This is the final blog post, but there are 4 more weeks of STAR, so this can’t really be my goodbye post; more of a check-in post and my thoughts on my final weeks to come.
There’s so much that has happened since my last post! The students have finished learning the curriculum and now they’ve been working on their final project. A week ago, the students had to present for others during our fieldtrip and it did not go well. They were scared, quiet, and unsure of themselves. After that we had a serious sit down and I had to give written warnings to some students. We are now one student short, but the difference in those who have stayed is tremendous.
Watching their skit this morning, I watched two teen boys act out an LGBTQ relationship about financial abuse. Two boys who were very quiet at the beginning of STAR and are now outspoken and consistently raise their hands. Who had said they felt uncomfortable, but pushed themselves anyway. In a place where we are surrounded by the same old ideas from socialization, it can be hard to break away or to respect differences. But the students try and they’re not afraid to ask questions and to accept new ideas. I’m proud to see them answer one another and feel comfortable in the space.
That is not to say that they are now super PC and knowledgeable about the world. For every two steps forward we can take a step back. The process is slow and we have to be patient. I wish I could write it all out, but I can’t. The students have taught me that everyone will take new ideas and knowledge in at their own pace and if they choose to accept it, they will do it in a way that can mesh with their current life. No one is flipping their worlds around, but the weaving is just as meaningful.
Time for thank you: Thank you to my coworkers Vashti, Robin, Dajah, and Stephanie for always checking in on me and showing me appreciation. I feel included and grateful to be working at LSH. Thank you to those students who have recently stepped up, to those who take the knowledge beyond STAR, and for respecting one another. Thank you all other Civic House internship peeps for your work and all your commentary at our meetings. I really enjoy having the space to learn and debrief.
I don’t like goodbyes and lately we’ve been releasing the kids without a check-out question. It’s easier that way to just leave, but sometimes I feel like that check-out question is needed to really end the day. Because this is not the end, just like the STAR days as of recently, there will be no check-out question. This isn’t goodbye, yet. I’ve enjoyed writing these, but I’m glad to be done!
When my coworkers had warned me that once STAR starts it gets pretty busy, I didn’t take them too seriously. The first week of STAR was great! It was what I had hoped for and more. The students were knowledgeable, willing to learn, and not afraid to participate. As expected, it took a bit to break the ice, but it was exciting to see them make new friends and to challenge the material they learned with their own ideas. I could see the wheels turning and I appreciated their openness to discussion and new ideas.
Each day I felt prepped and I was excited to facilitate a specific topic or lead an icebreaker. The structure wasn’t as formal as I had thought, but the students were so outgoing that it made it very easy to just flow with the material and go where they wanted to take the discussion.
Then the second week came and everything felt like it was crumbling. All my preparation was slightly off, the daily schedules were not aligned with the worksheets I had, and the students were harder to real in. Changes had to be made. I adjusted and prepped only what was deemed useful, I jumped in to volunteer to lead different discussions, and I had finally mastered all the students’ names and had gotten to know them a bit better. Professionally, I felt a bit frustrated with my role and I felt a bit out of the loop and unable to give as much as my coworkers did. I took time this week to talk to my supervisor and check in. She reassured me that they were happy with my work, so I will continue to push myself and offer assistance when possible.
The hardest time came early this week, and even with the heads up, there was no way to really prepare myself. One of my coworkers had a family emergency and we had just received devastating news about a previous STAR student. Our STAR session was adjusted to include a talk about suicide and the resources available to the students. We were focusing on how to deal with feelings and emotions, and it opened a discussion about pain and hardships the students had gone through. Some students went to talk privately and others openly shared, bouncing off one another and maintaining a supportive space. At the end one student thanked us for allowing time for the discussion and we offered them an early release. Instead, most of the students stayed back to make buttons and bond, while Snap Chatting of course. For most of them it seemed like a release and a chance to share, but for me and my coworkers it was a bit stressful.
Our director had my coworkers and I debrief with each other and asked us how we would all let go after work and practice self-care. We ate some chocolate and laughed and headed home. I had plans to thank one of my friends for their constant support, but when I got home it was hard to let go of what I had heard and my own pain that I remembered after hearing the students’. I ended up calling my friend, and my sister, and leaving another friend a message. The support didn’t make the pain go away, but it did provide moments of release.
When I returned to the students, I saw them with new eyes. These were some resilient little warriors in front of me and I was proud to be working with them. From the outside you could never tell; a reminder I needed.
