Day 6 in Baltimore
January 10, 2014
Maybe we didn’t come into such contact with people that we changed their lives forever. But we smiled at people, and that could have changed their entire day. We folded and sorted clothes, and at one point someone is going to put those pants on, or those pajamas on and because we sorted it, we helped. We shook hands and we set up cots, we explained why we were there and accepted so many thanks, humbly. We broke up the monotonous day of children and the elderly. We made sandwiches and filled water pitchers. We cleaned tables and snuck an extra cookie or two to someone who really needed it. We spent time together; we went out to fancy dinners and took long walks for slurpees. We ate fancy pizza and forgot Tupperware and had to store leftover spaghetti in a bread bag. We became friends and then we became a family.
I don’t know where any of us will be next week when classes start up again, and none of us can say for sure that we will always be friends or that we will even say hi when we pass each other in the halls. But we do know right now that we have each other’s back, we are on each others team, and if push came to shove - something amazing happened this week, and we could call on each other in the middle of the night and we would be there.
Our flight leaves in one half hour, we’re sitting the Baltimore Washington International Airport and our chaperones, Jon and Megan, gave us all six post cards. Our assignment is to write one to everyone we came here with. I borrowed a pen from some guy sitting next to me; it’s a really nice pen. But here we are, thirty minutes left of one of the most amazing experiences of our lives and I’m not sure what to write to everyone.
“You rock don’t ever change” “stay cool” “keep in touch” “xoxo”
Nothing seems right, so let me take this time to say –
Thank you, our trip will go down in history. Not only did we do amazing work together, as a team, but we had some amazingly hysterical and great times. From shopping, the aquarium, gourmet dog food stores, and scary Chinese restaurants. Naps every chance we get, staying up late and talking about everything in the world.
We’ll go on and live our lives, we’ll go shopping and on vacations. We’ll throw away leftovers and we will continue on the way we have for all of our years, but I hope you all left as changed as I did. And I hope everyone reading this feels like they were right there with us, and it only encourages you to give back. You don’t have to go to Baltimore, Jamaica, or Africa, you can go right downtown and give back right here. There are plenty of people in need, I promise you wont be sorry.
Day 5 in Baltimore
January 9, 2014
Welcome to the last day of service here in Baltimore. The week came and went so quickly. Tomorrow is our free day to wander around Baltimore and spend some time in its Inner Harbor – however today we have quite the schedule ahead of us.
Two of us are feeling wildly under the weather – not sure what it is but we are going to push through our last day of service the best we can. We are starting this morning at the Headstart program right outside of the city. We walked to our car that was parked at Our Daily Bread and headed over to Headstart. It took a series of one-way side roads, dodging potholes and overflow parking lots but we got there and let ourselves in. After we checked in at the front desk we got our assignments, Ariel and Sam would be staying in this building and were assigned to two different classrooms. Megan and I were sent down the street to another branch of the school while Jon and Juan were in charge of transporting leftover Christmas toys from one building to the other. So we let the boys do the heavy work and got to our classrooms.
Today was absolutely my day. I found myself in a pre school classroom that had fifteen students, all around the age of four, eleven of which had IEP’s. I’ve spent my last four years at Elms College studying what it takes to be an educator, with my focus in early childhood education. Walking through the classroom door instantly made me smile. All of the children were so excited to have a visitor; some hid in the corner shy while others came over and hugged my leg. But their was one kid that was extremely interested and attached to me and his name was Aiden. Aiden and I hung out together for most of the day, he was one of two Caucasian children in the class, and he was diagnosed with social anxiety and is a selective mute. We served breakfast, sat through story time, a lesson on the senses, a science experiment and a sing along before it was time for the students to disperse and work in stations of their choice. I went with Aiden to the science center where we looked at seashells under magnifying glasses and experimented with magnets and pipe cleaners. I decided to take control and sit Aiden on my lap and opened a book that talked about the weather and different times of day. We got half way through when we opened to a full-page spread of a beautiful night sky with several dozens of stars. Aiden stopped me to examine the stars and this was when Aiden said some of the first words he had said to me all day – “the stars are so beautiful.” I didn’t know how much more I’d get out of him but I opened it up for discussion and asked him if he ever looks at the sky at night outside of his house. Aiden responded and it was the last thing he said to me for the rest of the day. “No! my mommy locks the door before it gets dark cause we’re poor and white and don’t live in a good place.”
