Reflecting on Mental Health and Social Services in the Peruvian and U.S. Context*

[the what] As I reflect on and observe my trip and experiences in Cusco, Peru, I notice that there are similarities and differences that can be exchanged between Peruvian culture and American culture.  My focus during the class in the Peru Program for study is mental health, and as such it is important to discuss and observe human behavior in social environments while in Peru and based on my experiences in the U.S. Understanding the importance of mental health and its strong connections to physical health is important, particularly when considering interventions in any culture.

American culture and society can be considered rich in available resources when dealing with any type of need for individuals.  The emotional and mental health needs of Americans are similar, if not the same in some circumstances, to those I observed in Peru, but the delivery of services can be considered dramatically different. The differences do not necessarily indicate negative or positive implications, but rather a better scope to decipher what is always necessary and what is secondary for any individual, regardless of culture. In Cusco, I observed a strong community and familial bond in every setting I found myself in.  Many individuals in Peru operate on a level of general care and concern for all of those around them.  Children were generally watched over by all, not just parents or immediate caretakers, many smiles were exchanged. Even when getting to know some of the locals in Cusco, I could feel the general caring and loving attitude that is practiced just from the behavior of those around me. While my American ethnicity was always an elephant in the room, the elephant was typically warmly welcomed and treated with general respect, even if there were questions for me to answer. While this experience for me may have been largely skewed by being American, I do believe there is a stronger bond among the people of Cusco as a whole.

In contrast, when speaking with a Peru Program service partner, Nestor, who is a psychologist and co-founder of AbrePuertas, I learned that mental health is still stigmatized and under-treated in Peru. Many individuals who suffer from any type of mental disorder are typically under-treated to the point of mental symptoms becoming largely physical leading individuals to their Primary Care Doctors. It is then that they realize the root problem is mental and then they are sometimes referred to a psychologist or mental health care professional. Early intervention and available resources do not seem to be as easily obtained in Cusco where it might be available in the U.S. more readily.

[so what?] Since mental health and physical health are so intertwined, it is through this experience, I sought to further look at what is necessary for any individual to live a high quality of life for them and those close to them, regardless of culture or ethnicity. Cusco appears to have an experiential type of learning and care-taking. This experiential learning and independent nature of children stayed with me beyond the trip into my thoughts here in America. I kept wondering why we care-take and parent so differently in the U.S. and questioned which method is better, and if either or both approaches led to different human behavior and mental health statuses both in comparison and in contrast.

An example of this is El Comedor, a site where myself and the other students worked during our time in Peru. The soup kitchen provided meals to any community members who were in need of food or nourishment. Whether it was a family or workers in the area, it was a general understanding that they come, eat a large meal for a small price, and leave with that need being met. This exchange demonstrating such a beautiful and useful way of indirectly tending to physical need, which cyclically improves mental health needs as well in a community bond strategy.

[now what?] In the U.S., community health is something that is constantly being revamped and improved in order to improve the overall health of individuals. Programs like El Comedor (the soup kitchen) and Corazon de Dahlia (a children’s after-school program) demonstrate a type of bonding among people and understanding of emotional and physical needs that Cusco seems to master through their innate human behaviors. On the other hand, there are systemic concerns that prevent some individuals in Cusco from achieving optimal health care and mental health goals in order to live a higher quality of life. While there may be very limited economic or government support in Cusco in comparison to U.S. for needs like emotional care or mental health care, the communities seem to take it into their own hands through bonding and affection—demonstrating true the public service value of community. Ultimately, the U.S. can benefit from the affectionate way that Peruvians care for one another and generally look out for each other when we are faced with challenges of apathy here at home.

The formal concern and understanding of the need for mental and physical health care in the U.S. would provide very beneficial change in the lives of many Peruvians on a macro level because of the need for a more resources and larger support. The formal health care that we provide in the U.S. could be useful if implemented in Peru for individuals suffering from behavioral dilemmas of any kind. However, U.S. mental health and social service might too have lessons to learn from Peru. A give and take from both cultures could benefit both greatly on mezzo/community levels and macro/systemic levels. If all human-beings are attempting to achieve optimal quality of life well beyond that of just surviving, then we can see the importance of using each other’s beneficial techniques in working with communities and its people.

