“Why Would Anyone Wanna Leave Baltimore?”

June 16, 2010

I have some great, great news!

The Cristo Rey Jesuit Corporate Internship Program has hired me as a Corporate Sponsor Representative!

I could not be more excited for this opportunity. My time at Cristo Rey has been truly amazing, and I can’t wait to continue working at such an amazing place, and live in such a great city.

I’ll explain more about the position in a minute, but first, I think some big thank you’s are in order:

Mom and Dad– Pretty cool, huh? You’re oldest son has a job! Thank you for ALL of your love, support, and high expectations throughout the years. If there’s anyone who had unrelenting faith in me, it was you!

Friends and family– Your love and loyalty has meant so much to me through the years. Thank you!

Cristo Rey Jesuit and the people there– I wouldn’t want to stay if this year hadn’t been such a fantastic experience. Your devotion, love, and hard work inspire me every day! Thank you all!

JVC and Community- If not for JVC, I would never have had this opportunity. Also, thank you to my community, JVC Arrupe House. I’ve learned so much from you all this year. You’ve pushed me in ways I never thought possible, and your support for me has been so important to my year.

The People of Baltimore- I had no idea that I would come to love Baltimore as much as I do. Its people, places, and unique personality make it a place where I want to stay.

Okay, so, the job itself. Like I said, I’ll be working in the Corporate Internship Program as a Corporate Sponsor Representative.

The thing that makes Cristo Rey unique from other schools is the internship program. Each student, in addition to completing their college preparatory education, must work 5 days a month at local organizations like Legg Mason, Under Armour, and Mercy Hospital. In turn, these corporate sponsors, pay a portion of the student’s tuition. Recently, the Baltimore Sun covered the program wonderfully in much more detail.

My job will be as a liaison between the students, the school, and the corporate sponsors. It’s an amazing program and I’m honored and excited to be a part of it in such a great city!

Plus, as Bodie Broadus said in The Wire, “”Why would anyone ever wanna leave Baltimore? That’s what I’m asking.”


I Heart City Life

March 31, 2010

On Friday evening, while it was still light out, a man walked up to our porch, took two of our floral-patterned lawn chairs, walked to his green Yukon, and drove away. Four of us were home, but we were too slow in realizing what was happening to do anything to stop it.

It was an oddly gentle reminder that we live in a city. It’s a city full of many great people, places, and things, but it’s also a city where crime, theft, and violence are realities. We may live in Charles Village, a relatively decent area, but Greenmount, a street and area known for crime, is a mere two blocks away. In Baltimore, “relatively decent” turns to “pretty dangerous” in a blink.

This is all a bit new to me. I’ve never lived in a city before.

When you live in the city, you can’t afford to forget to lock your door. You have to walk with someone else at night. You can’t leave the windows open all day. The GPS can’t stay on the dash. If you’re kids want to play outside, you sure as heck need to be out there with them. And when you get too comfortable, there’s usually a siren close by or a search helicopter to bring you back to reality.

On the other hand city living gives you have a unique community. You don’t need a car. You can walk most places: grocery store, watering hole, gym, the farmer’s market. They’re all close by. You have a certain protective bond with your neighbors. You see familiar faces around the local spots. You can sit on your porch on a particularly warm Saturday in March and watch the cars go by. You find a certain comfort in the sounds of the city: the barking dogs, the too-loud music or car engine, the side-walking passersby.

Living in a city is both scary and gloriously liberating for a country (suburban) boy like me.

Now, as I return home tomorrow for Spring Break and Easter, I’m reminded of the stark difference in living that I’ve experienced this year, and how much I’ve come to love living in the city of Baltimore… even if we do only have one more floral-patterned lawn chair left.

Decal from LiveBaltimore.com


February 7, 2010

So, we got snow this weekend. It started on Friday at 11am and didn’t stop until about 4pm on Saturday, which was actually 6 hours earlier than what meteorologists had called for. In the end, we only received about 2 feet (they were calling for as much as 30 inches. THIRTY!). Even for my hearty New England standards, this is a ton of snow.

Seriously, people were running through the streets yelling, “Snowpocalypse! Snowmageddon! SnOwMG! Snowly Moly! Snowtorious BIG! Snowva Nation! Stay in your igloos… err… homes!”

