It has been two weeks in Costa Mesa and it feels like I have been here for so much longer. From diving deeper into work at A21 and getting to know the other volunteers better to plugging into a local church and exploring the area, Southern California is starting to feel more like home for the summer. In just a little over a dozen days here, I have been struck by the beauty, generosity and power of a heart of a stranger
After landing in California, I headed straight to the place I am living. One of my friends from Duke and her mom generously offered to pick me up from the airport, which is more than an hour from their house (and in California traffic!). Their presence helped me feel cared for as I nervously stepped into this brand-new experience. When I got to the above-garage apartment I am sharing with the other student on my DukeEngage indy project, the owners of the house quickly came out to greet us. We had been communicating with them for about a month via phone and email, but this was our first time meeting them. They expressed an abundance of happiness for us being there and walked us through all the necessary steps for getting our apartment set up. Then, they took us out to eat at In & Out burger, a true west coast experience. They asked questions about our life stories and about what we were looking forward to during our time in Orange County. We went out to frozen yogurt right after and the conversation continued. We had met them only hours ago, but they already felt like home.
Experiencing the heart of a stranger through them was only the beginning. Many of the volunteers at A21 live locally and thus, know the area really well. From the moment we started in the office, people have opened their arms to us and have done everything in their power to make us feel welcome. They recommend places to go and restaurants to eat at. They tell us about how the area has changed over the years and decades they have lived here. One woman even brought her old DVD player to the office along with a handful of movies for us to take back to our apartment simply for our enjoyment. She also gave us her number the first weekend we were here just in case we needed anything or had any questions.
The church we have gotten plugged into is truly incredible. The Spanish-style building has been there since the 1920s and the church has been relaunched in the past 5 years. It is magnificent. The pastor is also amazing—she actually went to Duke Divinity which means we have spent our time bonding over Durham food and Duke basketball. After the service this past weekend, the congregation invited us to go bowling. We talked to one of the members about our DukeEngage program and our work with A21. When we went up to the counter to get our shoes, he had already paid for them. He said he wanted to help us out in any way he could while we are here.
Last but certainly not least, the heart of a stranger is at the core of the work of A21. We work in the Global Support Office which means we do a lot of the operational work needed to support and grow the 13 global offices. We are often working for survivors we may never meet in countries we may never visit. But it is so worth it. Because of the countless, incredible examples I have experienced, I am able to embrace the heart of a stranger.