Elizabeth Pisani-Woodruff

Master of Public Administration (MPA) and Master of Social Work (MSW) Dual Degree Student

* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

Profe! Profe! Profe! Y Cuando Regresan?

[the what?] We have now officially worked alongside all of the service partners that we had planned to work with. It has been a very enriching, different, eye opening and emotional experience for many different reasons, the most impactful one being that, now  that we have returned to the U.S., we no longer get to see the children we were working  with! Every time we finished at a service site, I could not help but hold back my tears and get a knot in my chest until we drove away. It would not have been fair to start crying in  front of the children who were doing perfectly fine before I arrived; my tears would have just made a scene and probably caused the children to get sad. In any case, it was a very draining experience when the time came to leave and say goodbye. I was saddened by the realities that many of the families of these young children were faced with. Most of my sadness stemmed from knowing that I was leaving so many children in the same situation that I found them in, and that I was unable to change anything about the way they are living their lives. Many of the people that we interacted with came from rural areas where there are limited resources, which limit the lifestyle that many of the families can have. One specific example was seen at AbrePuertas, one of the service sites we visited, where the program was located in a rural setting, surrounded by mountains and dealing with issues of poverty. Although the service site is there to help children in the neighborhood overcome challenges associated with poverty, I could not help but think that the work that is done is made so much harder by the lack of resources, sponsors and support that this service site receives. Along with AbrePuertas, Corazon de Dahlia and El Comedor were sites that lacked many resources and this limited the services they were able to provide.

[so what?] While in Cusco, I did make an effort to ask questions to the directors of the places we served to get a better understanding of what resources are available in Peru and get an idea of why the lack of resources exists. Many of the responses shared about the lack resources were accompanied with responses about lack of support—financial and  other—from the community and from the government. I think that a big problem Peru faces in its communities is that there are many concerns aside from service providers that need government attention and resources, for example, the issues related to malnutrition. Although the service sites that we visited provide very important services, sometimes they might not be considered the most important to most Peruvians. However, the service sites were creative. For example, Corazon de Dahlia has made sure to show up at all big town and community events to make its presence known and to inform the community of the importance in supporting educational initiatives like Corazon de Dahlia in the community. I think that although we were not able to help make changes or create a large impact on these service sites, we have definitely learned what it takes—the true dedication needed—to start, run, and keep a service providing program open and functional.

Coya plaza and mountains. This is the town, Coya, where AbrePuertas is located and serves.
Coya plaza and mountains. This is the town, Coya, where AbrePuertas is located and serves.

[now what?] Although our trips to these different service sites were pretty short lived, I think that the most important part of the experience is what the group from Binghamton learned from it. We might not have been able to make an immediate impact on the students that we were working with, or the communities in which we were in, but I am sure we all learned something. During our pre-departure classes at Binghamton University, we were assigned various articles to read that spoke about how volunteers should stay in their own countries and help the millions of people that may need help there instead of going across the world to provide this help. Even though I agree to a certain extent with that philosophy, I also think that being able to travel allows us to understand and see what it is that might be wrong in our own countries and how to fix it. Also it might help give us the tools to assess the strengths and weakness that our country has related to public service and how to make service to others even stronger and more impactful.

Carolina Garcia

Master of Public Administration (MPA) and Master of Social Work (MSW) Dual Degree Student

* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

A View From The Top: Local Government in the Andes.*

[the what] Coming to Peru I was most excited and anxious to talk to locals about the politics and government systems in place and how they felt about them. Doing research before arriving, I discovered that Peru had a long history of corrupt politicians and a large and very powerful central government that did not seem to be working for the citizens of Peru (this is true in many countries around the world!). Due to years of corruption under previous presidents such as Fujimori, who had been charged and convicted of human rights violations among other things, it seemed like Peru was on the right track, electing Ollanta Humala, who ran on a leftist platform, promising to reform government, stop mining and give power back to localities to better serve the people. I was really excited to hear how much things had changed since the times of Fujimori. However, what I have heard from most people I speak to here in Peru is that many people feel the new administration has been ¨more of the same¨ and very little has actually changed. When I asked My host Mom, Leonor, about the campaign promises that President Humala had made she said ¨that it was nothing more than propaganda, he has done nothing for Cusco¨ in particular. I was stunned, expecting that this would be a pleasant conversation about the good outcomes of decentralization, it quickly turned into a wakeup call. The political realities of the rural municipalities became abundantly clear after visiting our service sites of Abre Puertas in Coya, Corazon de Dahlia in Saylla and Comedor Virgen De Fatima in the outskirts of Cusco.