The curveballs keep coming, but I’m more comfortable to just be “swimming in it” now.
I was born in Watsonville, California and later moved to Gilroy, California; only a 30 minute move, but two very different environments. Fun fact: Gilroy produces the most garlic in the United States. Garlic is very important to the city of Gilroy and the area is largely agriculture based, as are most cities in central California. Coming to Penn was my first time leaving California and living on the East Coast. It was very scary at first, but it has really broken the bubble I had been living in. It has shown me the disparity a large city can hold, as well as the power for creating change.
What work or issues does *organization they are working at* focus on? What has your role as an intern been so far?
Lutheran Settlement House is a non-profit in Fishtown, Philadelphia. It is a giant hub of departments and empowers the community in many ways. Some of the services offered include: a senior center, a food pantry open to the public, adult education, computer classes, youth afterschool and summer time programs, and bilingual domestic violence support (the department I work in). LSH also has a separate building called “Jane Addams place”, which serves as a shelter for women and children.
Considering I spend most of my time in the BDVP department (Bilingual Domestic Violence Program), I will discuss the work there so I don’t short-end any of the other departments and all the work they do that I don’t know of. In BDVP, we focus on domestic violence and how that relates to the community, including all different identities within out community.
BDVP works to create an inclusive environment. We are all required to undergo training on domestic violence and stay informed about the many intersections including immigration, mental health, and trauma. There is a 24/7 bilingual hotline available for counseling and resource referral, as well as in-person client in-takes both by appointment and via walk-in. BDVP employs medical advocates, who work part-time within healthcare facilities and part-time at the office, in order to better connect DV survivors to resources. We also have a program called Men Can, which works to empower men to advocate to stop domestic violence. Men Can holds an annual rally, reaches out to college Fraternities, and holds talks at local barbershops in order to connect through as many avenues as they can. Men Can also helps connect coaches to a curriculum called “Coaching Boys into Men” in order to encourage athletic youth to become student leaders in their communities. Men Can empowers men to be advocates, while raising awareness that abuse affects everyone, regardless of identity. All BDVP staff are trained mandated reporters, who can provide counseling and safety planning, as well as self-care tips for survivors and their families. BDVP also offers a yearly program called STAR (Students Talking About Relationships), which is a six week program that pays teens to learn about domestic violence, communication, resources, and how to support their peers. The program helps to inform teens and encourage them to be leaders at school in promoting healthy relationships.
BDVP has noticed a need for more presence within the LGBTQ community as well, and it is committed to making curriculum and training inclusive, and having more outreach in the community to spread awareness of the resources offered.
As an Intern, I have helped with OST (Out of School Time), the youth after school program, by editing the students’ work and helping to create their final event. I designed the Men Can rally save-the-date card, I researched LGBTQ events for LSH to get involved in, read training manuals to prepare to lead STAR, researched a curriculum called SLAY (Student Leaders and Athletic Youth), which was created as a counter part to “Coaching Boys into Men” for girls. I have read over the STAR curriculum and prepared all the material for the upcoming 6 weeks. Clearly, it has all been mostly intern work for now and just doing little duties until STAR begins. Once OST had ended, I no longer had a set schedule and after I finished my preparation for STAR I had no official work for the past three weeks, so I went around the office offering to help whoever needed it. I’ve helped my supervisor with Men Can tasks, helped create a binder for the new social work interns so they’d have all the resources on hand, I’ve helped the operation department with filing, covered the front desk, and unpacked for the food pantry. BUT all of my intern work is over, because STAR officially starts on Monday and I’m very excited (considering I’ve read over the 6-week curriculum at least 3 times). This is not to put down any of the duties I’ve been doing, but I call them Intern Work just because they are a bit disconnected, but still important to whomever I was helping.
What first sparked your interest in community service and social justice?
This story really has no beginning or epiphany moment and hopefully there is no end, but there is definitely a middle. A middle full of little powerful moments. When I first came to Civic House and meet everyone at PENNCORP (a community service pre-orientation program before freshmen year), I realized that my definition of community service was very different than everyone else’s. That I didn’t know anything about a lot of social issues and that there was a whole new vocabulary that came along with social justice work.
When I started working with the students at OST and heard them talk about issues I didn’t learn about till Penn and how aware they were of their community. I was floored.
When I got rejected from Penn Civic Scholars (I understood why once I met everyone at Penn Corp), even though learning about community service was one of my goals for coming to Penn, I was disappointed.
