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Hello there! My name is Maria N. Ramirez and in the Fall of 2022, I was a Wellness Intern at CASA (Children’s After School Arts) in San Francisco, California. So what exactly is CASA? CASA is an independent, nonprofit creative arts before and after school program dedicated to guiding San Francisco’s youth toward open expression, expansive hearts, and questioning minds.

If asked to describe CASA from my perspective, I would ask you to imagine this – a montage of blaring pop music on a busy school yard, smiling energetic children engaging in song and dance under the soft embrace of the California sun, colorful rubber balls flying in every direction, joyous cart wheels and a group of awesome creative adults working together to hold down the fort with glitter on their hands and love in their hearts.


As an aspiring psychologist, I came into the role of Wellness Intern expecting to learn how to help children process their emotions and three months later, I have achieved this and far more than I could have ever imagined. 

A typical day in the life of a Wellness Intern at CASA begins with setting up and breaking down the safe and creative space of he Wellness Center. I am in charge of preparing the sign in sheets, setting out the sensory toys, organizing the art and watercolor table, building the library and arranging pillows and blankets for the very popular cozy area. Once this is all completed, we begin accepting children in the Wellness Center and this is in my opinion where the real magic happens. I make sure to ask each child how they are feeling, what they would like to do in the Wellness Center and offer them the opportunity to talk with me one on one if they have something pressing on their mind.

Whenever a child would request to speak to me specifically about their day, my heart would light up because I knew it meant that they trusted me enough to let me into their world and when they gifted me draw, I knew they were little tokens of appreciation.

At the Wellness Center, we have a list of restorative questions that all Wellness Interns are encouraged to use while interacting with the children. Five of these resonated deeply with me and I share them with you all now in hopes that you might adopt them in your everyday life. They read as follows:

  1. Respect the talking piece: everyone listens, everyone has a turn
  2. Speak from the heart: your truth, your perspectives, your experiences
  3. Listen from the heart: let go of stories that make it hard to hear one another 
  4. Trust that you will know what to say: no one needs to rehearse
  5. Say just enough: without feeling rushed, be concise and considerate of the time of others

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times these restorative questions have saved a friendship or prevented a tantrum due to a child feeling unheard and unseen by their peers. I will definitely carry these with me as I embark on my next exciting chapter.

One intentional project that I implemented in the Wellness Center was the creation of a collective wind chime. In preparation, I cut off a random branch for the base, gathered a lot of clear string and a huge bag of colorful beads. I asked every child to choose the length of their string according to the size of the emotion they were feeling and the color of the beads according to the emotions that they were feeling. One little boy chose to use the color orange because he missed his mom and it was her favorite color. One little girl chose the color blue because she was feeling sad and another chose the color pink because she was feeling especially happy. I enjoyed the vibrant and emotionally centered conversations that took place at the project table. In the end, the collective wing chime calls the butterfly garden at the entrance of the school overlooking the San Francisco skyline home. Another cool project involved the making of stress balls out of balloons and beans. 

CASA is a program that I wish I would have had access to as a young child in the public school system and I feel very blessed to have been able to help children connect with themselves and with others at such a critical age in their lives. I think I’ll always remember staring up in wonder at the gang of loose parakeets that frequent the Rooftop School garden, watching the Blue Angels roar over Twin Peaks, standing still as a wave of thick rolling fog descended over the school yard and watching the city of San Francisco twinkle in the distance from the steps of the school on the first day of Daylight Savings. For the longest time, I have felt submerged but in the presence of children and the simple joys that they experience on a daily basis, I learned how to breathe again.

When I look back at my time in San Francisco, I look back with extreme gratitude because in this city, I found a glimmer of hope. I was fortunate enough to stay with an amazing CASA family that offered me a place to call home in the heart of San Francisco. Living two blocks away from Alamo Square and a couple blocks away from Haight-Ashbury, I was exposed to so much art on storefronts, the side of buildings, bus stops and people. 

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Hello, my name is Maria Nieves Ramirez and I am currently a fourth-year Antioch College student studying Communication and Media Studies.

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