View of Cusco
View of Cusco

[so what] After hearing the opinions of the few people I spoke with I thought, wow there are so many problems and promises that have been broken to the Peruvian people, how will they ever more forward? I quickly realized that the culture here has a fierce sense of community and people truly take care of one another and their families. Even though there are various economic and social issues in Peru and more specifically Cusco, I learned through working with our service partners how resilient communities are and how they find solutions to difficult problems by working together. When volunteering at Abre Puertas in Coya, a rural community in the sacred valley of Cusco, we spoke to the Mayor and many other offices in the Municipality about the biggest obstacles they faced and how they dealt with them. They expressed that their budgets were far from enough to cover all the need in their community but they tried their best to promote the programs that were available them by speaking directly with the locals. They had one specific program to promote hygiene, environmental protection and reduced waste where the office literally had no budget, however they worked with individual families and neighborhoods to educate them on these issues and get volunteers to help out. The Mayor said they often have to compete for grants for certain projects but he seemed optimistic and proud about the work they were doing and the possibilities of the future.

AbrePuertas in Coya
AbrePuertas in Coya

[now what] All of the conversations with the Municipality and later with the staff at Corazon De Dahlia at our second service site inspired me as someone who will soon be working in public service. It has taught me that no matter the difficulty in any situation there is always a way to bring about positive change, especially when you bring the people you are trying to serve in the conversation. It is important for me to see how the public service value of collaboration in particular is key in any project and it takes many hand and minds for it to be successful. Working in Peru, which has such a deep history and robust culture, I have also learned that it is essential to be adaptable and conscious of the customs and beliefs of every place, neighborhood and community. As I continue to work on our last service project I constantly think about the impact we are making here and how long our efforts will go in terms of growing and helping these organizations, also keeping in mind the growth and experience they are giving us in return. I’m excited to continue to speak to locals and people who work or have worked in local government to learn more about the complexities of different systems and how they function, affect the people, and prevail.

Diana Reyes

Master of Social Work (MSW) and Master of Public Administration (MPA) Dual Degree Student

* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

Social Work Student Legislative Action Day Paves the Way for Change

By Erin Moore, 2nd year MSW Student, Anthony T. McCabe, 2nd year MSW Student

On March 10th, 2015 Binghamton MSW students joined over 400 of their peers in Albany to lobby for the passage of the New York DREAM Act and an enhancement to the Social Work Loan Forgiveness program. The trip was meant not only to provide an opportunity for students to dip their toes in the political well, but to also get a more intimate understanding of the ways in which state policies impact their social work practice at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act – more commonly referred to as the DREAM Act – seeks to expand educational opportunity for the nearly 5,000 annual undocumented high school graduates in the state by extending access to New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).  It also seeks to establish a Dream Fund Commission to raise private monies for the same population.

At the time of the MSW students’ visit to Albany, the bill had already passed the State Assembly 87-45. It currently awaits final resolution by the State Senate – but since the bill faces such formidable opposition from the Republican majority, Senate action is unlikely at this point. The DREAM Act’s last hope is Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015, in which he strategically linked the DREAM Act to a controversial education investment tax credit which is supported by Senate Republicans. The final deadline for a budget resolution is March 31st, at which point it will be clear as to whether or Cuomo’s coupling strategy paid off.

The Social Work Loan Forgiveness Program (SWLFP) hit a little more close to home for the student advocates. The New York State chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) sought a $500,000 increase to the current program, which allocates approximately $1.2 million dollars annually to eligible, licensed social workers.

The underpinning of the case for enhancing the SWLFP is that recruitment and retention of licensed social workers has remained an ongoing challenge in New York State in spite of a projected 25% growth in need of their professional services in critical human services areas. One way to incentivize licensed social workers to begin or continue their career in high needs communities is to offset diminished income potential through student loan forgiveness. This particular incentive has become increasingly important as starting salaries have stagnated at an average of $35,000 per year and student loan debts continue to increase. According to the NASW, over half of NASW social workers have loan debt upwards of $39,000.

