Quick announcement: My preferred greeting is now “Howdy, Partner!”
More on that later.
I spent a week with real-life Olympians! Such an honor. Okay, not Tokyo 2020 Olympians, but they were athletic and it was still an honor! Last week I was in the Woodbourne-McCabe neighborhood with a combined youth group (Westminster Presbyterian and United Churches) visiting The Center all the way from Olympia, Washington. For several weeks every summer, Alhambra Park, once a block of vacant row homes now a spacious field and playground, becomes home to summer camp.
These weeks of summer camp in the park are made possible through a network of partnerships and are informed by principles of community organizing. A group of Presbyterian churches pooling their energy and money called the North Baltimore Presbyterians have been consciously investing in the Woodbourne-McCabe neighborhood for around five years now. They began first with financial support for Habitat for Humanity builds in the area, later hiring and working with a community organizer, Christian, who had worked with Habitat. Soon after, the churches began hosting a multi-week summer camp every year. Initially, the churches were really only present in the neighborhood for those several weeks during the summer. However, after churchwide conversations regarding whiteness and privilege, the North Baltimore Presbyterian churches now maintain a year-round presence in the neighborhood with monthly kickball in order to invest more earnestly in the relationships with neighborhood adults and kids. These weeks of summer camp would not be possible without the support of the Neighborhood Association President, Ms. Phyllis and Christian, a local community organizer with Strong City.
Our days at camp began with greeting neighborhood kids who’d meet us in the park before camp started. As we pulled out and set up the tents, tables, chairs, gallons and gallons of water, board games, crafts, and lunch, other kids and adult volunteers arrived with sunscreen and more water. We spent our days at several different stations: board games, environmental science, recreation, art, the library tent, and of course the tried-and-true, swingset (no matter how hot it got on the playground or what was going on at outdoor recreation or at the art station, the swingset never lost its allure!)
A couple days out from camp and after bidding farewell to my new friends from Olympia, I’m reflecting on something I’ve been reminded of again and again since beginning work here at The Center--lasting connection and empowerment can happen by remembering each other by our chosen, sometimes silly, always unique, often dear names and nicknames. Since moving to Baltimore, I’ve been Liv rather than Olivia. Liv fits me tons better than Olivia (no offense mom!) and it’s felt empowering to be known in that way. The first day at camp when we were making our nametags that’d we’d wear all week, a sweet 7 year-old camper practicing her letters offered to make me my nametag. A fan of supporting local artists, I, of course, accepted the offer and for the week I was more than happy to become “Jiv.” L’s and J’s are very similar, okay?
Over the course of the week as I got to know the campers and we became friends, I learned their names. Early on in the camp day, usually amidst setup time, I’d greet them before it was time to put our name tags on and each time the campers would ask with a smile and raised eyebrows, “How’d you know my name?!?”
“Well, because we’re friends now and friends remember each other!”
On the first day of camp (after sneaking another piece of watermelon) I was headed back toward the swingset when a new friend ran up to me and yelled with absolute assuredness, “Howdy, Partner!,” as if we’d first met each other years ago on a cattle ranch and not a playground in Baltimore City. I returned the greeting and for the rest of the week, I was so excited to get to camp and spend time with my Howdy Partner and work on our square dancing routine. So silly, so good.