Week 2 for me, Week 1 of Suummer Camp!

This week was significantly more eventful than last week. Focusing less on preparation and more on practice, this week was the start of the Summer Arts Camp at the King Arts Complex. Filling the building with music, laughter, and tears, the kids that came to the summer camp were nothing less than vocal. From their issues with the free lunch provided by Columbus Recreation and Park to the issues that came into the classroom, this week came with more challenges than I anticipated. However, they all stemmed from the same general area: engagement. Being a summer camp that provides nearly all of their campers with income based scholarships, it is often difficult to prevent the challenges the campers face outside of the camp from entering the classroom. Acknowledging this challenge, I was amazed at how the staff handled each issue. Knowing most of the kids personally from prior years in the camp, they knew who was dealing with what issues and how they should approach getting through to them. This individualized approach to learning mixed with cultural competency made me understand what it is like to wake up everyday and lead with passion no matter how difficult the day before had been. I continue to see the extent that love and creativity can build trust and community in any space, especially amongst children dealing with trauma.

Along with the observations of the summer camp itself, I have had a lot of time to talk to my supervisor. We discussed the history of the complex and the black art community in Columbus, but we mainly focused on the future. She told me about the difficulties the camp faces with gaining recognition throughout the city and we strategized some solutions. From this conversation, I was given the task of working on ways to promote what is going on at the King Arts Complex to the community and Columbus as a whole. I have begun working on a newsletter as well as a blog about current and upcoming events in hopes of increasing foot traffic in the complex. Along with these things, we discussed the potential of me coming back during the fall semester to organize events that will build a bridge between Ohio State students and the rest of the Columbus community through the King Arts Complex. 

Overall, I am excited to see the impact I can have on the complex and what the next week will bring. Here are some photos that I took of the art in the complex to highlight the vibrancy it brings to the entire building.

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Anyone else have late night big thoughts?

For those of you just tuning in, I am PASSIONATE about urban planning. And I am even more passionate about people. More often than not, I can’t shut my brain off about finding the most effective way to help people. I find myself thinking these big, life thoughts at night time when all my other daily tasks are completed. So, here are some of the thoughts that keep my brain busy when I should be sleeping…

Some city planners take a “check the box” approach when it comes to community engagement. Maybe hold a few focus groups, ask them their thoughts, synthesis the information, formulate a plan, and then implement. We will get back to this thought later… This week’s topic amongst the fellows was advocacy. Advocating is complex. It is influencing other’s opinions and decisions. It involves systems and institutions. And most importantly, it involves people’s stories and lives.  It is a constant battle between accessibility and experience. In an ideal world, we would have people who have the experiences sitting at the table directing those life-changing decisions. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the world we live in—yet.

How do we ensure that those voices of experience are heard? Their voices hold credibility. They know what it is like to live in their shoes. So, we listen. We meet people. We build upon those relationships, and elevate people to be at the table. Everything important happens through relationships.

This brings me to my first point. Planners often create communities, accommodate for growth, and revitalize neighborhoods. They are in the weeds of community building. Public engagement is vital to creating a sense of community. Planners need to do more than “check the box.” We need to sit, listen, gather feedback, and advocate. It is not just about holding a focus group at the beginning of a project to gather ideas, and then run with it. It is about listening to everyone’s unique set of experiences, facilitating a process in which the policies and plans reflect community identity, and including everyone’s voice at all stages.

At Huck House, I am building up, planning, and bringing awareness to Project Safe Place for youth in crisis. I have spent my last couple weeks researching and absorbing as much information as I can. It is so important to me to listen to our Columbus youth and help to provide services that they actually need.

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“Hi, can I uhh get a quick week with a side of fries?”

…is what I must have ordered, because that’s what I got. Well, I actually didn’t get any fries, but this week flew by.

Podcast link: https://soundcloud.com/user-110817248/tcf-blog-week-2/s-JWmpI

Podcast transcript:

“TechCorps week two. I finally feel like I’m getting into the groove of being here. I think part of that is because I’m owning what I can bring to the table and offer the organization. I’m not stepping as lightly, I’m offering suggestions when appropriate, and really making myself a part of the team. I think I owe most of that mental shift to our guests at the Learning Session on Wednesday. Amber and Ashon said something along the lines of “there’s friction and dissonance when you aren’t being authentically you in a space.” And this really resonated with me. I’m very in tune with who I am and I try to remain my true self in most situations, but that’s super difficult when starting a new job or experience. This week I stopped trying to be who I thought they wanted me to be and I started being just who I am, which is exactly why I’m here.

One thing I’m still struggling with is the schedule and freedom that comes with this type of job. Someone during our learning session said that we are trained to let other people dictate our days, which I couldn’t agree with more. We go through years and years of schooling where each minute of every day is designated for something, and we are just told where to go and what to do when. Now, I’m in charge of my own day, and as awesome as that is, it’s taking some getting used to.