There were many moments before Penn too, but those were in different places and have been affected by my new knowledge here at Penn.
All of those times and many more have contributed to my learning about community service and continue to spark my interest about what it means to me and what it means to others.
What has been a highlight of your Community Engagement Internship experience thus far?
My favorite time so far was on a Friday, when my boss asked me what my plans were for the afternoon and I told her I had finished all my work. She told me I could head home early. I was so happy and so thankful. Beyond just having the day off, I am so thankful for the kindness and patience my coworkers have shown me. I’m new and temporary and I honestly didn’t expect anything, but they have given me continuous support and appreciation and they always just seem to notice and remember to ask me what I need in that moment. So my highlight is being surrounded by a caring environment and learning how to pass on the kindness they have shown me.
For these past two weeks, I’ve been preparing for Summer STAR and getting to know more about LSH and its staff. This is a compilation of my noticings and evaluations of my time so far and my thoughts for the coming weeks.
Note: LSH= Lutheran Settlement House, OST= Out of School Time program, BDVP= Bilingual Domestic Violence Program
Let’s talk about the Fridays here. Because, oh my goodness, I have never seen such camaraderie within an office. Everyone had talked about how exciting Fridays are here, but working in OST kept me busy with the kids and I didn’t get to see the excitement. This past Friday however, I got to see how the department of BDVP works so well.
Last Friday was not just any Friday, it was also the last day for Sam, my supervisor for OST. Therefore, we had a going away party at the office and an additional goodbye at a nearby restaurant afterwards. That means I spent about 4 hours of work time hanging out with the staff and sharing stories. I would like to note that throughout the going away party at the office, several people popped in to trade shifts on the hot-line and take a break or to cover the front desk, so that others could also enjoy a break too. Our head director even took a shift at the front desk to cover for someone. That is the best example of how my coworkers take care of each other, create an environment of fluidity between roles and jobs, and take care of themselves. I have been reading so many training manuals recently on how to facilitate and how to create effective group dynamics, but if anything distracts me from my readings, it is thinking of how wonderfully LSH emulates the efficiency and balance that the manuals try to describe.
The third floor department at LSH has a careful balance between personal and professional that works so well in the context of their work. The manual discusses how different cultures will have different approaches to work and how different groups may finish in the same amount of time using different methods that result in their own work expectations. It also discusses the importance of maintenance and task work, where one focuses on the relational aspect and workers, while the other focuses on getting the job done, respectively. Both are necessary, but depending on someone’s background or practices, they may value one over the other. Particularly, the maintenance job can be forgotten in the need to just do a job or it can go unnoticed. This may work in some settings, but at LSH they have shown how to do both. Normalizing the maintenance role as a part of the task role creates an environment of emotionally healthy and hardworking individuals (but watch out now, because I’m throwing out some evaluation statements).
The training manual (clearly it made an impact on me) states the importance of differentiating between noticings, observations without judgments, and evaluations, observations with value judgments (opinions). I’d like to share both with you. My noticings: my coworkers tease each other often, my coworkers take breaks to stand outside on the deck, my coworkers will take time to eat Twizzlers while walking around the office and talking and laughing with others, my coworkers decorate each others desks often, especially for going-aways and promotions or new hires, my coworkers say goodbye to everyone before leaving and hello to everyone upon arrival. They keep their office doors open, host barbecues, and plan retreats to attend together. My evaluation: my coworkers do this because it makes them happy, it takes care of them emotionally and provides a break, it creates a welcoming and supportive environment, it is part of their job. It is the maintenance task. It blends between personal and relational and weaves itself into supporting their professional work and it is just as important and worthy of their time and pay as their task role.
Working at the BDVP is emotionally draining (for everyone else; I’m just an intern) and maybe even a little work out physically (three flights of stairs daily). The hotline runs 24/7 which means that even when I’m last out of the office, there is someone there holding down the fort. Everyone who is trained takes turns, covers for each other, and supports one another after the calls, both logistically and emotionally. From just reading the domestic violence scenarios in the “In Their Shoes” classroom programming, I was stressed and sad. I can’t imagine what it’s like to talk to real people, to be expected to know the exact resource that can help them, to remain calm, and then to take the next call or the next case. The beautiful decorations, the little notes of wisdom, the constant supply of Twizzlers, and the room full of colleagues and support is what keeps them going, I believe. They have set up the foundation and created a space that would optimize their work. That is something to admire.
