticed we were utterly lost and told us the correct directions. We eventually left to go back on the subway to our next destination, but I was reminded of how valuable an experience it is to see, not just hear, about some of the issues plaguing Baltimore. Yes, the streets were dirty, and I felt a bit uncomfortable, but I felt grateful to know that a random group of people helped us with directions. With a different scene, would I have felt safer? Why do I judge my sense of security on graffiti on the walls? Many thoughts were going through my head, and I was unsure how to untangle the knots. I think this summer will be filled with becoming more aware of myself, of Baltimore, and of the relationship between the city and Hopkins.
On Monday, I walked into the Hampden Family Center (HFC) and felt excited about my summer work to start! I was greeted by a CIIP alum, Aaron, who took me under his wing for the day. Soon, I was welcomed by the other HFC staff who explained to me the goals of the day: reorganization and preparation. We walked over to the classroom where all the enrichment activities would take place, half the walls were a sunset orange and the other a light grey. Picture frames containing flowers, fire trucks, Godzilla, and encouraging quotes lined the wooden shelves; Painted suns, clay figurines, and a myriad of books laid scattered throughout the room. The first task was to throw away all the old art projects and find a new way to organize the books. Going through all the books made me a bit nostalgic because after starting college, I lost touch with my love for reading. Halfway through, I asked Aaron and a coworker, Christian, to grab a small lunch with me at a café called Common Ground. After they agreed, we made our way over and passed by a homeless man on the street, screaming to himself. I moved to the side, and Christian mentioned how he knew the man when he was in high school. He was intelligent, a conversationalist, and played the ukulele. But Christian recalled he didn’t scream to himself before, that it was a recent development about two years back. It put this man in a different perspective, did he not seek help because he couldn’t afford it? After we had some coffee and sandwiches at Common Ground, it started pouring outside. Although we trudged through the rain, that was my favorite part of the day. The rain felt refreshing, and I was filled with giddiness as Aaron and Christian joked about how the kids at HFC would complain non-stop about the rain if they were there.
Tuesday to Thursday was remote for all workers at HFC, so I worked on possible lesson plans and teaching topics for the upcoming enrichment program in July. On Friday, I grabbed a rhubarb scone for Ken and a chocolate almond croissant for myself at Maillard Patisserie. After arriving, I was able to learn more about how food distribution is conducted from 12-1 pm. A variety of canned goods such as corn or peas and milk was given to adults who came into the office. Everyone who came in was extremely grateful and made short conversation with Ken and I. At around 1, I left for the day, but was looking forward to next week!
This week felt short and sweet for me! On Monday, my team had the day off for Juneteenth, so I was able to enjoy time at home with some friends. On Tuesday, I came into the center and started off my day with some light reading of the book, “The Other Wes Moore,” as I came in early. Once my teammates arrived, we discussed the timing of next week, in which the children will come in to start the summer! Afterward, I worked on my enrichment block for the summer, and we finalized our schedule for the program. On Wednesday specifically, we talked more about logistical goals, such as who would lead different sections, and how to distribute food. I put on some tunes on Thursday and organized the entire bookshelf with colored dots! My coworkers said they want to emphasize the importance of reading this summer, and the first step is to make the library attractive.
One challenge I am anticipating when the children come into the center is leading a large group while having them be attentive and respectful to my instructions. Although I have extensively worked with children throughout my life, I have never worked a 9-5 Monday through Friday leading group sessions. I am hoping that I will be consistent with my energy levels, but I am confident I will have a fun time overall. Truthfully, this week has been a bit slow because the children have yet to come into the station, but I am optimistic about creating good habits and working on my time management. As of right now, I am used to an in-person work environment, especially with my one-on-one interactions in the clubs Tutorial Project and Best Buddies. However, I am keeping an open mind to what may happen when the summer program starts
This morning, I jumped out of bed, rolled up the blinds, and started to get ready for the first day of meeting the children at HFC! I sped-walked through the dog park after I spent most of my morning cleaning the mess I made for breakfast and skipped up the stairs of HFC once I arrived. Entering the classroom, I felt a bit winded from my journey over, so I took a second to put my belongings away and then started to introduce myself to each of the children individually. The first student I talked to was a girl named Coda, she was moving back and forth on her feet as she talked to the rest of the counselors. Then, there was Michael, Joel, Claudia, and Abby. Soon, Jaelyn barged into the room with noticeable confidence, only being 5 years old. The agenda of the day included playtime at the park, an enrichment activity with Art with a Heart, lunch, a trip to the pool, a reading session, one last enrichment block, and finally, free time!