We had a three hour break before we had to head to our next and last volunteer site. We all took a nice nap then headed out on our walk to the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center. This place was a long-term shelter for mostly men while they did offer approximately one dozen beds for women. The Weinberg center offered housing to around 200 people and we were going to be in charge of dinner service with a man named Erik, who does this – every night. Out of the seven of us, five were sent to the backroom to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the bagged lunches that the clients would receive in the morning before they left while two of us were put on the line. Juan and I took that job and headed out front. I was in charge of giving everyone a cup with ice in it while Juan was in charge of napkins and silverware. The meals that were served here were TV dinner style, unlike the other two soup kitchens that we spent time at. We served in waves of around fifty people. It was at the Weinberg center that I believe our entire trip came full circle, just in time.
We all had so many things going on in our own lives at home. Some of us were worrying about planning a wedding, our animals back home, some of us were starting our last semester in college in only a week, while others couldn’t wait to go on another service trip or how all of us wanted to just sleep in our own beds again. For me, never being on a service trip before, I thought I was going to come to Baltimore and solve all of their problems in a short six days but found myself feeling just as confused as I was when I got there. After leaving all of the volunteer sites I would ask myself “Who did I help today?” and I never actually knew the answer. It took the clients at the Weinberg Center to show me exactly what I did – all week. In the last dinner wave there was a man who approached Juan and I and left us with this… “if you look at a tree, there will always be birds in it. Hawks, robins, owls, eagles, hummingbirds, and blue jays. But if you look at the ground around the trees, you’ll see pigeons. You’ll never see a pigeon in a tree, I am very much like a pigeon, while you are birds.”
Day 3 In Baltimore
January 7, 2014
Tuesday morning and we all woke up ready to go! Today we are spending most of the day at the Esperanza Center. The Esperanza Center is a place for people that either immigrated to the united states, people that are underprivileged or homeless and are interested in learning English, getting medical attention, or getting legal help. They have been in business for fifty years and on average serve over 2,500 people a year. This program has nineteen full time staff members but welcomes the help from approximately 6,000 volunteers throughout any given year. This place really had it down to a science.
The first part of the morning we spent again, sorting through left over donations from Christmas. It was one of the coldest days so we had to make sure we separated all of the coats from the rest of the clothes and bring them upstairs where we hung them on shelves. We couldn’t bring them up fast enough for the line of people browsing through them. After we finished sorting clothing we headed upstairs for lunch before we got the real job. It was class registration day for new students that were looking to begin classes in ESL, or English as a second language. Our job was to help the prospective students fill out their information and take their placement test. This was the challenging part. While three out of the seven of us are Hispanic ourselves, no one actually speaks the language fluently. It really showed me how hard it must be for foreign people that don’t understand or speak English very well on a daily basis. It only took a few minutes to get into the swing of things and we got several people through their paperwork and into their test. Then Jon and I were given the job of correcting the placement tests. Some people scored at an intermediate level while others didn’t answer a single question on the test. This was something that Eric, one of our roommates as well as the long term volunteer at the Esperanza Center, said happened often. They serve a large variety of people at various levels of knowledge and that was something that they prided themselves on.
We had a short break after the Esperanza Center and then got right back up and headed to My Sisters Place. My Sisters Place is a soup kitchen for women only. When we arrived a woman named Miss Anita greeted us at the back door. Miss Anita was a shorter woman, with a lot of hair under her big hair net with one of the most infectious smiles I’ve ever seen. She wasted no time before putting us to work; the corn was on the stove, the casserole in the oven and the cookies ready to be placed on a tray. We filled the water pitchers, folded napkins, set the tables and still had time to spare before the doors opened. This soup kitchen while it was only a quarter of the size of Our Daily Bread, worked similarly. The people that came for dinner were served restaurant style their only responsibility was to bus their own plate, which was no problem for anyone at all, and as they all passed to go to the garbage not one person didn’t reach out to say “thank you”.