Our building says dream factory, which is pretty accurate. 

Thursday I went on my first program site visit to get photos and videos. This visit was a real game changer for me, because it was the first time I actually got to see our work in action. I drove to Franklin University where we were having an IT On Ramp session, which is like a crash course of all things computer tech. It was so cool seeing the kids having so much fun and learning, and really showed how important the work we’re doing in the office is.


Look mom, I’m doing my thing!

One of the interactions I had was distinctively special. One of my coworkers mentioned that there was a student that was hard of hearing, and he had an interpreter. I know American Sign Language, so I went up to him and signed, “Hi! I know ASL!” and his face completely lit up, and he LAUNCHED out of the chair to give me the biggest hug. It was so sweet I nearly teared up. It’s times like those where I’m really glad I know ASL, because he was able to connect with someone through language and maybe he felt a little less different. It’s also times like those that reaffirm to me what I’m doing here and why. Happy pride weekend, more talk next week!”


Me, cheesing real hard. I got called a “ding dong” seconds after this photo was taken. 

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Local Matters: Week 2

Week 2 at Local Matters was incredibly insightful – both on the work of the organization generally and the work that I will be doing this summer specifically. On Monday and Thursday, I was able to shadow three Food Matters summer classes, which is a 6-week curriculum focused on healthy food education for younger children. This program is hands on in nature: students have a hand in preparing the food, and they help grow food in learning gardens throughout the summer. This week, the featured recipe was black bean quinoa salad. I was blown away by the reactions that the students had to this food experience: their facial expressions when biting into a lime wedge were priceless, as well as the surprise they had when they actually liked what they were putting into their bodies.

Local Matters employs a “no yuck rule” in these classes: every student has to try at least one bite of the weekly recipe, even if they think they won’t like it. This idea is simple, but I think it would have profound implications if it were to be employed at large. If we were all as receptive to new things – foods, ideas, cultures, perspectives, etc. – I think we would be living in a more beautiful world. The look on some students eyes as they realized something as foreign sounding as “quinoa” could be delicious was incredible; I could see the cogs in their heads turn as unknown worlds of food revealed themselves before their own little eyes.

While I thoroughly enjoyed spending time learning from the program coordinators in the classroom, I learned a plethora of information from conversations around the office this week. My understanding of what is expected of me transformed from a general “data aggregation and organization” to a much clearer picture: what data I’ll be working with, where it’s stored, how it’s collected, why it’s needed, and who is responsible for what. This required asking coworkers a ton of questions, and their answers laid out a much clearer path for how I can contribute to the success of the organization. Furthermore, it gave me an opportunity to get to know a group of incredibly fascinating, passionate, and inspiring people better.

The knowledge I obtained in the classroom and in the office were both extremely powerful – not just for my work this summer, but in getting a glimpse in the inner workings of nonprofit work in general. This is my first experience working in the nonprofit sector, and I am excited to embrace this personal growth while also contributing to the growth of Local Matters. I believe that this week equipped me to do just that – here’s to a third week of making strides towards this goal!

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Week 2

“May I please speak to a healthcare representative? I have a question.” 

         “Hold on, we can’t find your information. Please share your details once more — this time, slowly.

“Ok….Yes, B as in boy…L as in Larry”

In the throes of a Tuesday ESOL class, I feel shoulders straighten and spines align with heads cocked as a room full of worn women endure another language lesson. Exchanging imagined conversations about education, insurance, healthcare, and business, these women are here to master a foreign tongue to equip themselves and their children with security. I notice how whispers of Arabic fall between conversations to dissect English jargon that is built into simple ideas of health and wellness, and I reflect on how the English language has come to symbolize security and submission in this country. For many, English is a simple means of communication, but to our clients, it is a tool of survival. I watch the children of these women bickering with each others in English that they comfortably picked up at local schools in our makeshift daycare during ESOL classes. I watch these kids mediate our conversations with clients as we ask how we can help. In this space, Family is understood as a network of coworkers, clients, and kids working to sort our issues that are lost in language.

Class ends with an exercise of name-sharing over phone calls. Skipping introductions, it has not come across me that I barely know half the names in this room. Many of our clients reference one another as sister and brother, so in practice, I adopted this sense of family into our lesson plans. However, naming is a crucial part of identity here, so we set a plan of action to clearly articulate this. I smile between words as I notice many of our clients grimacing and eye-rolling envisioning the prospect of spelling their full name out over the phone.  Many had opted for nicknames and shortened surnames in conversation. This, of course, was a notable issue in our own documentation of information. We constantly were fact-checking names and addresses to connect arbitrary yet significant identifiers.

By the end of the lesson, women are phonetically exchanging names – isolating every letter and pairing them with alien words to ensure their own identity was understood. As class wraps up, we scramble to sort Eid toys for the restless kids in the waiting room. Handing them off to various families, we trade goodbyes that are lost in translation.

