Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Day Five

Today, we went back to Housing Works to volunteer at the same locations as we did two days before, save for one group. Our tasks this week were similar to the ones that we performed the other day, but it was much easier this time because we already were aware of where things were and how things worked. Some groups worked to sort jewelry while others worked on the floor to assist customers. Overall, we were tired above all else and honestly did not feel like we had as direct an impact in this regard as we did in our other activities.

In the afternoon we went to the Brooklyn Pride Center where we were briefed on their activities and created short promotional videos about why LGBT centers were still important to have. At the Pride Center, we went through icebreakers and introduction activities that broadened our own horizons with facts that we researched and opened up with each other about our own identities. Something interesting to note is that so many people were open with themselves and others in the promotional video when in other situations they might be closed off and more private. This activity felt like it had much more direct impact since we were able to somehow address the issue in a way that was not as roundabout.

Lastly, for dinner we met with a UMD alum who went to law school after graduation and currently works in New York City as an attorney. While we were eating we managed to share our personal views on LGBT issues as well as clear up misunderstandings that came up with each other. With the alum we shared our mission, our views and our ultimate goals of our AB trip for LGBT equality.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Day Four

Today we learned that awkward is the best medicine. We partnered with the Anti-Violence Project, an organization that works to provide services to the LGBTQ+ and HIV-affected survivors of violence. Because of the beautiful day, we were trained in outreach skills outside before we took to the streets. We learned to value our safety, develop a pitch and raise awareness for the organization.

After training, we were each given information flyers in both English and Spanish to hand out. We were also given sex safety packs filled with both external and internal condoms to give to passersby. The interesting part about the safety packs is they had information cards on intimate partner violence facing inwards. This is to spread information, but not openly if their partner is near and would pose a threat.

In our outreach, we faced a lot of rejection. Many people were skeptical of us trying to hand out the materials. This is probably due to the fact that most people on the streets are looking to "suck you in" and get your name on the mailing list or raise funds. Many people walked faster when they saw us or faked a phone call to avoid an interaction.

The people that did take the extra couple seconds to interact with us were genuinely interested in what we had to give out. It's not everyday that you receive a pack of condoms from a random person on the street. Outreaching got much easier with every person we stopped.

After the Anti-Violence Project we had some free time before dark. A few of us shopped around, got haircuts and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a relaxing way to end and reflect on the slightly awkward outreaching.

Today taught us many things. At a minimum we gained a new respect for people trying to gain our attention on the street. Being ignored, made us realize how frustrating it is to be dismissed. We also learned the importance of getting the word around. It's impossible to make a change if nobody knows what needs to be changed. With the skills we gained today, we can make the difference. More than just violence, we can have a voice to further any social issue that we are passionate about.

Day Three

Today we helped out at a chain of thrift stores called Housing Works. This chain takes clothing donations and sells them in their up-town stores and donates the proceeds to organizations that help HIV affected people in New York City. NYC made a pact to end AIDS by 2020, and Housing Works is helping with their mission. The organization relies mostly on volunteers so that the majority of the proceeds go to helping end HIV.

When we got there, we were taken to the back room and instructed on how to assist customers, stock clothing racks and care for clothes. We were given aprons to wear and cards to carry to help us organize the clothes by color. For about 4 hours, we worked as employees of the store.

We found that many of the patrons were regulars as well as part of the local LGBTQ+ community. Many of them came in weekly and donated as well as bought merchandise. The store was very lively and did not at all seem like a typical thrift store. It had more of a boutique-esque feel to it. Much of the merchandise was very high-end and included brand named clothing and shoes. We found it interesting that people were willing to donate such expensive, high- end clothes. The regular employees were very grateful for our service and we left feeling like we actually made a difference.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Day Two

We didn't know Tetris could exist in a kitchen, but today we learned that sometimes there may not be enough room to make toast and eggs. Consequently, we had to move around one another, slowly but surely, to ensure we got our breakfast and coffee. Luckily, we walked outside as we got ready to start our day and saw that it was sunny and warmer than yesterday's rainy madness in which we had to drag our luggage. After riding the Subway, we had a long walk towards the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. We were happy to see art that was representative of many different identities. However, we did note that this type of art had to exist in its own space. This reflected that art of this kind is not generally represented within the art community.

After the museum, we headed towards The Stonewall Inn, where we took pictures and examined its meaning. We were able to stop by the Big Gay Ice Cream shop afterwards, where we found ice cream at a reasonable price for New York City. Since we had time before our next activity, we headed towards the Highline, where we observed street art and performers. It was extremely windy walking at a higher altitude. However, we powered through to our next destination, which turned out to be the train station to get food. Some of us got lost on the way to and from the bathroom, but we soon reunited. It is important to note there was a pigeon in the building.

Our main activity of the day was working at New Alternatives, a program that gives food, clothing and support to homeless LGBTQ+ youth. We split up into two groups, one of which cooked for the evening, and one of which organized clothing to be distributed to the patrons. The clothing drive consisted of winter clothing and shoes, hygiene products and underwear. The patrons made us think about gender as a social construct and how view and discuss it in society. We noticed the racial disparity among the clientele, many of which were African American. Something that was important about the event was that the women's bathroom was converted to gender neutral. We reflected on the fact that none of us felt unsafe, or that it was anything different from our usual bathroom experiences. There seemed to be a sense of community among the clients and the workers in the program.
Lastly, we headed home and started dinner. We had an important reflection session over pizza and spaghetti. Here, we addressed the things we saw today, and how we felt about them. This was influential in how we viewed our experience, and had us looking forward to the next five days ahead of us.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Day One

Even though it wasn't the most eventful day, travel days create the most bonding moments. Our day started in the orientation office with a bag bagels, a stack of suitcases, and 14 eager travelers. After a hearty breakfast, we began our journey to the Big Apple! After a brisk walk to Mowatt, we partnered up with the other AB group also on their way to NYC. We took a bus to the Greenbelt station and spent our 45 minute wait bonding with the other group. This entailed sitting on the wall talking and doing to Cotton-Eye-Joe in the middle of the street. Finally, the bus came and we were off.

The bus ride was calming and spent sharing life stories, taking quick naps, and listening to new music. After about five hours, we arrived in the city and our trip had officially begun. We stepped out into chilly rain and walked to Penn Station to catch the Subway. The Subway ride was about 45 minutes and featured many colorful NYC characters. Then after another short walk through the bitter cold we reached our Airbnb. The house was structured like a maze -- every corner we turned into bedroom. The bathrooms, however, were far more elusive. Overall, the space certainly promotes close quarters and bonding.

The next two hours were really relaxing as we got to explore the house and settle in. Afterwards, we were all starving and promptly ordered five pizza's from Frank, the neighborhood pizza guy. Over pizza we were able to play a few ice-breaker games, and become more familiarized with our few AB members. As a team we discussed everyone's food preferences and made a grocery list. Half the group went to store to shop while the other half stayed back and continued the conversation drinking water out of wine glasses.

Because everyone was pretty tired the night came to a close pretty early. A few people got last homework assignments, while the other half giggled over funny magazines.

Overall, even though the day didn't have any huge turning points, it had a lot of little moments that set the stage for what our trip is about. We were able to learn a little bit about the stories of those around us and become a team that'll be able to help the community at large. Being able to open up to those in our group will allow us to show compassion in every service activity we undertake this week.