Well, I may have been the only one yelling, “Snowva Nation!” but I was really excited about the Villanova-Georgetown game (THAT one ended well- NOT).

…OK, so nobody was actually yelling anything, but you get the point: people were not taking this storm lightly.

I spent most of the early afternoon today (Sunday) shoveling my car in preparation for work tomorrow, but it turns out Baltimore City has already canceled school! I’m definitely not in Massachusetts anymore!

Anyway, here’s a few pictures from when the storm died down (click to make them bigger):

Who I Live With Part V: Amanda the Advocate

January 3, 2010

This post is the final piece of a five-part series of interviews with my Jesuit Volunteer housemates in Baltimore. Parts I, II, III, and IV can be found here.

Baltimore City Detention Center

The last, but certainly not the least (none of them are, of course), of my housemates is Amanda White. Amanda is completing her second year of JVC here in Baltimore and is, comparably, the old, crotchety woman of the house… minus the crotchety part. In reality, Amanda is a confident, driven woman and her experience, positive spirit, and get-it-done attitude are an asset to the community. She hails from Louisville, Kentucky, has a sometimes-subtle southern accent, and attended Georgetown College in Kentucky. Amanda works for the Public Justice Center in Baltimore as a Legal Advocate and will pursue a career in law. I’ve learned a lot from Amanda’s work and she’s helped to open my eyes to a totally different population than I expected (more on that below).

I sat down with (e-mailed) Amanda with a few questions to tell you more about what she does. Here goes:

What’s the Public Justice Center?

The Public Justice Center (PJC) is a nonprofit legal advocacy organization founded in Maryland in 1985 that seeks to enforce and expand the rights of people who suffer injustice because of poverty or discrimination. The PJC advocates in the courts, legislatures, and government agencies, and through public education and coalition building. Current projects focus on tenants, workers, immigrants, prisoners, homeless children, families needing medical assistance, and creating a right to counsel in civil cases.

You’re a Legal Advocate at the PJC. What does that entail? What types of projects do you work on?

This year I am assisting lead attorney, Wendy Hess, on the Prisoners’ Rights Project.  The goal of the project is to improve the poor medical and sanitation conditions within the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC).  The project takes a two-prong approach: a class action lawsuit and individual advocacy.  In 2003 the PJC joined forces with the ACLU to bring a class action lawsuit against the BCDC. Rather than seek a monetary award, the lawsuit was intended to affect the medical treatment and sanitation standards at the BCDC. Currently, the State and ACLU/PJC are working on a settlement, which we hope to have finalized in 2010.  The only issue left to litigate will be heat, or the issue of adequate temperatures within the jail. My role in this part of the project is fairly limited, but I mainly help collect the necessary legal documents and information, such as taking detainees’ declarations.

During the course of this lawsuit, the PJC has also offered individual advocacy for men and women being detained at the BCDC.  Staff and trained volunteers meet with detainees who experience urgent medical issues.  After conducting an intake interview, the Prisoners’ Right Project Team (a.k.a. Team Awesome!) makes a judgment call on the best course of action.  Sometimes that might be educating the detainee on the best way to obtain adequate medical care.  Other times that might be actually sending an advocacy letter on behalf of the client.  I assist in conducting these interviews, training the volunteers, maintaining the client files, and attending Inmate Council Meetings (weekly meetings where representatives from each housing unit come together to discuss current detention center issues.)

Outside of these responsibilities, I tackle other side projects as needed.  Right now I have been focused on researching the issue of trying juveniles as adults for our project “Just Kids!” Along with our partners, the PJC hopes to help issue a report with recommendations regarding this issue.  I also sit on the Baltimore Open Society Institute’s Coalition of Criminal Reform Advocates, and I have worked with the Maryland State Bar Association’s Criminal Reform Section.

The diversity within my job responsibilities has been a great learning experience.  What I love about the work has been the eye opening and humanizing experience of putting faces to a generally forgotten population.

You’re in your second year with JVC. Why a second year? What did you do last year?

