“Yes, I speak Spanish.”

 

This was my first week at my summer internship at Alternatives for Girls (AFG) in Detroit. AFG “helps homeless and high-risk girls and young women avoid violence, teen pregnancy and exploitation, and helps them to explore and access the support, resources and opportunities necessary to be safe, to grow strong and to make positive choices in their lives.” I am interning with the Prevention program at the organization, which serves girls ages 4-18 who are at risk of pregnancy, gang involvement, abusing drugs or alcohol and school truancy. We engage them through after-school programs, a teen leadership program, and a summer camp. In addition, I was lucky enough to receive a Internship Funding Grant from the Community Action and Social Change department in our School of Social Work for this experience. As a part of receiving this grant, I will be blogging about my experience weekly through the end of July.

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My first week has been a whirlwind of a lot of names, activities, learning and smiles. I have worked with the elementary school girls and the middle school girls in the after school programming. My first day coming in, I was obviously very nervous in a room with a ton of people (and kids) I didn’t know. I wasn’t really sure what to do or how to get started. One little girl, Maria* showed up with her mom and started crying, not wanting to stay while her mom left. One volunteer was already trying to get her to come play with the other girls, but when I heard her mother speaking Spanish to her (the majority of the girls live in “Mexicantown” in Detroit and speak Spanish with their families at home and most speak Spanish in their classes at school), I decided to intervene and see if I could help. “Hola, chica. Me llamo Sydney. ¿Cómo te llamas?” Maria’s ears perked up at the sound of something she understood. “Estoy nerviosa también. Este es mi primer dia aquí. ¿Quieres colorear conmigo?” She nodded and I brought her over to the table with some crayons and printed coloring sheets and we chatted about her school day while we colored together. Using my skills to make valuable connections has been such a great part of this experience so far.

Most of my time was spent helping with multiplication homework and herding little kids into rooms for arts and crafts and stories. We learned about animals this week – tigers, bunnies and butterflies. We had a few meltdowns over lost tiger tails and broken bunny ears, but all in all, we did pretty well with the elementary programming and I had a lot of fun.

There was a moment during craft time that I will really never forget. One girl, Olivia*, sitting next to me was talking to me about her week at school while we worked on our butterflies. After a few minutes, she told me that when she got home today she was going to see her dad. “He’s getting out of jail today!” she told me. “Well I’m very happy that you will get to be with your dad.” “He’s been in jail for six years and I missed him a lot every day.” – Now after jump starting my passion for social work in the justice system, working with juveniles, this conversation really hit home. An hour later, I got to watch eight-year-old Olivia run outside and hug her dad for the first time in six years. It was a really great feeling to experience that, and knowing that she trusted me enough (after meeting me less than an hour before) to share her feelings with me was really comforting.

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Working with the middle schoolers was a little more in depth than the elementary school girls. My first day, we taught a sex ed lesson – talking about puberty (Oy vey!). I was so impressed with how mature the girls were and the really great questions that they asked. The next day, they were practicing their Mexican indigenous dance for their end of the year performance at the end of the month. They were really interested in learning, and that was really cool to see. Being the older sister of a middle schooler, I know that many kids that age wouldn’t think that was cool. These girls are already teaching me a lot about the culture of this city and just how to show compassion and I’ve only known them for three days.

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*Names have been changed for confidentiality purposes.
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