As the program is currently administered, only 32 of the more than 1,000 annual applicants will be granted the award (which, over 4-years, has a maximum pay-out of $26,000). That’s less than 3% of all applicants — and the allocation of awards tends to be concentrated in New York City. For this, among other reasons, the NASW is seeking the enhancement to the SWLFP to ensure that more upstate social workers are brought into the fold so that they can work in the communities that need their services the most.

The student advocates each met with their elected officials in groups varying in size based on constituency. As representatives from Binghamton University, many students met with Senator Tom Libous and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo–both of whom represent the region where Binghamton University is housed and many students reside.

Senator Libous was not available due to health reasons, however a member of his staff was able to meet with the group. The staff member was receptive to the proposal of increasing the funds available for the SWLFP. While he did not expressly state Senator Libous’ position on the New York DREAM Act, he did tell the group that he sees a lot of opposition to the bill within the senate. The students and professors present took turns dispelling the myths around the bill that encourage opposition. The staff member promised to pass the message to Senator Libous, and he gave a bottle of Senator Libous’ “famous” steak sauce to anyone who wanted it.

March is National Social Work Month!

March is National Social Work Month!

This month, social workers around the country are celebrating the history and the future of their profession.

This year, social workers have extra cause for excitement: the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) turns 60 in 2015.

Founded in 1955 through the merger of seven organizations, the NASW is now the largest membership organization of social workers in the world.

But what do all of these social workers do?

These social workers serve individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities through public, non-profit, and private agencies. They work with children and with older adults. They help students at schools and workers through employee assistance programs. They provide care in hospitals, at nursing facilities, and through hospice. They work with those who have survived traumas, including domestic violence, armed conflict, and natural disasters. They work with those who seek to empower neighborhoods, to fight discrimination, and to advance human rights. They advocate with, and for, marginalized groups. They are service providers and researchers. They are policy makers and community organizers.

In the last six decades, social workers in the NASW have advocated with, and for, all Americans, including women; children; older adults; individuals of different abilities and racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds; and individuals who identify themselves as members of the LGBT community. They’ve been involved in campaigns that have led to voting rights, access to physical and mental healthcare, and funding for social services. They’ve responded to the needs of military personnel and their families; individuals with HIV/AIDS; and survivors of tragedies like the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina.

The NASW provides for the advancement of social work professionals through opportunities for networking; support for licensure and continuing education; and the operation of various specialty divisions like the NASW Press, the NASW Legal Defense Fund, and the NASW Social Work Ethics and Law Institute. The organization also raises awareness about the social work profession, through efforts like the creation of National Social Work Month and the development of www.SocialWorkersSpeak.org, which explores how the news and entertainment industries portray social workers and the issues social workers address.

To learn more about the history of the NASW and of social work, visit the interactive timeline on the NASW website. To learn more about the future of social work, check out the work of the students, faculty, and staff here in the Department of Social Work at the College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA) at Binghamton University.

I came to CCPA after earning a bachelor’s degree in integrative neuroscience through the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences at Binghamton University. I’m now finishing the second year of the Master of Social Work (MSW)-Master of Public Administration (MPA) dual-degree program in CCPA. I’m often asked exactly what I’m going to do with this combination of educational experiences. I think I’ve got a lot of options.

By the time I graduate in the spring of 2016, I will have completed more than 25 courses in social work and public administration; three years in a graduate assistantship with Dr. Victoria Rizzo, Associate Professor and Department Chair in the Department of Social Work; and two field placements that will have afforded me more than 1,000 hours of professional experience. I spent last year with the Youth and Outreach Services team at Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca. In the fall, I’ll start working at United Health Services Wilson Medical Center in Johnson City, under the Manager of Social Work.

My classmates are providing clinical mental health services through agencies like the Binghamton University Counseling Center, the Lourdes Memorial Hospital Center for Mental Health, and the Samaritan Counseling Center of the Southern Tier. They’re working to help develop a system of community schools through the Broome County Promise Zone. They’re providing for older adults through the Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education, which includes field placements with agencies like the Broome County Office for the Aging and the Rural Health Network. They’re working with those who have struggled with substance abuse at the Addiction Center of Broome County and with those who have survived domestic violence through RISE. They’re serving the community through organizations like Catholic Charities, Family & Children’s Society, and the United Way. The MSW program has field placement partnerships with more than 200 organizations, offices, and agencies across the Southern Tier and throughout the surrounding counties.

