By Carling Sothoron, Farm Educator
Do you remember your first summer job? Mine was lifeguarding. I was 16, the youngest lifeguard of the crew, working at the community pool that I grew up going to. I matured a lot that summer, took on new responsibilities, got my drivers license and started saving money. Above all of that though, I remember having a lot of fun.
This summer I had the pleasure of working alongside an awesome group of 30 Baltimore City high school students who were participants of Mission Thrive Summer, a 5-week long health-focused program hosted by Real Food Farm and the Institute for Integrative Health. For many of them, this was their first job. The students engaged in a consistent weekly schedule that created routine and structure, but were also regularly offered chances to challenge themselves by trying something new: a new recipe, new workout, new farm task, or a field trip to somewhere new.
Each day throughout the summer, Mission Thrive provided opportunities to get hands on skills in cooking, exercising and farming. However, I think it was the more covert lessons of teamwork, challenging oneself, communication, and responsibility that will have an even longer lasting impression. Having a job teaches you about yourself, allows you to build relationships, work through conflicts, practice direct communication, and hold yourself accountable to expectations.
In the mornings half of us spent our time doing various farm projects such as weeding, planting and mulching while the other half were learning cooking skills and preparing lunch for the whole crew. Latifah, a rising 11th grader at Mervo High School, reflected on how the cooking component influenced her so far: “It’s helped me with my eating habits. It’s okay to eat fast food, but not everyday. I look at food labels now. Instead of just picking up something and putting it in the cart I’ll look at the label to see if I can find a healthier option.” While Latifah’s least favorite part of the program was cooking, she continued to push herself to get the most out of it that she could.
In the afternoons we were either engaged in a variety of personal and community based activities that made up Life Lab or were learning a new way to get fit through groups games and individual exercises. “The exercising part is getting me more athletic and I can try it at home…It’s not about being your size, it’s about being healthy” said Brittany, a rising 10th grader at Baltimore Design School. The summer heat and a poorly air-conditioned gym did not provide the best environment for physical activity, but the combination of positive work ethics and fun and diverse fitness options allowed for the Mission Thrive participants to exceed many hardships.
Briana, a rising 10th grader at Mervo High School shared one of her triumphs from last week with me. “I like going on fun trips. When we went on the canoeing trip I was scared. I screamed half of the way canoeing. I don’t know if anyone could hear me, but I was ready to run off the dock. But, I faced my fears and got over it. I started singing songs to myself to go faster and not be so scared. Then I had fun.”
I asked Jameel, a rising 11th grader at ACCE, what was something memorable he will walk away with from this summer and he responded “the people.” “The farmers, the crew leaders, us, we’re a family. They work hard, they go the extra mile.” I agree. I appreciated getting to lead lessons and work projects over the past 5 weeks, but most of all I enjoyed getting to know everyone; sharing stories, laughing and witnessing personal growth. I think for those whose first job it was, this summer would definitely be one to remember.