Cherry Hill Jam and Slam

The Choice Program first opened its doors 28 years ago in Cherry Hill, a neighborhood of south-west Baltimore. Since then, we have expanded to seven offices, serving throughout Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Prince George’s County. Cherry Hill is currently home to one Intensive Advocacy team focused on the southern part of the city, as well as two job-specific teams.

As a thank-you for the continued support over the years, the Choice Programs hosts Jam and Slam, an annual end-of-summer block party for the Cherry Hill community. This year’s event brought out over 200 residents for an afternoon of music, food, and fun! Check out our photos to see all of the activities that made the afternoon spectacular.

IMG_5972Barber Cornell Henry provided over 25 free haircuts.

 

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Assistant Director Zeevelle participated in a water balloon fight with neighborhood children.

 

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Choice hosted a basketball tournament bringing together local community youth and Choice youth from other parts of Baltimore City and County.

 

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Jobs team fellows Ili and Tammie and college intern Mariah show off their face paint.

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We grilled up over 120 hot dogs and 120 hamburgers for the event!

 

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The neighborhood children had a great time in the bouncy castle and obstacle course.

 

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Choice was able to provide over 100 youth with an array of school supplies.

 

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Service Coordinator Emma strikes some yoga poses with a youth from the community.

 

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Manicurist Shauntelle Yates pampered our neighbors at the nail painting station.

 

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Service Coordinator Leorah enjoys the festivities with Matt, an Opportunity Youth from her team.

 

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DJ Okkk sets the stage for residents to show off their dance moves, drawing big crowds of spectators.

 

Another huge thank you to the Cherry Hill community for sharing your neighborhood with us; to everyone who came out to the event; and of course, to our partners and staff who helped make it all possible:

92Q, Bakery Express, B-More than Dance, Chick-fil-a, Miss FIT, Frito-Lay, & Wegmans

A Fellow’s Perspective: Meghan M.

Meghan M. shares her perspective so far as a Service Learning Fellow on the Education team that serves in Lakeland Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City.

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I am now entering my 7th month with Choice. Transitioning from seeing kids all day in school to the summer has been strange, but good. Lots of things have been changing and getting done! So far one of my favorite activities has been taking a family to see the play A Wish Come True in Frederick, MD.  We have the youngest boy and the oldest girl of a family on our Choice caseload, but the middle girl is not in Choice. They asked if they could do an activity as a family, and taking all three of them worked out so well, as they were all entirely engrossed in the play and happy to spend time with each other.

I have also found success this summer in my administrative work. I was shocked at the amount of reports I already had to complete when I started my fellowship, and they just kept coming. I now know that it is very hard to get caught up when our priority is to focus serving our kids and being present. But now, given the summer and using my time wisely, I have gotten most of my reports completed, which will give me a huge break and a fresh start going into the school year and working with our caseload at Lakeland.

We also have a new fellow who just finished her two week mark, Olethia! She is fun, spunky, and the kids have received her very well! She’s excited to go on her first activity on her first weekend coming up at the end of August, and excited to learn how we serve the kids during the school year. This means I am going to have a lot of teaching and guiding to do come September.

Frank, the Service Coordinator of the Education team, tells me that I am NOW going to be the lead fellow and it feels good, but also a little daunting. I want to uphold the best standard and be a good example for everything that Choice is; but when my service year ends, know that I leave something fun behind for everyone to remember me by. September is coming quickly and there is a lot still to be done, so… back to work!

“Circles of Change” Mosaic Project 2015

April 2015 marked the 7th year of the Spring Break Mosaic Project collaboration between The Choice Program and Class Acts Arts, a Maryland non-profit arts education organization. The Choice Program youth and fellows worked with Class Acts Arts teaching artist, Carien Quiroga, to create a mosaic mural. Over a six-day period, the youth brainstormed ideas, crafted designs, learned metal embossing techniques, cut glass tiles to create small individual mosaics, and worked as a team to construct large mosaic pieces.

