Spending my Summer at the Center for New North Carolinians
When I think of what I learned at the CNNC, Legacy Crossing Community Center, and the various summer camps I’m constantly reminded of what community is.
My journey began in June with Mystery Camp, a one-week program with the purpose of introducing different methods of problem-solving and critical thinking skills to youth. We unpacked mysteries that ranged from word problems, to puzzles, to conceptualizing what we shared with one another. Teamwork and community building was always at work.
After this kickoff week, I also had to engage in problem-solving when working with the youth. One common issue was fighting. For some of the youth, fighting with each other was caused by a lack of things to do, other times it would be that another child had said something that rubbed them the wrong way. This was even apparent in kids as young as three. Each time these situations played out completely different than the last one. As part of the staff team, myself and the other adults would respond by placing ourselves between the two youth and separate them. We followed up by talking and communicating with them to understand the issue at hand and confront it.
This was a big part of the internship for me. We didn’t focus on what might be wrong with the youth but instead, what caused them to get riled up. Exposed to an environment where “acting tough”, fighting, and “proving yourself” were common, it’s hard to not resort to physicality. Also laid in are self-esteem issues. Most of the youth I worked with this summer have been bullied before and didn’t want to be at the bottom. After fights, I’d sometimes get these responses: “no one likes me”, “they bullied me!” or “they said I couldn’t fight.”
Encountering these different moments really highlighted to me what may be lacking: healthy coping mechanisms. This brought to my attention, how one’s values are strongly informed and shaped by their environment and life experiences. These incidents became a regular part of our day as staff, and at the same time are situations that the youth encounter every day, that we were now a part of.
Additionally, working directly in the community made it apparent to see the environment they live in, possibly reasoning behind behaviors, and the issues that affect their families. I learned how to engage and communicate with the youth despite our language barriers and help create a space that was not overly structured and supportive.
It is important to note there are two AmeriCorps members who comprised the foundation of the center. One working with youth and the other with adults. These different AmeriCorps positions showed me how the responsibilities within their day allow them to be invested and connected to the community in different ways that make the community center what it is.
The AmeriCorps Members created activities and programing, sometimes using their own money to buy supplies and materials that couldn’t be fit into the budget. It was great to work with them and create programing such as a photoshoot day to tell the youth’s narratives of their experiences at the center. From visiting a farm early in the morning to afternoon pool trips, to an ongoing Girl Scout program. They constantly found connections and brought different people to the center to share.
Aside from the center, I had the opportunity to work at another camp with the New Arrivals Institute (NAI). At NAI college interns taught teenagers self-esteem skills, facilitate discussions on hard topics and share critical information. We practiced job interview skills, analyzed mental health, and reflected on our experiences as individuals.
Working with one teenager, I was able to help him break down his personal experiences and identify what traits he has and the reason he has those. The teenager shared with me that he looks up to his teachers a lot because they were hard on him and they didn’t give up on him. He also told me about a time that he reacted physically to a person who stole his bike and how reflecting on that moment he would never want to do that to anyone ever again. Together we used those experiences to outline and identify his character traits: empathy, drive, and resilience.
In addition to working with the youth, I had the opportunity to shadow CNNC staff members when conducting home visits and providing case management services to an entire refugee family in a difficult circumstance. We discussed the family moving to a different apartment, connecting the kids with additional resources, and navigating involvement with Child Protective Services. One of the kids in the family, I had met previously in the summer at one of the camps. Learning about this case, visiting their house, sitting in on conversations with the parent, and supervising one of their children at a summer camp showed me how intersectional change works in communities, and that it takes a team of dedicated individuals to tackle problems.
The center is different, we weren’t necessarily teaching the kids skills or how to do something the right way. Instead, the center acted as an outlet to have fun in; a positive space in their community. The center during summer represented everything summer is supposed to be like for youth. Fun, exciting, full of new experiences and places, meeting new people and building memories that they can look back and smile upon.
Looking back myself, I will miss the center and all the youth that comprised it, particularly because of the bonds we made. Learning how to dance, learning soccer tricks, helping read books, making special handshakes and forgetting them the next day, creating beaded bracelets for each other, and keeping them as momentums of fun times spent together.
Written by Anton Gallegos, summer intern 2018, Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont Anton completed his internship through Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty.