Today was my last day (unless GWU opens back up) at LAYC, and this goodbye definitely made me the saddest. I said goodbye to a lot of the staff members like Marie and Mesgana, to fellow volunteers, and the teens, which really broke my heart. Jonathan, Kenneth, and I bonded a lot during my time at the teen center, and I wish the best for them and for everyone else who works/participates in the program, and I especially hope to come back sooner than later. I will also miss working with Luis - a fantastic, uber talented artist - in graffiti classes on Tuesdays, as well as the kids in that class, who taught me so much during my time as being an assistant/helper teacher there. Because DCPS schools are also shutting down (some or most transferring to online classes as many universities are), LAYC will also be closed for two weeks. Marie made an announcement for all the teens/participants at the center to write down their phone numbers for the center's staff to be able to notify them when the center will open again and/or have resources for them in case the situation gets really ugly, especially in a city where a lot of these kids and their families are faced with economic hardships and food insecurity. As a last hoorah, and ate with and played Uno with some of the kids at the center again, and then helped wipe down some chairs and tables in order to disinfect everything for the center's longer dormant period.
Today I worked with Ibti and Michael, also from GWU, at the FoodPrints classroom. We were holding activities with second graders today! Prior to their arrival, Michael and I helped Ibti set up the class lesson for the day. We organized folders and papers, put names in nametag holders, put clean dishes out for cooking preparation, washed fresh vegetables and other produce, and I cut the onion (so the kids wouldn't have to because of the fumes it gives off it makes their eyes watery). Michael and I were at the seeds, bulbs, and tubers station, where we had soaked lima beans, small onions, and old golden mini potatoes (with green vines starting to sprout from them) for the kids to dissect and examine. First we took the kids outside and picked some greens from the garden and planted some radish, potatoes, etc. (I took one kid, Mateo, to the bathroom during this time as well). When we came back inside, the kids were divided into three groups for the three stations: the dissection station with me and Michael; the book-reading station about different kind of plant growth with their teacher; and the chopping/cooking station with Ibti. Each group of kids spent 20-25mins at each station. At ours, they specifically had to write down and draw what they saw, as well as differentiate the plants between those in the seed, bulb, or tuber categories. After we were done, the kids got to try what they helped make: fried rice!
So today was my final volunteer session at St. Albans with Iona Senior Services (at least until the students get to come back to live on the university's campus). Everyone is talking about and either under-reacting or overreacting to the Coronavirus. Sadly, Ife, my usual bud during lunch serving time was not there, as American University was on spring break, but Ellen had returned from Hawaii, and good ole, reliable Nathaniel was there too. Two women I talked to, who were regulars at the center, seemed in great moods. One woman had just fallen last week, and was telling me about her 8-year old great granddaughter and how she tried to give her a face mask and had sanitizer for the virus, which made us both laugh. The other woman did not remember me and asked me, again, where I was going to school. Ellen and Nathaniel set up kitchen stuff and prepared all the lunch trays for the seniors. Meanwhile, I set up the tables and chairs outside in the main space, and wrote on the dry erase board what the day's schedule and lunch would be. Then I chatted with one of the workers there in Spanish, and we talked about the crazy reactions some individuals and institutions were having over the Coronavirus. Later, Ellen and I helped Nathaniel prepare lunch, and then we served out the food to all of the seniors according to dietary restrictions. After lunch, while Nathaniel and Ellen were cleaning up, I led another discussion on my own (Courtney helped me and gave me the confidence to lead it despite my limited knowledge on many current events) concerning the health precautions and designated action we should take related to this Coronavirus outbreak. One woman was skeptical about the whole thing, saying how a lot of these health precautions that the CDC is recommending now, like washing hands thoroughly and not touching your face after touching a public table/doorknob, were practices people should have already been used to. We talked a lot about how the U.S. government and healthcare system were tackling the situation. Some seniors had conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus, but others had more fact/evidence-based comments about the spread of the virus. Then we got into the electoral college system, modern-day politics, the differences between (age) generations in the U.S. concerning political action, and the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election. I ended the discussion by saying that empathy, better listening and communication skills, and respect are all things each individual should acquire/posses if we are to truly change the problematic foundations/institutions that run everyday societal actions.