We learn from an incredible team of faculty and staff. Find out more about their research and service – in areas like trauma-informed practice, sexual assault prevention on college campuses, community-engaged schools, and healthcare – by checking out the Faculty and Staff section of the Department of Social Work website.

But, regardless of our past experiences, our current work, and our future plans, the students, faculty, and staff in the Department of Social Work are all united through the core values of the NASW: we believe in service, social justice, the dignity and worth of the person, the importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence. We all want to “pave the way for change. “

Emily Tier
Bachelor of Science, Integrative Neuroscience, 2011
Master of Public Administration, expected 2016
Master of Social Work, expected 2016

SWM-2015LogoFinal60th

CCPA MPA faculty and alumni mourn the passing of Steve Jackson ’07

On Friday, January 30, the Binghamton MPA community suffered a terrible loss. Steve Jackson, (MPA, 2007), passed away suddenly, leaving a void in the hearts of those who called him a friend.

I met Steve in the summer of 2005; we both were starting our MPA degrees and were part of a small, but cohesive cohort of enthusiastic students. Before the MPA program was located in the beautiful downtown space, it was housed on the main campus in the library basement. Steve and I were both graduate assistants who shared a small office space with Denis Scott (MPA, 2007) and Jennifer Miller (MPA, 2007) in a windowless room that was nearly impossible to find. Some of my fondest memories from graduate school took place in that basement-we laughed, rushed to finish last minute assignments, had regular lunches, slept on the couch that we moved in there, and occasionally were able to complete some work.

I, like so many others, was devastated by the news of Steve’s untimely passing-Steve was always so full of life, able to make a joke, break the ice, and make everyone smile. He was an amazing ambassador for the MPA program and was a true public servant. After moving to Binghamton, Steve quickly integrated himself into the tightknit community-volunteering, taking an interest in local politics, and frequenting area small businesses. He soon considered Binghamton his home.

In early 2006, Steve, myself and several other MPA students traveled to New Orleans to volunteer in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He spoke with everyone he could, collecting stories of loss and hope, offering words of encouragement, and was visibly pensive and moved by the experience.

Within the MPA program, Steve established himself as a leader, excellent student, and a person, who other students gravitated toward-for help with classwork, to exchange ideas, and of course, for a good laugh. He was an incredibly humble person, who never spoke of his achievements nor did he like to be recognized publicly for the important work that he was doing, instead he preferred to quietly slip away when his name was mentioned.

Jennifer Whitehead (MPA, 2008) shares, “Steve was an academic, an expert, a professional. He was educated, and he was genuine. An intersection of all these qualities became one of the important things Steve had, something not really compatible with perfection, or with sainthood: he had credibility.

If Steve told me I had done something well, I believed him. If he guided me to a resource, a reference, a teacher, I trusted it. If he didn’t know an answer, he said so. We trusted Steve to help; we trusted him with our opinions. We trusted Steve with our things, and with our uncertainties. We trusted Steve to have fun with and we also trusted him to work really hard–we trusted him with group projects, and with academic problems. We trusted him to lead us. Not unique qualities in themselves, maybe, but Steve put them together in a singular way.”

Though modest about his accomplishments, Steve did love the stage as both a thespian and musician. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform on several occasions and always smiled when he signed emails “ROCK.” Denis Scott adds, “When Steve was in need of a more professional closing, he simply ended his emails with “Best.” Not “Best wishes,” or “Best regards,” just “Best.” This succinct sign-off fit Steve in every way. His curiosity, humor, and zeal for each project, paper, and meeting made good things better. Steve seemed to have a knack for adding special insights that created “a-ha” moments. Watching his face light up while his smile turned into an impish grin, then pausing for a beat to deliver the perfect one-liner… now that was the best.”

Processing the loss of Steve has been challenging for so many people-how do you fully understand the loss of someone who was so full of life? Over the past few weeks, I have connected with those who called Steve a friend and through tears and smiles we took the time to really remember him-the guy who drove a Honda Element; loved to eat Gouda and apples; had the basement apartment on Walnut Street where we would all gather after a night at the Belmar; and who, despite the stress of graduate school, could always elicit a laugh.

