Mimi Avril | CIIP 2023 Blog Portfolio

Orientation Week

As a peer mentor, I found facilitating reflection to be the most challenging part of orientation. After discussing topics such as gentrification, policing, and systemic racism, I sought to create questions that would stimulate small group discussion. However, I felt responsible for having the right response to group member’s answers and to hold space for the emotions that were coming up. When people shared what came up for them in reflection groups, it was difficult not to be feel that I had to have a response that would make them feel affirmed and completely understood. However, as I facilitated more discussions, I learned that I did not solely carry that responsibility and that we as a group were only responsible for hearing each other out and creating a space for difficult emotions to move through to grow. Despite the difficulties of reflection, it is what I enjoyed most out of orientation. I enjoyed the opportunity to reflect a lot as it allowed me to lean on others in my group despite being the facilitator. Rather than sitting and feeling weighed down by the emotions that came up throughout presentations, the reflection groups provided an outlet to move through uncomfortable feelings. In addition to supporting each other, the reflection groups provided a sense of intimacy with another and allowed us to deeply connect and to form new friendships.

Week 1

This week was my first week working at Martha’s Place, a residential recovery program for women recovering from addiction and homelessness. Although, only two buses away, Martha’s Place feels worlds away from Charles Village. As I watched the staff work to provide case management, counseling, and wellness activities, I tried to establish rapport with the women on my own. Throughout this week, I began to ask each of the women when I could find them if they would sit down with me to tell me how they got to Martha’s Place. Similarly, they told me life stories of incarceration, violence, familial conflict, housing instability, and poverty coupled with drug use as a method to cope. Although their stories were very different, what brought them together here was shared trauma. Facing a lack of access to services and mental health care to process trauma, many of the women turned to drugs and alcohol. My conversations with the residents showed how pervasive trauma is in the Baltimore community. Many individuals are grappling with gang violence, interpersonal assault, and familial conflict. Without proper access to mental health care, it is easy to understand how trauma compounds and keeps people stuck in it, causing them to turn to destructive ways of coping. While listening to the women’s stories, it was hard to find the words to properly response; sympathetic statements felt too little and too late. It was hard to imagine that each of the ladies could experience as much lost and trauma in their lives as they had. They had been failed by multiple systems and slipped to the cracks without being noticed. But they were still here fighting for a better life. Despite the heaviness on my chest from listening to their pain, I did the only thing I could do: I offered to serve them in any way possible throughout this summer.

Week 2

After settling in and getting introduced to residents of Martha’s Place, my introduction period was over. During my second week, I was assigned to facilitate one of the program’s weekly group discussions. This was new to me as I had never facilitated large group discussions. I was worried about whether the residents would want someone much younger facilitating their sessions and how they would react to me. Additionally, I was worried about what topic to choose and what questions to pose. After deliberating, I settled on discussing grief as many of the women have had a lot of loss in their lives and the topic has subtly come up in group discussions that I shadowed even though it was not the focus. I began the group discussion by explaining the 7 stages of grief and how they might look like to women. Many of them took notes and identified what stage of grief they were in. Also, many shared stories of how they were coping with their loss of their loved one. Many also became emotional and a resident cried during the discussion. As we talked, we also dived in to talking a dealing with depression and anxiety and how to cope with mental health. After the discussion finished, I signed their court attendance sheets. The residents also clapped for me and told me I did a good job leading group and one even said she took something from my meeting. I felt incredibly moved by how thoughtful and courageous the women were and happy to have facilitated a space for them to work on the process of processing grief together.

