Karen Linares Mendoza | CIIP 2023 Blog Portfolio
Posted: July 5, 2023
Even after one entire year living in Baltimore, the first day of orientation I felt like I was being introduced to the city for the very first time again! It was amazing and astounding to see how much I was still missing from Baltimore whether it be the next local restaurant I am now dying to try out, or gorgeous green spaces that I definitely want to utilize the next three years here. I have never been a huge history fan so when we began the day off learning about Baltimore history the very first day of orientation I was not sure I would enjoy it. However, I was quickly mistaken as I actually loved how well Lane Victorson went into detail about the underlying history behind the white flight and what had started the whole segregational and systemic issues that we now talk about so often when it comes to the systems in place. I believe this context behind how Baltimore changed across the ages in comparison to the US was very useful when trying to put into place other of the many topics we talked about when it came to the community of Baltimore. Overall, I really ended up enjoying hearing about the history of the city and it was a great way to begin orientation since it allowed the rest of the presentations to go into much farther detail about certain topics having already established this great background knowledge and history about Baltimore.
Another of my favorite presentations during orientation ended up being the Transportation and Mobility around Baltimore breakout room talks that we did during the second day of orientation. I think this presentation made me realize how many more transportation opportunities I had at my disposal which also encouraged me to get more out into the city. The FFU presentation and school resources powerpoints were also incredibly useful since it allowed me to think of opportunities of how I could utilize the Hopkins student advantage during my internship placement.
I often felt challenged by some of the topics during the presentations that talked about the history of Hopkins with the city and how the community might perceive us being part of the Hopkins network. I had heard before that Hopkins did not always have a good reputation with the city but I had never been asked to think about this dynamic relationship so much. Overall though, I was glad to have been in this environment where the community aspect was being taken very seriously and explored in its many complicated ways. At the end of the day, I think I can say that I am very excited and glad to bring and pop my Hopkins education outside of the bubble and into the greater Baltimore community.
It has been a fun and exciting first week at SquashWise! I can’t really believe that it’s only been two weeks since this all started because it feels like so much has already happened with CIIP. These first weeks at SquashWise will be a little calmer as we are prepping for the big three weeks of summer camp in July. Therefore, a lot of the tasks I had to do this week were focused on organizing and “campifying” the schedule and idea of this year’s summer camp to make it a fun and engaging experience for all our new campers. Since classes and the spring term is over, the building this week was not really filled with a lot of kids, yet I still got to meet some of the students who would be embarking for the big tournament over the weekend. Although these kids were rising to graduating high schoolers, I was quick to notice the level of independent beings they represented and was surprised by various of these kid’s maturity. One conversation that stood out to me in particular was with a rising 9th grader who was excited to play squash with her high school team. We began talking about her new high school and her excitement to have a larger class size. Then, in a simple comment about if she was tired from waking up early to go to the tournament she said this was not early for her, and her response made me realize the various assumptions I was making and how much different each of these kid’s lives could be. The girl further explained that every morning she woke up at 4am to get herself and her younger sibling ready for school. I asked why she had to wake up this early still and she said that between making breakfast and walking to school, all that time was required to get there on time. I found her story inspiring yet also eye-opening to the different lifestyles that I had overlooked or assumed. This made me realize how much time was a factor in each of these children’s lives as they almost always had to accommodate someone else’s time into their lives. This week I saw kids bonding and laughing in friendship over a sport but even greater a community that united them and gave them a space to come and hang out and even focus on themselves for a little bit.
Throughout the summer camp, I want to give kids the opportunity to love Baltimore in a way they also have overlooked perhaps and learn to give back to the community somehow. I want them to appreciate their home and their surroundings because they are still lucky to be able to be part of this Baltimore family and I want them to really recognize that. Through team games, I want them to learn to appreciate the people who they interact with everyday and realize that we are all part of one big movement which means that everyone always contributes something special to the team effort.
When I try to think of all the things there is to do it can sometimes get overwhelming to imagine the amount of tasks coming. However, if there’s anything I’ve learned when it comes to planning anything, it is that small tasks are the only way to organize success. My placement’s main summer event is the summer camp starting in July. Therefore, this past couple of weeks have been focused on getting everything set up and running. From morning activities to lesson plans or decorating, I’ve realized just how large and arduous the educator role can be. A challenge I’ve been faced with this week is the idea that preparation has to take a lot of patience. It can be easy to lose focus or feel like there is still so much time left that everything seems unrelated. However, before I knew it the next week we would be already staring orientation with the high school camp counselors that will be helping us this summer and planning other onboarding documents. I have been trying to stay on top of things by setting small milestones that I feel like I can accomplish on a daily basis so I can feel the progress I am making towards the main goal. Yet, it is never perfect so I also have to understand that there is going to be lots of adaptability that will need to be accepted and incorporated each day.
Another challenge I have been facing is the idea or hesitation of how much I can always contribute. It feels as if sometimes I am not doing enough if I am not coming up with original concepts or ideas, yet other times I feel myself being pulled back by the amount of experience other staff in the room carry. That’s why I sometimes feel conflicted about how far I should go when it comes to the planning and brainstorming of the camp. I recognize how much more time others have spent in this space yet also feel like I should try to be innovative and bring my own perspective. I understand that both aspects of this are valuable but it is also hard to always combine them and embody them all the time in a good balance. This is an issue that I am still working through, but even when I am most conflicted, what always zones me in is the idea that I am doing this to help. I want to do service to these children so no matter how hard it can be sometimes to step out of the comfort zone, I am still committed to exploring and being open to the unknown in order to discover and try out new balances of experience.