At the playground, Claudia, Abby, and Coda tried to teach me how to do a split, which I failed miserably. Then, we continued to run around, play hangman, and throw a frisbee until it was time to go back inside. I soon earned the name, Miss Emily, and the children would ask me to sit next to them during activities. I loved getting to know the students more, emotionally and personally, as I was initially nervous about leading a group from 9-5 Monday to Thursday. I would slowly become more drained throughout the day, as the kids were filled with boundless energy, but it would soon be reading time. Claudia, Abby, and Coda were all apprehensive about reading, claiming they “hated” it, but I could tell they were joking. I would read out loud to them in the quiet room, a separate space perfect for relaxing and away from the cacophony of noise in the classroom. After starting a story from the book series, “I Survived”, we entered the final enrichment block where the children could practice photography, coding, or creative writing. Coda chose photography, and she recorded random snippets of herself and her friends dancing, cracking jokes, and laughing. Soon, she asked me to state my name in front of the camera, to which I replied, Miss Emily, and then playfully inquired if she could look up my nostril. I laughed loudly at that, such a random, funny request, and I am reminded why I love to work with kids. I love the bubbling energy, contagious smiles, and enjoying the purest joy out of the smallest interactions or activities. As I continue working with HFC, I know that I will face challenges, but I always remember the happiness I feel when interacting with children.
On Wednesday, I started off the day with a loving hug from Jaelyn and Abby when they ran over to me as I entered the Hampden Family Center. I was feeling especially excited, today was the day we would go to Patapsco Valley State Park and embrace nature! I was ecstatic to share my love for the outdoors with the children, so we planned a day packed with activities such as tent building, roasting smores, and a short hike to see a river. As HFC loaded into the yellow school bus outside, we started our short journey to the park. On the bus, I sat next to Jaelyn, who was wearing a denim dress with a light blue T-shirt. Half-way through, she called me over and exclaimed, “A bug!” She reached over to let the bug resting on the seat behind us crawl onto her hand, an almost unnoticeable black speck. She gently played with the bug, treating it with care. This moment stood out to me because typically, we look at insects with disgust, fear, or apathy, unless it’s something appearing conventionally attractive, like a ladybug or butterfly. But Jaelyn noticed this little bug and made it her temporary friend, which I thought was a beautiful idea in itself.
One thing I did not account for: the heat. It was dreadfully hot, and the children would complain about scorching temperatures and the bright sun. The counselors and I tried our best to entertain them with the activities planned, but it was difficult at times. Although the heat was an unexpected barrier to the day, I could tell the kids felt joy by creating very messy (but scrumptious) smores, playing inside the tent, trying on disproportionately sized backpacking bags, and seeing the water at the end of our hike. Not all can go as planned, and I like being reminded that everything turns out all alright even with missteps.
