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Putting the ‘work’ in team work

5 Mar

“team work.” A charged phrase. What comes to mind for you? I’ve facilitated outdoor team building activities for the last 4 years and kids from 8 to 80 have thrown out the key words: trust, respect, leadership, cooperation, strategizing, encouragement, support… You know the list.

But what about ‘work’? As we reach the mid-point of our year in Baltimore, we’re all busy with our placements, and sometimes second jobs or family life. However, a major component of Public Allies, is a team service project- to put our training into practice together. All the MD Public Allies service project teams presented their projects and progress to the group 2 weeks ago. In project prep, we divided and conquered: Jon and Allen on Prezi prep (check it out!), Sharon and I finalized the project plan notes, others took photos, wrote background pieces and prepared a rap with which to end the presentation. We made a great showing as a team.

But what about the project itself? Our project’s focus is parent engagement at the Augusta Fells High School for the Visual Arts- a public turn-around community school in West Baltimore. The project was our second choice, and it was difficult to know how we’d integrate ourselves into the school which none of us had a relationship with before the somewhat daunting project of involving parents we didn’t know into a school we didn’t know. No small obstacle to doing as Americorps has us do, which is “get things done.”

With our pretty presentation all done, it’s time for our team to figure out in what ways we’ll take action on a short term project with many barriers to community investment. We have a wonderful, engaged social worker guiding our project within the school but there is no grade, no grant money to be lost, and no boss: no one to truly hold us accountable to completion but one another.

Henceforth I’ll be keeping y’all posted on this blog- here’s to modern social media accountability!

Because we’ve got the team- all we now need is to do the work.


A piece of MLK’s vision in Baltimore

6 Feb

MD Public Allies spent its MLK “day on” at the St. Frances Academy Job training event and job fair, working toward Dr. King’s true cause: not only to bridge lines of racial separation and injustice but those of economic disparity and injustice across all racial, ethnic and class lines.

A quick reflection on my experience with one woman’s story that morning:

I approached a woman in the resume seminar to see how I could help. It quickly became clear that the woman had her email address and resume already in order; she was technologically savvy and prepared. We moved from the computers to a private desk where I was able to give detailed feedback on the organization of her resume. The young woman, a few years older than me, had moved up the lines of customer service work for Verizon Wireless over the last 12 years but was laid off when 3 departments were combined and the most experienced staff earning the most money were cut. She chose to find a new job rather than return to a phone line rep- her starting position 12 years prior.

Her story brings to light the ways in which the current state of the economy and job creation-and the systems that support  them are not only hurting those who were already impoverished, but also those who had begun their move up the ladder and were suddenly thrown down harshly.

May we all remember this, continue our work to rectify, and to especially remember that those without work are not without skills, nor undeserving of high levels of dignity and respect.

On being as garlic

4 Jan

“Donkey: Ogres are like onions. We have a lot of layers.”  — Shrek

I have been absent of writing as winter has set in.

It is not for lack of ideas wringing my brain. Just that they needed to rest.

The onion-layers bit is not only a metaphor from Shrek, but a metaphor used in the study of Kaballah: an ancient Jewish mysticism still used as a spiritual practice by many people today. Jewish mysticism and moon-lore would also tell you that near the beginning of December, when the Jewish Calendar month of Kislev began at the new moon, so began the month of dreams.

To mark the new moon, we at Kayam Farm took on the onion’s culinary cousin and completed our planting of garlic and metaphors. Garlic, like daffodils, is a bulb. You make a hole in fertile soil, and push in the piece of garlic you might otherwise have eaten an inch deep — before the ground’s too hard with frost. Then the garlic waits. And you wait. And when the moment is right in late spring, your efforts will come to fruition when a green shoot pops out of the ground, and that one piece magically or miraculously or naturally, as science would have us understand it, has turned to a head of 10-12 pieces.

Winter work on a farm is like this garlic and it can feel like work of the spirit or the soul. It’s about as close as I get to such things in asking myself: what is it that I must plant now, and allow it to sit, hibernate, and rest in order to come to fruition in the spring?

And what will you?
freshly harvested garlic

Path to here

28 Nov

If you give a man directions, he’ll know where to go that day. If you teach him how to read a map, he’ll be able to find his own paths for a lifetime.”

(The quote goes something like that, right?)

Public Allies asked us to introduce ourselves to you, the lovely audience, by sharing our paths to here.

I think a lot about paths. Partly because I’m a nerd. Mostly because I spent my childhood on a path I didn’t know I could leave, most of college leaving it without realizing, and a couple of years in a metaphorical ditch crying: “Oh no! Where am I? How did I get here? Where should I go now???” I felt doomed by all the ditches, and inequalities modern civilization had on offer. Then I bought some hiking boots, learned to read topographic maps, borrowed machete and climbed, mapped, and hacked my way onto new paths. Literally. There was no tragedy in any of this:

sawing my way outSonoran Desert HikingClimbing

So where did I come from? Imagine a yellowed ocean chart. The continents are outlined with fountain pen ink and thin arrows draw my great grandparents’ paths from their shtetls in Ukraine to the gates of Ellis Island. But immigration’s not all pretty nostalgia. To the East, there is fire at their heels from the villages being burned in pogroms. To the West, that fire reemerges from their fists as they are blacklisted organizers for workers’ rights.

The fire is powerful and violent. And when I myself finally noticed it – it overshadowed the computer glare reflecting the Google map of my comfortable suburban childhood – it scared me. I had to learn to contain history in my belly. It burns there yet. My dad is a physicist and he would tell you: energy cannot leave the universe. (My mom is French teacher, so she’d say: “l’energie ne peut pas sortir de l’univers”). But I do not spew its violence back out upon the world. I transform it instead to kindle the light by which I bear witness. And draw maps.

Thus my path to here: To Kayam Farm and to Public Allies. Step 1: We’re learning how to draw asset maps- maps of the valuable people and institutions- of the communities we’ll work this year. From there, we’ll organize people on paths to positive change, and leave our maps for the next generations to use.

I’ve had some years to think, and some time to put down the machete to wield the pen, so stay tuned to learn more about how did I get here? and if you like maps so much, why are you doing an Americorps program for little pay when you could be studying GIS technology and earning a salary? … and be part of my map into the future.