The highlight of this week actually happened on the last day of the week: Friday’s New Song block party. We had been invited to bring SquashWise to their summer party in order to try to get more young kids exposed to squash. That morning, my supervisor and I got to New Song early and set up our tent. Several other tents had already been set up including two great bouncy houses at the end of the year. Not too long after though, the rest of our team trickled in. Even though my first week at my placement I had helped with a tabling event, I felt like this experience would be different since the audience seemed to be very much younger.
As we were driving up to the block party, my supervisor informed me that we were heading into one of the lowest socioeconomic neighborhoods of Baltimore. This school has a special schedule where the kids have various intermittent vacations so all the children were actually still in school.
The first kid who stopped by our table had already been involved with SquashWise previously during one of the team’s visits to the school, so he already knew our deal. After talking to him for a bit, I was also excited to learn he would be joining us for the program’s summer camp. However, it was fun to see some new kids show up to our table. My favorite part though, was when they released all the smaller children who ran from their classrooms and into the tents. The little children eventually got interested in the squash rackets and began bouncing the ball on the rackets. I loved seeing all the kids’ faces once they got the hang of it. It was truly a happy moment seeing everyone come together in this great neighborhood community. I truly appreciated having the opportunity to be part of this community even if it was for a short event.
When I thought of a non-profit, I usually thought about a food pantry type of organization that received many donations and basically used that money to buy something for the community. However, over the past weeks I have been able to realize how much broader the non-profit category truly is. When I think about SquashWise, I now see an organization that takes donations and grants, but instead of using them to buy things for kids, they use that money to turn a sport into an accessible resource for many different kids. I was very surprised and intrigued by my conversation with the administrative team because it led me to think about a whole lot of what it means to run a non-profit. I was incredibly shocked by how much money it takes to run an educational program like this, but also amazed at how many different contributions the finance team is able to gather yearly to cover expenses and grow the program. I thought it was really cool to see how a small program was growing to acquire their own new permanent location in a big and historic building location. Lastly, I would definitely have to say that if there was one key takeaway from my conversation with the fundraising and finance team was that networking is absolutely key to everything business related. And from what I’ve learned in my time here so far, is that life is like a business. We all have different goals and plans but everything nowadays is run more like a business than anything else. Thus, I was glad to be reminded of how much networking is part of successful business and growth.
Obviously, the more interactions you have with others the better you can become at networking. Therefore, I have been really glad so far to have this opportunity to meet with the staff and other students who will be helping us in order to try to become better skilled at networking. I do feel like another skill that I have learned this summer is how to become adaptable and organized at the same time. This feels like a tricky thing to do which is the case often, but it also allows you to be responsible and creative at the same time. When working with children, you never know what type of interaction or reaction you might get from a child, so you have to go in with a very open mentality. Additionally, the energy that is needed for any activity is key to the success of that interaction so it takes various first interactions to really get the hang of it. Finally, understanding that every child comes from a different family is always important to remember so that you don’t try to make any assumptions but also are not generalizing groups of people.
I sit down in my room opening my CIIP Blogs for one last time. Sure, although I have to say there were times when I forgot to submit my blog right on time, I am sad to think this is the last time I will be writing a blog since that means we only have one more week left of CIIP. Over the past two months, I have had the privilege to work with an amazing team at SquashWise that supported my every proposal and idea for their program. This week as we wrapped up the last week of camp for the kids, I felt a bittersweet feeling realizing this could be some of the last times the entire cohort would ever be together. Every single child had had an amazing growth moment throughout the three weeks of camp and it had been so much fun getting to experience their highs and lows with them. I was very proud of how far our rookie team had come in terms of their squash skills and sport attitude. Even the less “sporty” kids had played and helped keep track of scoring in our last tournament that week with a positive energy that I had not seen in other days.
It was in these very moments where I realized how correct that women had been in that first tabling event during my first week of CIIP. A community partner from the YMCA had dropped by our table and expressed how happy she was to see a sports and youth empowerment program in Baltimore since she knew how much of a difference being part of a team affected kid’s school graduation rates. When she dropped the statistic, I had first been shocked to hear this number but it was not until this last week of camp when I fully embraced it and understood where that difference was coming from.
Every day, from our opening activity to our closing circle I noticed how different each child’s personality was and their comfort level. However, when it came to joining efforts for a team activity or game, I also noticed how they put in the effort to be part of a larger team. This camp showed them accountability and ritual. It showed them how to have fun while learning to be involved. It forged new friendships and most importantly, it introduced them to a new home full of people invested in their success.
Next week, I am excited to have been able to reach out to two other CIIP placements, Corner Team and MissionFit as an activity for our Youth Workers to visit other sites that work with YouthWorkers as well. I like that I have been able to continue my venture into incorporating other CIIP sites since I do really value that community integration between sites that follow similar missions to SquashWise.
As I prepare to leave this summer internship I have nothing but good remarks on my experience. I am so thankful for the opportunity to allow me to grow in my squash abilities but also find a new network of friends who accepted me every day and supported my own goals. In my career, I want to learn how to provide this environment where the mission to give back is the core foundation of everything you do, and SquashWise has given a great example of this vision.