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The other day as I looked back on my time in San Francisco, I couldn’t help but compare it to a TV show on MTV called “The Real World”.  Mostly because there are seven of us just like the show states in the intro and because we got to spend an unforgettable summer in an unreal city with unreal experiences. Though our time in San Francisco wasn’t taped and wasn’t about scripted dramas between house members (which there was none of), our time spent here was definitely real and definitely something that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

This blog documents the true stories and beliefs held by seven Duke students picked to work at non-profits that serve homeless youth. This is the theoretical “episode” where I tell you about the adventures that led to self discovery, a public policy memo, and raising $120,000 to go to the work that ATC does with its clients; along with anything else that comes to mind.

Back in February when I first found out that I would be embarking on a life changing adventure to the Bay Area, I had no idea what San Francisco would have in store for me. Unfortunately, no one read me the quote by Mark Twain in which he says, “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” and instead I only thought about the lyrics from the Beach Boys song “California Girls” that talks about sunshine and getting tan. Needless to say, I went out and bought multiple sweaters to carry around with me because it wasn’t till I experienced microclimates that I actually believed that there was such a thing as microclimates. And for those of you who don’t know much about San Francisco like I didn’t, a microclimate is when the weather changes at from 60 and foggy in Inner Richmond to sunny and 70 in the Mission.

Anyways besides learning how to dress and carrying around an entire closet suitable for any climate, somewhere between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge I discovered myself. I have become a friend, a confidante, a hike coordinator, a passionate advocate for social justice, a photographer, a motivator, and a more confident, more independent me. And lastly, I became a crucial part of a great community at At The Crossroads.

Working at ATC has taught me a lot of things. It has taught me to appreciate my situation and to never take a single day for granted because I don’t want to be defined by my situation but by who I am as a person. It has also taught me to speak up when I think something can be fixed and that I have the ability to make a difference in the lives of others. It is also the inspiration for my public policy memo that I have to write to graduate in the Spring, which is extremely scary to think about! I would tell you more about it but it’s still a work in progress. Let’s just say my memo might be about the government and the role it plays in nonprofits for better or for worse. Hopefully, my academic advisor, Elise Goldwasser, will like it.

Let me tell you a little about this amazing organization and its mission. ATC is a non-profit organization that works with homeless youth to build outstanding lives on their own terms. They allow them to pick their own paths and decide what is important for them to accomplish during their one on one meetings with ATC counselors. ATC is unique because they don’t force their clients to conform to a standard of what society thinks it takes to escape homelessness.

ATC was co-founded by Rob Gitin in 1998 when he was 22, which is crazy because I’m 21 now and don’t think I could start a non-profit. I don’t even know what I’m going to eat for breakfast tomorrow…well that’s not true; I plan on going to Tartine because it has over 5,000 ratings but that’s beside the point.

The ATC staff is made up of some of the bravest and most inspiring people I’ve ever met and to top it off, they are super chill. Watching them and listening to them fight for their clients’ everyday is awe-inspiring. They are truly amazing people. They are also awesome because they let a couple of interns help put together one of their biggest sources of income.

ATC is not a government funded nonprofit, which means that though they are able to serve their clients at a much deeper level, it also means that they are a much smaller nonprofit. That’s where the Summer SunDay Hike comes in. The hike is a main source of revenue for ATCs programs. Over the past 8 weeks, I have stewarded around 100 hikers and given them the tools necessary to raise money for ATC. It has been a lot of long days staring at a computer screen and talking on the phone but in the end it was all worth it because I know that my efforts will impact the lives of countless clients while also helping support some of my new heroes.

To finish it off, after listening to my fellow DukeEngage members talk about their time here, I think that it’s safe to say that this summer in San Francisco has been a summer of firsts, a summer of discovery, a summer of fun, a summer of music, a summer of growing, and a summer of friends.