In graffiti class Luis was assigned to get the teens to help out with the 2020 Census Count in Washington D.C. Essentially, this data can help show where your community needs new services and increased funding. We got old photographed canvases that were still in great shape and repurposed them for this new project. The plan was to spell out the words "BE COUNTED," having one giant painted letter on a separate canvas and then putting them all together. We painted the letters in pastel yellow and alternately made the background bright pink or deep blue. I painted the letter "B," while helping Luis get all of the teens the right tools/supplies and helping the teens with painting techniques. Afterwards, the teens worked more on their bag designs. Two new girls came in today and hopefully they like the class and stay for the remainder of the time. When class was over at six, Luis and I cleaned up the art room.
Today was a little tougher. I had to help out with a middle school class, and it was definitely harder getting a lot of these kids' attention than the pre-K class. Ibti, the FoodPrints instructor, and the other volunteers and I worked with the sixth graders and helped them garden, cook, learn about nutrition labels and calories, and create healthy food ads. Just like last time, there were three stations that three groups of kids rotated around to participate in all of these activities; I helped at the drawing/healthy advertising station. At the cooking station the kids helped Ibti make kale & cheese quesadillas, veggie & bean chili, and carrot chips. They learned a lot about the benefits of eating healthier, but also, unfortunately, the costs that come with eating healthier. It's so much easier to buy junk food/fast food, than it is to buy healthy groceries, much less just a salad, especially here in D.C. Advertising also makes it harder, as many advertisers of fast foods/fast food joints seek to manipulate the population with repetition and pictures of made-up/dolled-up food to make their food all the more appealing and get people hooked on it. That's why it's so important to educate kids while they're young on the benefits of healthy eating, on how to combat the everyday flashy images of bad foods, and on how to make/cook affordable and healthy meals.
Today was a heck of a day. I got to St. Albans church a little late and I put out all of the chairs for Gerri's exercise training for the seniors. Then Ife and I sat down and talked to Joy and Star for a while. Joy was telling us about her work with helping people in DC who are experiencing homelessness, her battle with depression, her family, and her problems with the healthcare system. Star just came back from visiting family in Guyana, and told us about her time there and her dancing legacy (her granddaughter dances just like her). There was another volunteer today at the center as well, he was another high school student from DC (but originally from Harlem, NY). We all prepared the food trays, silverware, and prepared food. The lunch rush did get pretty crazy, because we started late and did not have enough vegetarian meals for the vegetarians! So Courtney and Nathaniel improvised and cooked up some rice & beans with spinach. Ife and I helped season. Then after lunch clean-up, Ife and I helped lead a discussion circle with Courtney and the seniors (Current Topics is what they call it). Ife and I shared our knowledge and thoughts about various current hot-button issues like the outbreak of the Coronavirus in the U.S., Super Tuesday (presidential campaign in 2020 nominees), and Climate Change and its effects on food production and nutrition in relation to race/socioeconomic class. It was a little stressful but extremely humbling to have a peaceful, calm, yet hard conversation.
Today, the gesso that we had painted on last class on the bags had dried, and it was time to start drawing/painting on them with any designs we wanted. Luis and I have a demo for the teens- last time I gesso-ed the bag and this class Luis brought a large paper printout of cartoon Mario (from Mario Kart) for me to trace onto the bag. And that's a process. First, you have to outline/color the outline on the back of the printout with lead (a pencil), then you have to put that side down onto the bag so that you can trace the printed outline on the front of the paper on to the bag itself. The lead will bleed through and you will have transferred a perfect outline of any cartoon/design on to the bag - like I did with Mario. Honestly I learn so many cool things in this class and I wish I had a class like this growing up but ANYWAY, then the teens in the class drew and printed out their designs whilst adding their spin on each one. Some followed suit and others drew their own stuff and photo-copied that to trace on to the bag. One girl had SpongeBob characters, another one had K-Pop cartoons, another had a sleeping Panda, while another had Hokusai's Great Wave painting and she started painting it different shades of blue, it was truly epic. The teens, of course, really like Luis and talk to him (sometimes me) about contemporary events and school stuff too (the school stuff is directed mostly towards me), as well ask for art & life advice.
