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Not a handout, a hand up – 6/25/2018

It is the beginning of my second week here in Seattle with DukeEngage, and I am working for Year Up, a nonprofit dedicated to youth development. Year Up offers a program to 18-24 year olds who have either graduated high school or earned a GED. The intensive program is essentially a crash-course guide to learning technological skills, such as how to take apart and rebuild a computer. After the students complete their coursework for Year Up, they earn an internship placement with a wide array of potential companies, including Microsoft and Amazon.

Working with Year Up so far has been a great introduction to Seattle since Year Up is near the downtown area. However, working so close to downtown comes with its challenges as well. Before coming to Seattle, we learned that homelessness is a big issue in the area, but I don’t think you can fully understand it until you see it up close and personal. In the downtown area, I pass by countless people living on the streets on my way to work. I have already been approached many times by individuals asking for money, and I feel uncomfortable every time I sheepishly turn away and apologize. Even in the University District, on a casual fifteen minute walk down the street to a Trader Joe’s I pass by half a dozen sleeping bags and signs. I wish there was more I could do for each person, but if I gave a dollar to everyone who asked I would quickly run out of my stipend allotment. I have started to carry around a couple granola bars in my backpack for anyone who seems like they really need something, but other than that I’m still figuring out what else there is I can do.

Additionally, I’ve learned the complexities of homelessness here in Seattle – there is no one stereotypical group of “the homeless”; people from all walks of life can end up homeless through unfortunate circumstances. In the program at Year Up, although there are no currently homeless students, there are students with unstable housing situations or who have been previously homeless. But from interacting with these students, you would never be able to tell. In the program, everyone dresses and acts professionally. Everyone I’ve met so far has been warm and kind despite not previously having access to opportunities. They are grateful to be at Year Up and understand that this program is key to entering the professional world and starting a career for themselves.

I am proud to be working for a nonprofit that focuses on finding a permanent solution and changes the lives of so many youth in the area. Year Up gives these people an extra shot – an opportunity they didn’t have before and would not have had without it. As they say here, Year Up is not a handout. It’s a hand up.