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At DukeEngage San Francisco, our 10 person cohort splits between two sites, both centered around work with homeless youth and young adults.  One is Larkin Street Youth, where Duke interns get more client-based interactions, and get to connect with the people they are serving. The other, my location, is called At the Crossroads.

At the Crossroads is very different from Larkin Street in the way that my job is mainly administrative. I get to see the behind the scenes of how a non-profit operates, and what goes into making one successful. My main job is to help coordinate the Summer SunDay Hike, ATC’s biggest annual fundraiser. From the time I get to ATC at 9am, I am on the computer, contacting participants to urge them to fundraise, calling potential donors, and keeping track of all the money coming in. This type of 9 to 5 job definitely hit me hard during the first week, with long, seemingly endless days of typing away on the computer screen. And while doing this type of work, it is sometimes hard to see the impact that I’m making because there is nothing tangible in front of me at that moment.

I thought this would be the extent of my duties here at ATC, and with that would be constant self-motivation and dreaming of that “bigger picture”. However, I was in for a pleasant surprise…

Volunteers are also a large part of the work that is done at ATC, and they prep a lot of materials that the outreach counselors give to the clients. On a slow day in the office, Tara and I were asked to go help out upstairs since one of the volunteers was out for the day. Our job was to help during Office Hours, which is a time where clients can call in to the outreach counselors to request items for the week. We were prepping bags full of groceries, hygiene, harm reduction supplies, new clothes- basically anything that was needed for the clients to be more comfortable, and to help them for at least another week. I fell in love with this type of work, because I was able to participate in something that was a little more visible for me. These were items going directly to the clients, and I felt I was able to finally be a part of that experience. This was something that I wanted to do more often.

So I continued. When things relating to Summer SunDay were up to date, I ask Sharissa, the volunteer coordinator, if she needs me to do anything. Either that, or I go upstairs and see how I can be of assistance. It became the best part of my work day because it was something I looked forward to doing. There was one instance when I was upstairs restocking the food in the prep room, and one of the outreach counselors came in with a woman and her children to pick out their items. The kids were so excited, picking out their favorite snacks to eat and new toys to play with- running around without a care in the world, it seemed. I didn’t know what the family’s situation was, or what experiences they had gone through to get to ATC, but what I did know was that they looked happy in that moment. Being able to witness that, which I may not have otherwise if I was downstairs, put a lot of things into perspective to me. This fundraising money, the project that I’m working on, went to this food, and these toys. It is giving families a sense of hope, security and stability that they may not have gotten otherwise. I am making a difference, even if just a small one.

Since then, I have participated in many more volunteer-related activities. I am helping at volunteer events, connecting with people who also want to help in any way they can for the community. I am forming relationships with the weekly volunteers that come in during the day to help out. I love talking to them and hearing how they ended up at ATC, and what drove them to continue living out this experience, even without that direct interaction with the clients. I have been inspired, pushed, and motivated to work harder than ever to get the money to continue the incredible work that is done at At the Crossroads. To keep giving volunteers something to come back to.

Doing fundraising work, as well as volunteer work, has added a new layer to my perspective here that I don’t think I could have done without. And it made my experience all the better for it.