Working with kids, life feels dynamic. Something new happens every day, such as Jaelyn gifting me with her favorite scrunchie spontaneously, or Claudia, who previously felt averse to reading, ecstatically explaining what happened in the book she completed. Other moments remind me of the educational disparities that seep through Baltimore’s soil. In a particular instance, one of the students, who was 8 years old, said she could not read and therefore hated it. After convincing her to read a book with me, she chose a short story about a young, black girl who wanted her hair to be perfect for the arrival of her mother. This student felt captured by the story, exclaiming the illustrations had the same hair as her, and commenting on how she hated some of the hairstyles the character tried on. Once the session was over, I felt both tinges of joy, because of the elation the student felt while reading, and a bit of exasperation of the system that did not teach her to read. I am reminded that educational barriers go deeper than what meets the eye and remember other social determinants that have impacted this child’s intellectual development. I am still grappling with some of my thoughts, trying to understand Baltimore’s complex relationship with its people, with Hopkins, and its history, but I know that I am taking away valuable experiences from my time at the Hampden Family Center.
A phrase to describe this week: abundant with learning. A quintessential example of growth for the children was during our field trip to the Baltimore Museum of Industry. The first activity we embarked on was understanding/ participating in an assembly line (one that modeled how cars were made during the early 1900s). The kids were assigned to different tasks such as stamping wheels onto paper or folding the edges of a box to create the frame of a car. Some of them were immediately bored of their task and wanted to switch to another, others were curious about every job and sought to try each. The moral stays the same: the students were taught a new, obscure concept about the way cars were made, and were able to adapt to work together to procure a handmade car.
I reflected on myself this week intently, as I wanted to emulate the same adaptivity that I could see from the kids. When I looked back at the activities I did this week, such as gardening, coloring, and reading, I took a valuable lesson from the things I decided not to partake in. I have the propensity to feel as if I need to do something at every moment, whether that be interacting with the children, cleaning a table, or settling disputes. I realized that I would become drained very quickly. I would feel the tiredness sink in but would continue to participate in everything I could to contribute efficaciously to the goals of HFC. But a crucial part of putting my best foot forward was understanding not everything has to be in constant motion. I prioritized small breaks in between pool time, or after a reading session, to eat a snack or just be on my own. This is how I am becoming more well-rounded; I know how to appropriately and authentically play with the children but also learned that personal time is invaluable. As I enter my last couple of weeks with HFC, I am excited to see myself grow and the children continue to enrich themselves with knowledge.
This was the last week of programming for the children, and it was definitely nostalgic. We went through our usual daily schedule, such as trips to the park and pool, but on Wednesday we ventured to Urban Pirate Adventures. As we loaded onto a boat decorated to resemble a pirate ship, the kids screamed playfully with anticipation. A loud bang pervaded, caused by the stomp of a heavy boot, and all the campers stared at a tall pirate with dark, grunge clothing. Throughout the ride, the pirates wove a story about the evil Mad Dog who had stolen their treasure and shared with the passengers the secrets of life as a pirate. We shot water through metal tubes and danced around the ship deck. I started to feel nostalgic for the simple enjoyment I would feel as a kid pretending to be a character of a new world (and today, it was pirates). I loved being able to let loose, clap my hands around the deck without any reason, or even grab the water gun to shoot Mad Dog’s ship.
Similarly, on the last day of camp for HFC, we assembled a makeshift movie theater for the kids. The smell of buttery popcorn filled the air, small rugs with circle pillows were placed on the floor, and a large projector shone on the wall. On our way back from the pool, we stopped to get snowballs (my first one!) and then changed out of our wet clothes. Soon, all the kids were lined up at the door of the “movie theater”, incessantly attempting to peek through the door. Once they were all settled, snowballs in one hand and popcorn in the other, the movie Inside Out commenced. There was one scene in the movie where a character named Bing Bong, who was an imaginary friend of a little girl, Riley, ultimately gave up his life so Riley could be filled with joy again. In a weird way, I was reminded of the impressionability of childhood experiences. Bing Bong helped Riley emotionally as an imaginary friend, and just like him, HFC aided kids in their social learning. At some point, the campers will grow up and are left with memories of how they felt as they had fun at the pool, park, or even eating snowballs. As I said goodbye to all my new, little friends, I am certain they enjoyed their experiences at HFC and are left with feelings of joy.