Reflecting on this challenging week, I am starting to understand the type of measured spontaneity and adaptability that nonprofit work requires. You are juggling shifting needs and priorities, substituting uncertainty for collective assurance — one that is built by an exceptional support system found at MFS Ohio.

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Week 2

There is power in listening to one another.  Not the superficial listening that takes place when individuals have listless conversations, but the intentional pursuit of understanding.  These first couple weeks I have sought to emulate this listening paradigm.  The purpose is to listen in order to identify ways to support the Boys and Girls Club, learn from my fellow community members, and learn about the functions of non-profit work.

In my role at BGCC, I am not working directly with students; however, I have been working with individuals who seek to positively influence youth (as summer instructors).  During the summer trainings, I have been able to have conversations about why they decided to work with BGCC this summer.  I listened and had a livened curiosity about their experiences.  The commonality across these various conversations was that every single person was hopeful for the future.

Listening to these stories bolstered my mission and passion to support in maximizing the voices of people who are on the front lines of the fight for equity.  One of the individuals I spoke with told me that they took time off from their career to spend the summer supporting students in her community.  Another instructor told me that has been teaching in Columbus City Schools for 20 years and spend the summer continuing to support students in Columbus.  A third person told me that she is a recent college graduate and wants to give back to her community.  As I continue throughout the summer I plan to continue to listen to the people I am working beside.  We have the chance to create a collective voice that is full of hope and may lead to transformational change.

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Sytems thinking and bending toward justice

This past Wednesday the cohort had our first Fellow Learning Session at The Columbus Foundation. Our conversations centered on the theme of advocacy which stems from all social-issue-related nonprofit work. We had incredible speakers from the Juvenile Justice Coalition and The Children’s Defense Fund who started by talking about their work, but our conversation soon lead to much bigger questions about responsible allyship and effective advocacy.

All of this is to say, I have been thinking a lot about the intersections between being an impactful, mindful, and effective advocate while keeping a system thinking lens on approaches to solving social problems. We often talk about ‘tackling root causes’ of social issues (whether we remember it as often as we’d like to admit or not) and ensuring that we aren’t investing the majority of resources into ‘band-aid solutions’. This is often countered by the reality that people are starving,  living on the street, and being abused right this moment – so – though systems change approaches are in theory the most effective, they operate on a different timeline than saving lives at this moment.

Systems change/root cause approaches are hard, and they take time. It is very difficult to convince humans to invest in anything that does not give a tangible short-term result. Even in the long term, these approaches are difficult to measure and it is uncertain to know what direction to go. Short-term and siloed solutions are much easier to measure. But we all know, feeding people alone won’t stop everyone from being hungry in the future. 

This being said, we need both.

All of the work is necessary.

When talking with other cohort members after the enriching dialogue around being good stewards and thinking critically about big-picture thinking, many of us were left with some difficult questions…

“How do we start?”

“Where do we start?”

“When do we start?”

Because we are all also humans with flawed psychology it is hard to see the answers to these questions knowing that we could work our entire career and maybe not see major changes. And yet, that does not mean the work is not important. Some of the most critical work to be done is work of changing mindsets, cultures, and oppressive systems built over hundreds of years. This change we talk about may not be in the best interest of those with the money and power to invest in it. 

I started thinking more specifically about the work we do at Besa. Often we are not doing advocacy work, we are not as an organization directly targeting food insecurity, homelessness, or incarceration. And so for a moment, I challenged myself to go back to the systems model and think critically about my personal vision of impact: one of aligned forces and finances, one of efficiency and maximized input to output ratios.

Besa does incredible work connecting more and more people to very important work in the community. Because of us, many community members find it much easier to volunteer, nonprofits find it easier to organize volunteers (in turn, having more capacity for other things), and (importantly) companies are able to connect with the community in a more direct way.

I think Besa’s greatest role in systems thinking social change is one of facilitation. We help the people with power (corporations with money) find easier ways to connect with nonprofits and track their own impact. Our hope, or my hope at least, is that by smoothing those bumps and facilitating relationships, we are incentivizing these companies to want to make philanthropy and community impact an even bigger priority. If we can make it easier for people to volunteer, companies to give grants, people to connect, then hopefully they do it more often.

In my opinion, the best way to make an impact is simple – first get educated, then get started. Be a knowledgeable advocate and culture changer for those around you. Find your mission, know your vision, and follow it. Know where your values lie, then be able to articulate them (even without speaking) to anyone around you.

And through all of this, it is still worthwhile to stay dedicated to the big picture. One of my favorite quotes that is attributed to many sources (but most famously spoken by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) is that

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”

which is the core driving principle of my reckless optimism. Believing that because of our determination to advocate for an equitable, humanistic, just society, every action of ours is not only important, but critical, and is not wasted no matter how things may seem.

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