Wrapping Up My Big Adventure: Thoughts From the End of Summer

I’m currently writing from my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina after a long day of travel from the West Coast. Camp finished on Thursday and my co-director and I had the Friday to wrap up and clean up from a messy summer of fun. Now that I am back home and able to take a breath, I have time to reflect, digest and process all that has happened this summer.

A great mural I happened upon in San Francisco

The past eight weeks have been challenging in a lot of ways. Many of my days have been physically, mentally or emotionally difficult. Some days have been all three. It was hard to be responsible for the well being of up to twenty-five children, all with different needs and abilities. It was hard to be on my feet all day, often skipping lunch to deal with a crisis or serve lunch to others. It was hard to always be patient and forgiving. There was a lot of tedious paperwork and exact protocol. There were a few days that did not feel fun.

However, I found that each day I had at least one moment in which I experienced true, unadulterated joy. One day, it could be seeing a camper totally engaged in a science activity. Another day, it could be one camper choosing to include another in a game without being asked. Sometimes it was just a funny comment full of personality from one of the campers. These moments reminded me why I chose this internship in the first place; I wanted to be part of creating a secure, encouraging environment for these kids to make and find joy that is so inherent in childhood.

I learned quite a few lessons from my internship. My supervisor was incredible and supportive in planning and dealing with crises. My co-director was better than I could have imagined. She and I worked well together and complemented each other. The program director was always there from us, offering feedback and asking us for ours. (Read more about the curriculum our program director developed here) From these staff people, I came to understand more about creating strong workplace relationships, putting in the hard work that is necessary for social services, and using my talents and knowledge in conjunction with others’ to leverage our impact. I learned a lot from the administrative staff and case workers about homelessness services, the specifics of homelessness in the Bay area and the psychology of trauma.

Posing with my fellow children’s services interns at our site

Not surprisingly, though, the most poignant lesson I learned this summer, I learned from working with my campers. While it is easier to rely on authority and dole out discipline, it is always more effective to approach difficult interpersonal situations with empathy, compassion, and curiosity. For example, a child might be refusing to join in on a group activity. Instead of threatening to call her parents or our forcing her to stand and join the group, I could sit down on the grass with her and try to find out if anything was bothering her or if she’d like me to do the activity with her for extra security. It is harder to put in that extra effort, especially when it’s been a long day and more than one camper is having a difficult time, but it is almost always worth that effort. I believe I can use this lesson in other areas of my life, including my personal life and any other social services work I do in the future.

I am so grateful for my summer at LifeMoves and for everyone I met there. I’m sending lots of gratitude to my host family for the summer and everyone who showed me hospitality while I was in San Francisco. I hope all the other WoW Fellows have a great and meaningful end to their internships as well.

Mira McMahon ‘18

Two Paths Diverged: Learning About Different Paths Towards Growth

Greetings from sunny California! While I do miss my East coast summer rain, I can’t say I miss having to make rainy day plans, especially with 20 (or more) energetic campers to entertain.

I’m writing this at the end of the fourth of seven weeks of camp and I can’t believe we’re so quickly approaching the end! I’m content with all that we’ve done so far and the relationships that we (my co-director, the counselors, and I) have formed with the campers living at the shelter. This past week was “Going Green” week at camp. We went on a hike, made leaf rubbings and stamps, and led the campers on a street cleanup around the shelter. All the kids were engaged and excited about the activities, which was encouraging to see. Over these past few weeks, I have come to get to know the kids and what is special and notable about each of them. They continue to surprise me with what they are interested in, what they’re not so interested in, and how they interact with each other and me.

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A sweet note from a camper

One of my favorite things about my internship is getting to be part of the community at Haven, even outside of my work with the campers. I speak to the parents about their kids, their housing searches, or their hometowns or home countries. I also have the opportunity to chat with the parents whose kids are too young for camp and spend time with direct services staff members who are dedicated, supportive, and knowledgeable. Every once in a while I pop into the main building for LifeMoves to meet with the administrative staff who are focused on the big picture and are able to give me some more insight into the organization as a whole and my small part of it.

At Brandeis I am a coordinator of the Waltham Group program, Hunger and Homelessness, a group that works with local organizations attempting to address the causes and effects of housing and food insecurity. We talk with our volunteers and community partners about how homelessness carries a stigma. As a society, we have learned to make assumptions about who is homeless, why they are in their situation, what they look like, how they act. The list goes on. It can be incredibly damaging to those individuals and families who are living without stable homes.

Through working with and alongside those who are experiencing homelessness, I am continually finding that there is no one way to be homeless and there is no one path to healing. In my orientation, the psychologist who is serving as the Vice President of Program and Services at LifeMoves spoke to us about how the organization must always “meet people where they’re at.” He explained that he often fields calls from frustrated clients upset that they were not being treated fairly, that their neighbor had it “better” than they. He recounted that he responds to these kinds of calls by letting the caller know that, congratulations, they had figured it out—the program is not fair! In other words, no two program participants follow the same path because each person needs something suited to the particulars of their situation. The National Coalition for the Homeless does a good job of explaining some of the causes of homelessness in this fact sheet. For some families and individuals, they can point to one of these headings as the root cause of their homelessness. For some, it is a more complex mix of many factors.

