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At Larkin Street Youth Services, it costs approximately $40,000-$50,000 to place a youth through a continuum of care for one year. This means housing at one of their shelters, food, health care, education etc. I am a psychology major so I don’t math well, but by my incredibly rough calculations our Duke Engage program costs a similar amount when we account for housing, stipends, enrichment budget, transportation from our individual locations, and bus passes for both Duke Engage participants and our supervisors. This means that the amount of money we use to fund our summer could be used to fund a client at Larkin Street for a year instead. A disconcertingly large amount of people would look at these raw numbers and conclude that Duke Engage filters very much needed funds and resources away from their host communities. Before this trip, I would have been a part of this group. A lesson I will take with me when I decide between nonprofit, socially impactful work versus a high salary (some say the decision does not have to be made between the two but this is another discussion for another day) is something I am uncertain I would have learned without Duke Engage. I believe that money donated can never equal being there in person, working with others, and personally helping individuals become the best versions of themselves is something that can never have a price tag.

Before Duke Engage, I could not fathom what undergraduates could possibly do to change our view of the world and impact it long term. But if I don’t understand something, I try to immerse myself in it to the best of my abilities before dismissing it. Reason #2938 of why I chose to participate in Duke Engage SF this summer. Authentic human connections are, in my opinion,  the largest intangible impact created by the Duke Engage program. This summer I met a girl that her peer described as “the embodiment of love” in spite of years of trauma who taught me positivity is not naive but a supreme sign of strength. I am happy to report we mutually benefitted from our interactions (at least she told me I wasn’t like talking to a rock) for she said that my presence “just makes everything better”. I could easily say the same about her. I met a boy who told me life we should be like a banana . He means through listening and simply being we should allow ourselves to ripen into the best version of ourselves. This may not be the best example, but he is inarguably the single most eloquent and profound human beings I have ever met. When I told him that after one of our many long conversations, he just smiled bashfully and said “That’s why I like you Toni. You’re so positive about my life and it helps me be positive about life.”  I and many of my peers who critique the program before participating in it undervalue the pure power of authentic human connections with people that are seemingly worlds away from of your experience but are actually closer than what appears. The world is smaller, humanity seems less scattered in terms of experiences and no one seems too different to be reached. These are feelings and emotions created within me and the people I have come into contact with because of Duke Engage.

In my last Duke Engage blog I discussed the trouble I had finding the balance between being introspection and self-encouragement. I’ve come to realize finding joy in doing some good in the world does not have to be sacrificed for humility, the two can coexist- very happily so in fact. Before attending Duke Engage, I was a part of the #edgy portion of well-meaning Duke students who believed the program did far more harm than good due to the cultural insensitivity and savior complexes that are believed to exist among Duke Engage participants. I didn’t understand what anyone could possibly do to “change the world” in two months, and any belief that it was possible was self-aggrandizing and simply wrong. But now I know we are doing something to impact the world, we are creating small, powerful moments of change.