When I first entered the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I knew that I wanted to do at least two years of service before applying to graduate schools. There hasn’t been a question in my mind since I graduated that I not only wanted to make a career out of serving others, but a life.  My first year as a JV really set a great foundation for the lifestyle changes I was hoping to make, but I thought a second year would cement the values.  This experience is unlike anything that I will probably ever do again in my life, so I want to get as much out of it as possible.  So far, the year and four months I have spent as a JV have been some of the most transformative months of my life.  There is so much to learn and so much to just take in.  I like to think of it in the sense that my first year was about observing and studying the structures that keep individuals stuck within the cycle of poverty. My second year is a continuation of that process, but also time to start analyzing the ways in which I can begin to affect the different phases of the poverty spiral.

Last year I worked at a neighborhood center in Syracuse, NY.  I was the Program and Tutoring Coordinator for an elementary after school program.  From 2-5pm Monday through Friday, I and three other co-workers entertained and attempted to educate 60+ children ages 6-12 years old.  For one year, I lived and breathed the lives of my kids and the neighborhood I worked in.  I held conferences with their parents, ran a food pantry twice a week for neighbors, attended local school performances, and organized holiday parties.  Now my new office is covered in pictures of my “babies.”  I try to call them once a month, and look forward to heading back to NY to visit them.

Fun fact time!

I was a Girl Scout from the second grade through my Senior year of high school.  I sold cookies to pay for a whitewater rafting trip on the New River, a long weekend in Gatlinburg, TN, and a Spring Break cruise to the Caribbean. But my favorite part was the annual fundraiser we held – a Father/Daughter Square Dance! Yee-haw!

Yee-haw, indeed! Thanks, Amanda!

Photo via Autonomy.

Who I Live With Part IV: Rachel, Beans, & Bread

December 7, 2009

This post is part IV of a five-part series of interviews with my Jesuit Volunteer housemates in Baltimore. Parts I, II, & III can be found here.

So, I’ve kind of made a big deal about the lack of meat in my current diet with JVC (it’s been four months and I’m barely alive!). Well, it’s all Rachel Snyder’s fault. She’s a vegetarian and just a terrible, terrible person on top of that. She always forces her views on others and makes them eat vegetarian. Rachel is just awful to have around and nobody likes her…

…I’m just kidding! Just the opposite is true, actually. Rachel’s great! She works at Beans & Bread and, is passionate about helping the homeless. She also knows Worcester pretty darn well as she graduated from Holy Cross, my father’s alma mater (Go ‘Saders!). So, without further adieu, ladies and gents, my housemate, Rachel Snyder.

You’re a caseworker at Beans and Bread. Tell us more about Beans & Bread and about what you do there. What’s a typical day look like?

Beans and Bread, a program of St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, is a homeless outreach center located in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore. The resource center provides many services to the clients who come in, including case management, housing placement, a hot meal, and clothing assistance, among other services. The goal is to meet the clients’ basic needs, but also to provide them with the resources, support, and tools needed to become self-sufficient.

There are also two housing programs affiliated with Beans and Bread. One is a transitional housing program for men (20 spots) and one is a permanent housing program for chronically homeless individuals (60 spots).

I’m a case worker, which means that I see clients on a walk-in basis and try to connect them with resources and other social services in the area. I meet with eight clients per day (the first 8 that sign up each day), three days a week, and spend about 15-40 minutes with each, listening to their story (as much or as little as they choose to tell me) and about what brings them into Beans and Bread. I then try to connect them to the resources they need. If they need clean clothes, I provide them with clothing; if they are looking for housing I discuss some housing options with them and assist them in the application process, etc. People come into Beans and Bread with various needs and I am often the first person they meet with in their process of meeting these needs. If a client comes through case work and needs more assistance than I can provide in the short amount of time I am able to meet with them, I refer them to a case manager who can meet with the client on a more regular basis.

I find case work to be challenging at times, but extremely rewarding. My interactions with clients often bring me great joy, especially during those times when I am able to successfully work with a client to link them with housing or other services because I can see a hopeful change in the situation, and often in the spirit, of a client.

Why did you want to do JVC and work with the homeless?

I grew up in a home that stressed service work and the attitude of “to whom much is given, much is required.” I grew up occasionally volunteering at soup kitchens and doing other service work. When I went to college (Holy Cross in Worcester, MA) I took many sociology and religious studies courses that explored social inequality and poverty. I went on a couple of mission trips to the Appalachian region and was actively involved in the student volunteering group at Holy Cross. I volunteered at Abby’s House, a homeless shelter and resource center for women, for three years and led this group during my senior year. Through these experiences, I felt God calling me to give my life to working for and with the poor and marginalized in our society.