The LifeMoves Model

I’ve found that this principle of different paths can extend to my work with the campers. Of course, each camper gets the same number of graham crackers or time on the bikes. However, some campers need extra attention to get the same results. For example, one camper might need a sticker chart that rewards her for saying goodbye to his mom without crying, while another camper might need to be assigned her own project to be in charge of in order to feel like she is being challenged. Some might want to sit and talk while some learn best by getting their hands and knees dirty on the soccer field. It’s been one of our largest tasks to adjust to these diverse needs, but it ultimately is leading to far better results.

I’m looking forward to what these next three weeks will bring and letting you know what I learn!

Mira McMahon ‘18

Kicking Off A Summer of Adventure: My First Week at LifeMoves


Every morning for the past week I have shown up to my office at 8 am (or a few minutes before since I’m a little eager), met with my coworkers, and started in on my paperwork before a busy day. However, it looks a little different than one might imagine for an intern at a large nonprofit. My “office” is actually a shared craft room filled with glitter and stickers, my coworkers are high school aged volunteers, and my paperwork is usually something like printing BINGO cards. All in a morning’s work for a Summer Camp Director intern at LifeMoves.

Haven Family House: My internship site
Haven Family House: My internship site

LifeMoves is a nonprofit organization that serves individuals and families experiencing homelessness in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties in California. The organization is the result of a merger in 2012 between two well-established organizations doing similar work, InnVision the Way Home and Shelter Network, and was formerly named InnVision Shelter Network. Fun fact: During my application process for this internship, the organization went through its 2016 rebranding, which means I applied to InnVision, but my internship is officially with LifeMoves. A little confusing, I know!

LifeMoves operates at 17 sites throughout the two counties, housing over 1,000 individuals (including those staying with families) each night. The goal for those individuals is to achieve permanent housing and self-sufficiency after graduating from LifeMoves’ rigorous, comprehensive program. Those living in the shelters must commit to working with their case manager to take charge of financial planning and saving, housing and job searches, and receiving counseling when necessary. Additionally, LifeMoves provides meals and a safe, spacious, private housing unit while the family or individual is in shelter. While each of the sites operates differently and caters to different populations (some are geared more towards families, one is specifically for those living with mental illness, one is just for women, etc.), the organization as a whole has had success—they report that 97% of families and 82% of individuals who graduate their programs return to stable housing and self sufficiency (Source).

This summer I am interning with LifeMoves as the director of the Summer Adventure Camp for the children living at Haven Family House, the largest site for families living in shelter. Along with my co-director, my duties include planning the curriculum for each week of camp, managing the USDA summer food program, supervising the high school aged volunteers, communicating with parents, and completing official internal paperwork for reporting incidents, attendance, injury, etc. And, because it’s summer camp after all, it would not be out of the ordinary to catch me playing a game of four-square or tossing the occasional water balloon.

My first week at LifeMoves was devoted to attending an all-intern orientation at the administrative offices. There, I got to learn from those who have been working in social services for years and could share their insights into the type of program that LifeMoves runs. During this week, I learned that the counties we are serving have among some of the highest rents in the U.S., making it literally impossible for minimum-wage workers to afford any type of permanent housing. In 2015, there were approximately 8,338 individuals living without a permanent residence in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and LifeMoves claims that this is even an underestimation due to the fact that the figure does not include the “vehicularly housed,” (those living in their car) (Source 1, 2.)

Me with the other LifeMoves interns at out beach retreat
Me with the other LifeMoves interns at our beach retreat

If you’re still with me, I commend you; all of these figures and details can be a little numbing and impersonal. This is part of what makes my internship so appealing to me. I have the chance for 8 hours every weekday to simply spend time with the clients who are living the reality of what these numbers point to. And it looks different for everyone. Each of the campers and their family is coming from a different background and are at different points in their process of returning to stability. It is a privilege to get to be part of that process for someone. While I don’t know every child’s story (nor do I need to), I hope that offering this summer camp will enhance the individual’s experience. Maybe having the kids out of the house will give the parents time to complete that housing application that finally gets approved or maybe one of our STEM activities will really stick with one of the campers and make them more interested in science. Or maybe it will just give the kids a couple hours of fun building structures out of marshmallows and competing in relay races. I may not ever know, but I’m excited to be in this environment and to learn from whatever happens.

If you can’t get enough of LifeMoves at this blog, feel free to follow along with our adventures at the camp blog at https://lifemovessummercamp.wordpress.com.

Until next time!

Mira McMahon ‘18