What made this year’s project remarkable – even transformative – was the partnership with the Baltimore City Police Department. Members of the city’s police force participated alongside the youth in all aspects of the project. Police, youth, and fellows worked collaboratively on the design and construction of two mosaic murals that will be permanently installed in a public city venue.
When this collaboration was initiated by The Choice Program leadership, it was in response to the groundswell of movements around the country demanding justice for individuals who had died as a result of police brutality. The lack of trust and respect between the police and the communities they serve raised the need to find common ground and a change of culture.
Shortly after the conclusion of the project, Baltimore City suffered a blow from the death of citizen Freddie Gray while in police custody. Despite what followed on the streets of Baltimore City as a result, this project and the resulting murals will always be symbolic of possibility and opportunity. When given the tools, the opportunity, and a safe, creative space to explore common ground, there exists the possibility of open dialogue – and perhaps even change, trust, and transformation.

The Project
The circle emerged as a central motif for the murals to reinforce the practice of the “Peace Circle,” an activity led by fellows of The Choice Program as part of their restorative community building approach and used to launch this project. Participants met for six afternoons inside a dance studio on North Caroline Street, and each session started and ended with everyone sitting or standing in a circle, strengthening the notion of inclusion and unity. Teacher Carien Quiroga introduced each step or new skill to the group as whole, describing techniques, step-by-step procedures, how to use the tools safely, properties of tiles, etc., as well as design and artistic considerations.
While reflecting on community building, safety in their communities and finding common ground, each participant created a small embossed metal element and a personal circular mosaic element, both of which were integrated into the larger mosaic murals. Once the design and elements were transferred to the boards, youth, fellows and police officers worked side-by-side to construct the mural, making decisions about placement and negotiating color choices.
Despite the initial discomfort and strain between the youth and the officers, there was a genuine curiosity and interest in each other. As they focused on the shared, immediate challenges of cutting glass, finding the right pieces to build the patterns and making joint creative decisions, the transformation in attitude was palpable. Conversations alternated between the mundane of common interests and more challenging inquiries, and even accusations. Officers displayed patience and empathy, making concerted efforts to connect with the youth. The youth were honest but respectful as they voiced issues that concerned them, and pondered responses of the officers.

As the project progressed, the initial tensions eased up, conversations became lighter, and encouragement abounded. Having a shared goal of completing the mural kept everyone motivated and all were delighted when it was finished. Both youth and officers marveled at their newly acquired artistic skills and the beauty of the mosaic they created as a team. The mural-making process became both the activity that connected them and the distraction that allowed them to get to know each other a little.
The rhythmic action of cutting glass and laying tile to create a mosaic by piecing together small pieces of broken glass never felt more symbolic. The youth and the officers were constructing a permanent object of beauty, creating visual unity with interconnected patterns while integrating a variety of contrasting elements. The deliberate act of placing their tiles next to one another to build the mural could in itself be seen as restorative and part of a process of reconstruction.

The Artwork
The design for the mural was created by combining patterns and shapes drawn by the participants as they reflected on the unique qualities of their communities. The youth and police also were asked to reflect how they view each other, using only shapes and patterns. Drawing inspiration from mandalas, the circular forms of the murals represent unity and inclusion. The repetitive patterns mirroring each other are symbolic of similarities, despite being on “opposite sides” of an issue or facing each other in conflict. The interconnected shapes reflect the goal to find common ground and build stronger communities. The murals celebrate “unity in diversity” as each unique element created by a participant is highlighted yet integrated into the design to form a unified and visually pleasing work of art.

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- Written by Carein Quiroga

Creating a Welcoming Space: The Adopt-a-Lot Project

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For the past year, The Choice Program has been working on turning an abandoned lot into a small park in the Johnston Square community. Through Baltimore Housing’s Adopt-a-Lot program, and with a partnership with Civic Works, Choice is renewing a forgotten corner into a welcoming and creative green space. Our lot is located on the corner of Hoffman Street and Homewood Avenue, just south of the Greenmount Cemetery.

When this project was started, we wanted to make sure that the youth we serve had a voice in helping to create the vision for the space. While some youth attended an initial brainstorming meeting and others completed surveys, we eventually came up with three areas that we wanted to focus on with this project.

