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With seven days left in this wonderful city, I find myself wanting to go back to the beginning of the program. Back to when I still committed the faux pas of calling San Francisco “San Fran”, couldn’t figure out which side of the bus to get on, and had two months of adventure waiting for me. Some days I want to go back to the first time I walked through Larkin Street Youth’s doors, energized by first day jitters and the air of pleasant uncertainty. But when I reflect on the past seven weeks, I couldn’t go back and risk changing any part of this unforgettable, wild, and significant summer.

Before arriving in California, I was skeptical about the impact eight weeks could have on the clients at Larkin or on myself. How much could the clients benefit from another intern sharing their space? Could I really change my world in two months? Would my time at Larkin accomplish something meaningful or just be another line on my resume?

That skepticism was silenced when an autistic client I have tutored since the beginning of the program successfully completed 4-digit regrouping without needing me to walk him through the problem. Thinking back to when he couldn’t complete single-digit subtraction or addition on his own, I was forced to choke back tears as I congratulated him.

That skepticism was silenced when the clients began to look for me in the mornings, versus me forcing conversations with people who rightfully considered me a stranger. When conversations with them were just as natural and appreciated as conversations I have with old friends. When I, notoriously bad with names (for reference, there was a period in high school when I spelled my own last name wrong for two weeks), could look around the ECC floor and confidently remember each of the client’s names.

I look back to my first week at Larkin and remember a conversation when a supervisor told me that he didn’t like to use the word “clients” because he considered the people at Larkin family. I couldn’t relate or fully understand him then, but I do now. The staff at Larkin is a group of incredible humans who work through their lunch breaks, stay late, and come early every day with smiles on their faces. The work done at Larkin is tiring and can be physically and emotionally consuming, but the Larkin staff continue to seek out excellence in clients. That being said, Larkin is not just the staff and tutors and volunteers. The clients at Larkin are equally responsible and to thank for the center’s heart and spirit. The clients have gone through more struggles in their 18 to 24 years than most adults will ever know, but they persevere. They have not given up on themselves, and their participation in the Larkin program is testament to that. They come in for the meals, the showers, the educational programs. They come in so that their situation is not a permanent one. They come in to prove that hope can exist even in the darkest of situations.

It has been an honor to be able to spend my first summer in California with the Larkin Street Youth family. The people at 134 Golden Gate Ave. are incredibly strong and caring, and I am fortunate to have been able to teach just as much as I was taught among them. I will never forget the experiences, conversations, and happiness I was gifted at the center this summer. I don’t wish to go back to the beginning of the summer. I just wish to finish my last seven days with the Larkin family with as few tears as possible.