Week 3

A typical day of work begins with me taking the Purple Circulator to North Ave and then getting on the Gold to Pennsylvania Avenue. Once I reached West Baltimore, I walk five minutes to the office. I buzz in at the door and wait to be let in. At the office, I begin the day by checking with my supervisor on completed work, work to be done throughout the day or week, and the progress of the residents of Martha’s Place. Then, I walk down the stairs to the office of our partner organization, Jubilee Arts, and sit on of the crafts tables used by the staff to start my work. At the table, I check my email, calendar, and written tasks for the day. I go over past notes and orient myself. Next, I make my way to the residential houses. I usually find a resident that I am currently working with on case management. I usually knock on the resident’s door and see how they are doing. After, we usually sit down in the living room to complete needed forms such as disability, health appointments, arts classes, or job readiness programs. Following this, I usually take a lunch and eat a sandwich I packed the morning of. At around 2pm, I usually lead mandatory group reflection sessions, a mandatory requirement of the program. The topics I focus on pertain to psychoeducation: grief, trauma, stress, emotional reactivity, and social relationships. I usually start the group with some information that I would like residents to be informed of on the topic to set up discussion. Then, I ask some reflection questions and allow the resident’s to voice their thoughts on it. After group, I sign the resident’s court-mandated recovery meeting slips as verification that they attended the meeting. After this, I return to the office and resume work and check-in with my supervisor and the addiction’s counselor on work that still needs to be done. By this time, it is approaching 5pm and the work day is finished. I pack up my things, say goodbye to the office staff, and walk to catch the Gold bus.

Week 4

My goals prior to start of my internship were to build relationships with the residents, become familiar with the social life of addiction and substance abuse, gain service referral skills, and be a valuable resource to the program. Personally, I wanted to learn the history of Martha’s Place, future vision and direction, needs and strengths of the neighborhood, the ethics of addiction work, and how to practice emotionally demanding work.

I believe that I have accomplished or I’m working on accomplishing many of the goals I set out to. I have set down with many of the residents and have gotten to know them personally so that I can assist them on their recovery goals. As I facilitate reflection sessions and work on case management, I learn slowly the social life surrounding addiction through the live of the residents. I have talked to the founding member and executive director, Todd Marcus, on the founding and development of Martha’s Place and have gotten know the history of the program. As for the ethics of addiction work and practicing emotionally demanding work, I’m still working on those. Everyday at my placement, I am challenged by the residents: I’m learning their wounds and how to carry the pain they share with me, how to help, and how to know when I can’t. Unfortunately, I don’t believe I have gained much service referral skills. I have become familiar with the network of harm reduction organizations and substance abuse treatment programs in Baltimore. However, if a resident were to relapse, I wouldn’t know what treatment program should they go or the sobriety, income, or detox requirements for getting into the program. Prior to the end of my internship, I want to tap in more into this network and learn how to navigate it.

Week 5

As I have gotten to know the residents of Martha’s Place, I have seen that many of them ended up in in addiction as a result of compounding trauma. As one of the women told me “nobody chose to be a crackhead.” The tip of the iceberg is addiction, and the base is undiagnosed mental illness, poverty, incarceration, and many other social circumstances. Many have had significant childhood and adult trauma and fell into full blown addiction as a result of circumstances. Many were looking to cope with or escape their lived reality. Often times addiction is considered without it’s context and that causes those struggling with it to be blamed for their disease. Addiction does not happen in vacuum but it’s related to the bodily health and the health of one’s relationships and environment. But Despite so much loss and trauma, the women are incredibly mentally strong, resilient, insightful, and full of love and life. As I navigate my career path, I have realized that I want to do human centered work– whether that be counseling or social work. I see myself providing compassionate and judgment free care through harm reduction and trauma-informed lens to people struggling with mental health– addiction and other mental health disorders. The way society treats addicted people gives way to so much violence and precarity in their lives. I hope to work to produce research and policies that aid in combating this. 

Week 7

Martha’s Place works at the intersection of many social determinants of health: race, economic status, education, housing, and access to healthcare to provide support for women in recovery from addiction. Many of the women fell into addiction as a result of meeting several social risk factors. Many of the women experienced trauma, had family members who were addicted, grew up in systematically disadvantaged neighborhoods, and had not finished schooling. All of these intersectional risk factors served to increase the likelihood of the onset of addiction for the women. Martha’s Place works to provide services that targets each of the identities: housing, group therapy, money management, job application support, adulting school, and individual case management.
Martha’s Place shares a building with Jubilee Arts, an arts and dance nonprofit and CIIP placement. Martha’s Place provides subsidized or free classes such as crocheting and clay making through Jubilee Arts. I see potential for collaboration with the Franciscan Center to provide free food for the women, and Impact Hub to provide access to computers and printers for the women to use to apply for jobs or to study for their GED exam. Additionally, many of the women are implicated in the legal system and would benefit from collaboration with law nonprofits such as ERICA and Out for Justice in order to navigate the complex legal process and to have counsel.