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It’s week 3 of camp and week 6 of Duke Engage. That means I’m through with ¾ of camp and ¾ of my time here in Orange County. And it’s hit me hard that I wish I could stay longer. I wish I could spend more time here, even though we basically live in a desert, because the girls at camp make it worth it.

The more time I spend with the girls, the closer I get to some of them, and it’s both the greatest and the worst feeling in the world. It warms my heart to hear a chorus of girls greet me in the morning; this week alone, I’ve probably received more hugs than I have throughout my whole Duke Engage experience. But as my relationships with my new little buddies grow stronger, I’m constantly reminded that my time here is coming to an end. This week, the dreaded question came up: will you come back next summer? I can’t bring myself to tell them the truth that, no, I won’t be coming back next year, so I tell a little white lie. I tell them that my program is only a one-year program, but maybe I’ll be able to come back and visit. Maybe. And it hurts. It hurts to let them down, that when they finally find a friend in us, we have to leave.

It makes me question the impact and sustainability of work like this. I came into this program to form relationships with girls at camp, even if it was just one, but it never crossed my mind what would happen to these relationships after camp ended. Meaningful relationships don’t just end after a month. If my goal here is to make impactful connections with girls to inspire them in STEM and areas of personal growth, they should be long-term mentorships and not short-term friendships. But that’s the problem. With these one-summer programs, it’s hard to continue building on relationships once the program is over. And once that stops, the impact of our service is severely cut. I hope Duke Engage can take this issue into consideration so that the impact we make is sustainable and real.

But as for now, I hope fate brings me back to Orange County so I can continue to build on the relationships I’ve made.