The weather this night was very cold which called for emergency shelter, therefore we had to set up cots and get the soup kitchen ready to be a shelter for several women, with the seven of us working together it took only a short amount of time and we walked home, did our nightly reflection. And then Juan and I – being the two seniors decided that we wanted to make dinner for everyone, so we started the water for spaghetti and preheated the oven for a huge load of garlic bread, ate our hearts out and then headed to bed.
Day 2 In Baltimore
January 6, 2014
Mondays are usually the worst days of the week, and it might be a little bit pre mature but it might be my favorite day of this week here in Baltimore. We spent this morning at Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen. This is one of the biggest soup kitchens in all of Baltimore and one of the only that serves restaurant style. This means that the visitors are asked what they would like to eat, the vegetarian option or the regular option. There are people that fill their waters, serve them tea, and deliver their food from the kitchen to their table.
Our coordinator at Our Daily Bread happened to be Matt, one of our roommates and he gave us a thorough orientation and taught us all we needed to know for the day. So the hair nets and gloves went on and we started on lunch. Most all of the food that is served at our daily bread is donations. We made fruit salad with fruits from a local grocery store, regular salad with donations from another store. And the main courses were served casserole style and those come in daily from different parishes around Baltimore and as far as fifty miles away. We were all given a job, mine was to make sure all of the water pitchers were full at all times. Doesn’t sound too hard but when there is around 800 people coming in and out for lunch it became a little crazy!
Some of us were serving food, others were cleaning places after people ate while some of us served tea and took out the trash. No matter what job we had we were all busy at all times, the three hours we spent there were over in a flash and the general consensus was that we all wanted to do it again.
After leaving our daily bread we went off to Sarah’s House which was transitional housing for women and families. This was an interesting concept and something I never heard of from back home. These women were required to get a job and their paychecks were separated into thirds. One third would go towards payment of their rent, one third would go into savings, while the last third would go to them as spending money. This seemed like a very important and effective concept. After a few months when the women had reached a certain level of establishment they were aided in finding an affordable place to live and their savings would help them in the payments.
At Sarah’s House we started by separating articles of clothing that were donated around the Christmas holiday. It didn’t seem like much but it was something I found very rewarding by the end of the trip. After we separated more clothes than we could handle we went down and ate dinner with some of the families. Overall day two had been something!
Day 1 in Baltimore
January 5, 2014
We made it! Let me start this off by saying Hello! My name is Ali Quinones, I am in care of the class of 2014, a double major in early childhood education and art, I am also a part of our SAB as well as SGA and I’m more than excited to share all of the ins and outs of my first service trip with all of you! We left elms college this morning on what may be the most scary but rewarding weeks of our lives. After smooth sailing through baggage check and security we are here in the airport. There is seven of us and only a couple of us really know each other on a personal level so this week we will not only be able to hopefully help a lot of people but we will also grow together and with any luck we will leave with six new friends. The plane left right on time and the forty-eight minute flight flew by, literally. With a quick stop at baggage claim we got on the bus, got our rental car and headed for the absolutely beautiful city of Baltimore. The first thing that I noticed was that most all of the roads are one way, and there is at least three lanes of traffic traveling in that same direction at all times, woah. We pulled up to our house for the next five days and I’m not going to lie, I’m a little scared. The houses in Baltimore are what they call “row houses” that means the houses are all connected, they’re all very narrow, and very tall. A boy named Arthur opens the door for us and shows us where we will be staying for the next few days.
Lets rewind for a little back story –
Elms college offers service trips every spring semester to places such as Jamaica, Kansas, New Orleans and of course Baltimore. We work with an organization called Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities has different sites all over the country but the Baltimore location houses five full time volunteers a year. These people are usually in their first year out of college and decide to give a year of service to the city of their choice. Our five hosts were Eric, Matt, Marta, Arthur and Maria, they were all so welcoming and very down to earth. It was amazing to see five individuals who were only a year my senior that had their life so put together, figured out, and were simply giving back.
Back to the present –
We would be sleeping on the floor, in sleeping bags for the next five days, sharing a bathroom as well as a living room and kitchen. This seemed like the largest problem at the time, but really by the end of the day we were so tired that falling asleep on the floor didn’t prove to be an issue at all. But naturally we had to go to bed early because starting tomorrow morning our lives were going to change, bright and early.