First and foremost, we want this park to be a welcoming place for the community. We see this project as another way for Choice to engage with Baltimore and the neighborhoods we serve. In planning the layout, we decided to leave a large portion of the park as open space. By doing this, we hope members of the community will be able to use the park in multiple ways. The open space will be ideal for sports, BBQs, and providing a safe space for neighborhood children to play.

Second, we want the park to provide space for nature. By planting trees and native plants, we hope to create a green space that people can enjoy and an urban habitat for birds and insects to thrive. We also envision the park as a place for environmental education, where youth and community members can learn about urban ecosystems and why a green space in the city benefits people and the environment.

Third, we see our park as being a creative space for art. We plan to build a small stage where youth will be able to perform their music, poetry, spoken word, etc. We also have plans to install a mosaic created by Choice staff and Fellows. In the future we would like to paint a mural with youth and host other art projects at the park as well!  

Despite the long winter, progress has been made! We are currently creating the berms where native plants and trees will be planted and this summer we plan to construct the stage. Stay tuned for more updates and be sure to swing by and check out the space!

 

 

 

“Art is Important to Me and To the World”: Artwork and Courage from a Choice Youth

This month’s submission comes to us from Meredith of the DJS South team. She shares with us some artwork and a poem from a youth, as well as a story about attending the youth’s art presentation, at which his art was showcased. Thank you to Meredith, the South team, and their youth for sharing how art can build courage and create the opportunity to be vulnerable.

“All art requires courage” – Anne Tucker

South Team Art

One of our Choice Youth, who we will refer to as C, had been talking about his art presentation for weeks and with incredible luck our entire team was able to make it to the big day. C came to the Choice Program in the same way as many of our youth who find themselves in less than ideal situations, but within C there is a great spirit that encompasses everyone who met him. As soon as we walked into his house that first day, we were not strangers but family. Now in this moment of celebration we saw how important our role was in his life. Upon arriving at the art presentation, C bounded over to greet us and instantly we saw the anticipation and fear on his face. “I forgot my notes and poem at home, and my step mom is not here.” No one from his family had arrived yet and now he had to speak in front of everyone without the prepared notes on which he had worked so hard. His excess anxiety mixed with his naturally hyperactive personality, creating a kid who was literally buzzing around the room. Every few minutes he would return to our little corner to get some reassurance and continue on his way, making energetic conversation with everyone in the room.

As our team stood on the sidelines of the presentation, we watched with anticipation as C was called to the front of the room. Looking around, we realized he was nowhere to be found. C had escaped. Meghan went out into the hallway to look for him and found him pacing the hall and saying that he was not going to speak, he could not do it, and that he would be terrible. These far-too-common sentiments of self-doubt filled Meghan’s ears as she encouraged him with words of affirmation and hope as well as the knowledge that no matter how C did that night, we were there for him and we were proud. Slowly C walked up to the front of the room, took a breath and spoke. There were stumbles and nerves, but as C spoke without a script or notes the room listened. His passion for art resonated throughout the room and inspired onlookers. With a hesitant glance up, C concluded and the room responded with overwhelming applause.

The idea behind the night was simple. Greg, Meghan, and I came to support a youth in an art presentation; however, our presence represented something more complex. For the night we were a family, a sense of stability, and people who believed in him and encouraged him to believe in himself. The words he spoke reiterated his strength and the joy art gives him.

In a world that is full of obstacles, C continues to use art as a way to have the courage to be himself and to influence the world around him. To share these things is taking a huge risk in vulnerability, letting others peek into his deepest thoughts. As mentors we have the great joy of riding alongside youth in their journey of self-discovery.

Below is the poem that C wrote for the presentation:

My Art (Real One)

My art show life, kind and respect. So I work hard to do it, not just give up on it. Art is love, like, and care not like a balled up paper, no not me. I work hard to do it. I put love into it, not like some people, no it is life, kind, respect, love, likes, and care. Art is important to me and to the world so do not give up on art, do not ball it up like a piece of paper. SO love your art and give it life so have a good day.

P.S. I LOVE ART what about you?

C