I’m thankful for everyone that has welcomed my questions, left their door open for me, and for giving me so much trust. Since everyone is in and out of the office on different days, there is no one who can regularly check my time-in and time-out. But they trust me to come in and do my work and for that I’m grateful and a little shocked. Shocked when I finished everything and was allowed to to leave an hour early, shocked when my coworker said she’d take responsibility for letting me leave early if I got in trouble (which I did not), and shocked when they let me sit in and learn about pregnancy (it’s a long story) or sit in during their information session with an immigration attorney. It makes me work harder to be worthy of that trust. As of now, I’ve finished preparing everything for STAR and work for the lowly intern seems a bit non-existent; however, I will continue offering to pick up some work here and there and learning more about how to best facilitate STAR. The in-between time can be frustrating, but it has taken care of my maintenance needs, so I now know I can go into STAR and give the students my best work! I’m ready to start swimming.
This is my reflection and praise of my first few weeks at Lutheran Settlement House, my experience working in the Out of School Time program, and all the wonderful staff and students I have met!
When I arrived at Lutheran Settlement House, I was given a tour and then taken to my desk, which had a paper that read: “Welcome Samantha!”. Everyone greeted me and shook my hand. From then on, the staff greeted me by name every day and welcomed me into their family. It is a privilege for me to be a part of their community and to see so many strong women together. I cannot stress how good it feels to be in an environment where my coworkers are also close friends, to see how they take care of themselves in order to do their best work, and how passionate they are about staying informed and staying connected to the community they serve.
I would like to take time to acknowledge some key women, who I have come to admire in my first two weeks. Robin and Gabby are my leads and they’ve shown me to be bold in stating exactly what you need in order to do your job. Robin works in the upper offices, but maintains a supportive relationship with the students from the Out of School Time program and demonstrates exactly how you can be a facilitator and creator for community programs, while also maintaining strong bonds with the people you serve.
Gabby is new just like me, but she has settled in smoothly (while it felt a little more bumpy for me). She has shown me how to integrate oneself in a new space, to feel comfortable asking questions, and how to dive into the work, even if you’re going to make mistakes.
Sam, my current direct supervisor, who also shares my name, has been one of the most inspiring people I have ever met these past few weeks. Sam runs the OST program for the students, and has truly given them her all. I admire the friendship she has built with them- how she attends their extracurricular activities (which is outside of her job), their graduations, and has lifted them up through some of the most heavy hardships in their lives. Sam isn’t afraid to call out the bullshit when she sees it; she seizes any moment as an opportunity to teach the kids AND she gives them the reasoning and history, so they can make the decision for themselves and then continue to inform others. I hope that I can do the same one day and have informed and open discussions with people, instead of just ignoring the issue or dismissing it. From bullying to depression, Sam has supported and called out the students through it all. What I admire most about Sam, is that she knows when to stop and take care of herself and others. She knew that after working for OST for some years it was time to move on, for herself emotionally, just as she knew that when I was doing too much, she was going to have my back. Sam is supportive, genuine, very aware, a problem-solver, and strong as hell. Even beyond Sam’s last day, I know I’m going to keep her in mind as one of my role models.
To the students of OST, oh my goodness gracious, I cannot say enough about them! I had thought it would be tough to bond with them in such little time, but after pushing myself to introduce myself and shake every students’ hand, I found myself admiring them and laughing with them, like I’d always known them. Of course, there is so much more for me to learn, but just to hear their poetry, to see them dance, to see them cook, and to have them challenge me showed me how talented, brilliant, kind, and hardworking they are. Thankfully, some of the students will be attending the summer STAR program, so it’s not a goodbye yet, and I will get to continue to get to know them. To the rest, I will miss them so much and I will miss all that I didn’t get to learn about them. These students knew things that I didn’t figure out until college, they were aware of their community and at the same time they were kids, making mistakes, and sucking up knowledge like little sponges.
I’m not even going to lie, because I have definitely cried or almost cried several times. I’ve cried in awe of their poetry and talent, I’ve cried watching how much they love Sam and how she loves them, and I’ve cried because of the pain a student in particular suffered. A student so strong and resilient. I know she will go far and her strength will continue to carry her through life’s troubles. I wish all the students and Sam the best of luck in life and I hope they can find support in their communities, even as OST comes to an end permanently, I know that the students know they are supported and they have so many people rooting for them!