This morning I helped out in the FoodPrints classroom, where we showed the pre-kindergarteners how to utilize their five senses in cooking and tasting foods. Ibti Vincent led the class, with other teachers, in a series of exercises designed to get the kids thinking about how they discover whether they like a food/herb or not. One station had someone reading a picture book to the kids about how to engage their five senses (sight, smell, touch, hear, and taste) and with what muscles/body parts you use to do that. The next station had five different kinds of herbs for the kids to try (rosemary, parsley, sage, lavender, and fennel). Each time the kids got a new herb, they got to look at, feel, smell, and taste it each time. Then they expressed which ones they liked and which ones they disliked. The last station was very hands on - kids got to touch and chop up an assortment of veggies (peppers, kale, etc.) for the chili they were making, and going to taste in the end. The pre-K class had kid-safe knives and teachers to help them do so. In between each station, the kids were required to wash their hands thoroughly. I was assigned the role of photographer and went around taking pictures of kids (with white name-tags - yellow name-tags meant you couldn't take pictures of them) at all of the stations. I got to help out a little bit directly with the kids, whenever needed, and I helped clean up with the other volunteers afterwards.
I played Uno and ApplestoApples with some of the teens and other volunteers/interns. I got to catch up and joke around with a lot of familiar faces, and some new ones too throughout my time helping out and playing with the youth there. Then Gabriella, our team leader at GWU for LAYC, came in with all of the materials for our new project. The Mail Box Project by GWU for LAYC youth is inviting the teens/kids to answer thought-provoking questions about their societal roles, identity, community, and heritage. The goal of this project is to put together a collection of stories, thoughts, reflections, and life definitions by the youth at the center - anonymous or not - that will be shared with the GWU volunteers and give them a collective voice/more representation through their writings. Gabriela made the announcement about the project while I passed out the first series of reflections in English or Spanish. A lot of the youth took them and then put their answers/envelopes in our mailbox. Gabriela and I had a chance to read some responses and I think this will give us a greater insight into seeing how the youth there really feel about the world they live in today and what challenges they are working to overcome. In that way we can really narrow down what kind of help they need and find ways to give them that help and more opportunities to branch out.
Today coming into St. Albans, I was not in the best headspace. The past week had held a lot of sad and stressful events for me and it was hard letting go of all of that in order to better connect/work with fellow volunteers and the seniors at the church. However, Nathaniel and Ife were extremely understanding and Nathaniel offered Ife and I Earl Grey and Vanilla Tea with honey and milk. I had never had it before, and it was amazing. Moving on, we set up the space like always (table setting, flowers and placemats, coffee station, schedule on the board, silverware on the food trays, etc.) and I greeted a few seniors as they walked in. Then Courtney, Nathaniel, Ife, and I discussed contemporary politics in the kitchen while prepping the food (more like they were informing me about recent events). Ife and I served lunch to everyone (I learned that the lunch had to be served according to order of table and that each table had a designated number). Afterwards, while some seniors were still eating, I talked to some of them about their day and politics, again. One woman is a retired English Professor from GWU, and another table of women I frequently go to, to get to know more about them, talked to me about their grandparents and hometowns, and how they all got to D.C. in the first place (old clothes washing techniques, marriage, religion, raising kids, race - it was all a part of the conversation). Finally, Nathaniel and Courtney showed Ife and I old rock n' roll, soul, and the start of rap and sad jazzy/blues-type music. One elderly man came over to join on the conversation and music. I showed Courtney some Afro-Peruvian music, then Ife and I cleaned up the space.