What’s been most challenging for you working with the homeless?

There is a huge lack of affordable housing in many cities, including Baltimore. The wait list for Public Housing in Baltimore City is several years! There are also lengthy waiting lists at various other housing facilities and programs. It is frustrating when you meet with a client who is in desperate need of stable housing and the resources are just not there. I often wish I could do more for the people I meet.

How do you feel about homelessness? What measures can we take to prevent it? How should we treat the homeless on the street?

The issue of homelessness stirs up many feelings in me. I am saddened by the fact that so many people live in unsafe, unclean, or unstable situations. I am deeply saddened when a client comes in and tells me he’s been sleeping on a bench at the harbor for the past week. I am frustrated by the fact that there is not enough affordable housing. I am angered by the existence of unjust social relationships in our society, which often cause and perpetuate poverty and its consequences.

Last year Sheila Dixon, the Mayor of Baltimore, implemented a 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. Some of the strategies include creating more affordable housing and providing greater emergency and preventative services. Initiatives such as raising the minimum wage and providing after school programs are also intimately tied to ending homelessness. Preventing and ending homelessness is a huge task – but through the work of social service agencies, such as Beans and Bread, and progressive policy initiatives, I am hopeful that we can make a significant impact.

Individuals can make an impact as well. You can write to your state representatives to ask them to support your local social service agencies, you can volunteer your time to serve a meal at a soup kitchen, and you can treat the homeless people you see with respect and dignity. At Beans and Bread, one of the central beliefs by which we operate is that each person is just that – a person. And thus, just by the sheer fact that they are a human being, they have certain rights, one of which is human dignity. So the next time you see a homeless person on the street, look him or her in the eye. Maybe even say hi or offer the person some food.  Acknowledge their humanness.

Aaaaand… Fun Fact!

I fell in love at age 5 – with otters.  They have been my favorite animal since my family went to the Monterrey Aquarium in California when I was in kindergarten. To this day, I still squeal when I see an otter, just like I did when I was 5.

Thank you, Rachel!

On a similar note, Danny Brown (@DannyBrown), a person I greatly admire, and the 12for12K Challenge, a charity supported by social media (Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc.), are focusing on homeless awareness this month. Check out more information HERE and stay tuned for a post from me on the importance of hands-on service.

Who I Live With Part III: Stace of Bass

December 1, 2009

This post is part III of a five-part series of interviews with my Jesuit Volunteer housemates in Baltimore. Parts I & II can be found here.

Today is World AIDS Day and many different sites like Google, Facebook, and Twitter are doing their part to raise awareness by joining the (RED) campaign. Raising awareness and money for AIDS/HIV research is very important, but today, I would like to introduce you to Stacey Hirst, someone who makes World AIDS Day into an everyday thing. Stacey is one of those people who is always able to cut through the gook to offer the God’s honest truth about things. Oh, and she’s also smart, passionate, and has great taste in music. Here’s more about Stace of Bass in her own words:

You work at the Don Miller House in Baltimore, a part of AIDS Interfaith Residential Services. Can you tell us more about what the Don Miller House does?

Don Miller House/Homes in Baltimore were the foundation for the AIRS organization which provides housing for low income individuals and families with or at risk of HIV/AIDS. Specifically, Don Miller House (DMH) is an adult foster program that provides a living community for single adults who are HIV+ and suffer from some other disability, such as diabetes, serious mental illness, poor ambulation, heart disease, etc. DMH was historically a hospice care facility, and while it still serves individuals living with end stage AIDS, due to improvements in treatment, the residents of DMH are living longer and healthier lives. Therefore, DMH has been able to implement more programming to educate residents on self-care and independent living skills. The residents vary greatly in the care they require. Some residents are fairly independent while others are very dependent on the care givers; so DMH seeks to provide services that are appropriate for a great range of resident needs.

What’s your schedule like? What does a typical day/night at work look like?