Best to you, Steve. Best.

Jennifer Miller
Cynthia Nuara
Denis Scott
Jennifer Whitehead

Community Spotlight: Emily Jablon

Note from the editor: New to the blog this semester is a feature that is near and dear to me. I have lived in Binghamton for a long, long, LONG time and I have seen it grow and evolve into an area that is supportive of public art and small business in ways that didn’t exist even ten years ago. In addition, community initiatives in mental health, access and equity, and workforce development are changing the area in ways that I am only beginning to understand. As a result, I have developed a segment of the blog that highlights local initiatives that take community to heart. The “Communitarian Spotlight” feature will focus on community members and students that are doing something awesome. Not necessarily “bright lights, big budget” awesome, but the kind of work that is impacting the lives of people in positive ways and embodying CCPA values. I find out about these communitarians through an informal nomination process, because that grassroots method of collecting information is something that I believe is powerful. I hope you are as excited as I am to meet these communitarians, and as you read you may ponder ways to connect and support these initiatives as they continue to develop and impact our local area. For the greater good.

Communitarian Spotlight: Emily Jablon

Chances are if you have driven in downtown Binghamton, you have seen her work. Whether on the multi-colored giant flower pots on Water St., or that certain sparkle across from River Read books overlooking the Chenango River, to the beautiful flower boxes across from Burger Mondays, you have seen Emily Jablon’s artistic vision of a vibrant Binghamton. Jablon partners with her mother, Susan Jablon, at Susan Jablon Mosaics and Club Bling, in a 6000 sq. ft. facility on Binghamton’s east side, employing a local crew of artisans that assist in the creation of custom backsplashes (among other things) in what is the largest mosaic tile supply center in the country. Yes, this is happening right here in Binghamton. I recently spent some time over coffee discussing her vision, what motivates her to continuously donate time and materials, and what she wishes to accomplish moving forward.

Emily Jablon is an artist. Her focus is on making art. In conversation, however, you discover that it’s so much more than that. You can hear in her voice and in her words how much she cares about making art accessible. Having worked with the Regents Academy at the Columbus School in downtown Binghamton, partnering with David Sloan Wilson of EVOS at Binghamton University, she began to see the impact that working on these projects had on the students there. She saw the students engage in a way that inspired her to think about mechanisms to avail creative work to local students (her studio, Club Bling, was named by students she worked with at the Regents Academy). Her vision includes working with teams of students, involving them in the process of engaging with and caring for their environment. Jablon discusses that vandalism isn’t really a concern because so many hands are involved in the process, and those participants make sure that the pieces are looked after. The whole experience made her want to do more work with the public and specifically with high school students, building their confidence and their pride in their area, and harnessing youth energy to make a local impact.

Focusing specifically on the product can be challenging when you work with the mediums and canvasses that Jablon does. She discussed the supportive relationship she has with the administration in the City of Binghamton. “They’ve been really supportive. Permits, red tape, everything is handled and we get it done quickly. I am very lucky.” When I asked her what her dream project would be, she said without hesitation, “the flood wall. But I can’t. It’s a federal thing.”

A tour (bonus!) through Jablon Studios, where I meet Cookie the Bull Dog, is where Club Bling is housed, and offers and array of classes and workshops, including succulents, mosaics, yoga, and soap making. Building up the shop and making it into something where local artists and artisans can rent affordable studio space, as well as a place where the community can come in and make something fun and creative is a big piece of what Jablon is working on now. Jablon’s community vision moving forward includes opening up sponsorship for her idea of “adopt-a-spot,” which will give local businesses the opportunity to make a donation and sponsor a mosaic project in what Emily terms “forgotten areas.” As she discussed this initiative, and others, Emily’s focus on art as activism and community engagement became infectious, and I thought about ways I can connect her with different programs like Broome County Promise Zone and Upward Bound at Binghamton University, and other programs that work with local students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Jablon makes it clear that though the end result is gorgeous, it is a process that has its less glamorous moments. For one, it is a lot of squatting. You end up getting covered in mortar. I personally saw her outside over the summer working on Water St.; it was hot. She had mortar stuck to her. I thought “that is what commitment looks like.” After speaking with her, I now realize that that is what a communitarian looks like: sweaty, covered in mortar, with a pile of tiles and a vision of the greater good.