My schedule can change drastically from week to week. My specific position, residential aid, has three possible shifts: 7am-3pm, 3pm-11pm, or 11pm-7am, seven days a week. While I get two days off a week, they are not always the same two days, and we work holidays (meaning we will get a day for that holiday off at some other time, but not necessarily on that day). Each shift has different responsibilities, but the main idea for each is the same. We are there to insure that each resident is comfortable and that their medical and personal needs are being addressed. My primary duties at work are to administer medication for each resident (most take meds 2 x daily, some 3 or 4), prepare and serve meals, clean bedrooms and common areas, assist with hygiene, etc. One additional project that the Jesuit Volunteer typically takes on is a med recycling program. I organize discontinued medications or recently expired medications that we would otherwise dispose of and donate them to an organization that will then distribute the medications to people who cannot afford the extremely costly antiviral medications needed to treat HIV. I am currently organizing the medications and will hopefully be making the first shipment in early January. In addition to these required duties, I also spend time with individual residents doing things such as reading, art projects, painting the ladies’ nails, playing games (mostly Bingo or Uno), etc.

What are some of the challenges that you face everyday at work?

The challenges I face at work are constantly changing. Some days are easy, and some days are very difficult. The range of residents can be difficult to manage at times. While one resident may be really sick and not able to eat or get out of bed, other residents are needing to be entertained and fed. Often times it’s difficult to match my attitude to the needs of the individual residents. In addition, because some of my residents do suffer from severe mental illness, I have to be aware of what I say and how I say things…my sense of humor maybe doesn’t always work at work. I think I’ve gained a lot of appreciation for nurses and other health care workers. Being in their shoes, especially when I’m cleaning up bodily fluids, has given me a greater respect and appreciation for their profession. Most of the challenges are good challenges that I am learning a lot from… I definitely think I am becoming more patient and more grateful for the things I have.

What types of issues and challenges do your residents face?

My residents obviously have many challenges they face on any given day. Obviously they deal with the effects of their illnesses on a daily basis, but I think more than that they struggle with the fact that they don’t have much of a support system outside of DMH. Many of the residents either don’t have family, or don’t see them, except on an occasional holiday. Some residents are parents, spouses, were previously professional employees, etc.. Thus, I think that for them being debilitated to the point that they can’t take care of themselves is a huge personal struggle that they face on a day to day basis. Lastly, although most residents are healthy enough to do things outside of the house, either the transportation or funding for them to attend a day program is unavailable, and so they spend the majority of the time inside the house. Although DMH provides them with their primary health and living needs, they can’t possibly provide all the social needs necessary to live a happy and fulfilling life. While we try to promote community and keep the residents busy, there’s only so much that can be done inside a home, especially when our residents are healthy enough to leave.

Why JVC? Why AIDS/HIV Services?

Since the beginning of college I had entertained the idea of JVC. As I became more involved in groups on my campus (Seattle University) and became more educated about the social injustices within the United States, I knew that JVC and it’s four values would be a way that I could not only learn more about these structural institutions, but also take part in transforming them. I specifically chose HIV/AIDS ministry because I am passionate, on a scientific level, about finding better treatments and hopefully a cure/vaccine for the future. During college I took several classes in which we discussed both the scientific and societal impacts of this disease, and actually researched two specific HIV medications for my senior synthesis. I thought that HIV/AIDS ministry would give me a very personal and human understanding of this disease and how it affects individuals on the most basic levels. Although I had studied the virus itself on a scientific level, I felt that I was missing the personal component that I believe is necessary to really make changes occur that will improve the lives of those infected.

Fun Fact!

I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu last summer!

Thank you, Stacey, and thank you for all that you do!

Who I Live With- Part II: Scottie-Scottie-Scottie

November 22, 2009

This is Part II of a five-part series of interviews with my Jesuit Volunteer housemates in Baltimore.

When I found out that the only other guy in my house was a St. Joe’s (PA) Hawk, I admit, I panicked a little. The Hawks are Villanova’s biggest basketball rival and its counterpart in the fabled Holy War in Philadelphia. Would we be able to get along? What would it be like, not only to live with a Hawk, but to room with a Hawk too? Well, it turns out that Scott Donovan is a pretty cool dude. He’s one of those guys who has a great sense of humor, but knows exactly when to take a more serious tone. Oh, and he also currently has a moustache, plays guitar, can pull off a jean-jacket, and has been deemed “the one” by Dee-Dee, one of Stacey’s residents (when she thinks of him, she says, “Scottie-Scottie-Scottie” and looks off dreamily). So, ladies and gents, this is Scott Donovan.

You work at the St. Frances Academy Community Center. What does the Community Center do? What types of events do you run?

Well Tom, I’m glad you asked! The Community Center is located in West Baltimore, and it seeks to service the Johnston Square/Brentwood Village neighborhoods.  It is part of St. Frances Academy, which is a private high school run by the Oblate Sisters of Providence.  Throughout the year, the Center provides many events and services for both children and adults.  Some examples include a safe Halloween party for the kids, a job fair for the adults, and an after-school program.

You’re the Assistant Director of the community center (not Assistant to the Director of course). What does a typical day look like?

After I finish milking the cow and eating breakfast, I ride my bike to work.  I get there around 8:30, check my e-mail, and find out from Mr. Moore (my boss) what’s on tap for the day.  Usually the mornings consist of working on whatever event is coming up on the calendar.  Right now, we’re gearing up for the MLK Day job fair, so I’ve been contacting companies and agencies across the city, seeking their participation in our event.  I also do a lot of street outreach with Mr. Moore, and lately we’ve been walking around the neighborhood, signing people up for the job fair.  When 2:30 rolls around, I work with the 30 most wonderful little kids you could ever meet during our after-school program.  This runs from Monday to Thursday until 5:30, and I am in charge of everything from passing out snacks to helping with homework, from throwing deep spirals during football games to teaching the kids some basics of reading music.  At 5:30 I head home to be with my wonderful housemates!

What types of challenges do you face? What’s your favorite part of the job?

I don’t think there are any challenges having specifically to do with the carrying-out of my tasks.  I have found that the challenges I face are broad, and stem from the overall situation into which I have entered this year.  Sometimes I feel challenged in relating to the adults and children I work with because I come from such a different background.  This might mean having trouble relating to a kid who has a difficult home life, or connecting with a jobless man who has been incarcerated multiple times.  Though these encounters tend to make me uncomfortable, I try to keep in mind the idea that that is why I am here: to be uncomfortable, and to challenge my own status quo.

My favorite part of my job is working with my boss, Mr. Moore, and with the after-school kids.  Mr. Moore is just one-of-a-kind, and I think we have a great workplace relationship.  The kids will test my patience at times, but they all have so much potential, and I can’t wait until 2:30 rolls around every day.

Why did you decide to do JVC? Why were you interested in community organizing?

For me, JVC encompasses everything I want to be at this point in my life.  As I weighed my post-grad options last year, I found myself more and more drawn to doing a year of service. Based on the service I had participated in during college, I figured moving in that direction after school is what would make me the happiest.  I also realized that a year in JVC would be a different type of experience than a college-based service trip, and I wanted to find a way to really incorporate this desire into my daily life- to “walk the walk,” so-to-speak.  I chose JVC specifically for it’s Four Values, and I was most attracted to the community aspect, where we are able to share and grow in our experiences together.  Now, I have to say, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

I didn’t know specifically what type of work I wanted to do in JVC, but I knew I wanted to do many different things.  I think working in community organizing and development affords me that opportunity, as I am at a place where no two days look the same, and I am learning about the many different aspects of running a community center.

You work with Baltimore community leader, Ralph Moore. What’s that like?

Mr. Moore is a gem.  He has an encyclopedic amount of knowledge regarding Baltimore and its past, and I already have learned so much from him.  He never ceases to amaze me at the amount of people he knows within the city, and everyone seems to want to pick his brain (he constantly gets phone calls seeking his opinon on an issue, or he will be taken out to lunch by a friend seeking his advice).  He has spent his whole life in Baltimore, and you can see that he loves this city.  He has seen the rise and fall of the neighborhood where the Community Center is located, and his life’s work is a testament to his love of peace and social justice.  He is a man who greatly respects, and who is greatly respected.

It also doesn’t hurt that he has an incredible sense of humor.  Thus, we tend to get along just fine.

Fun Fact time!

I can solve a Rubik’s Cube in 5 minutes.

Thanks, Scott!