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The San Francisco DukeEngage program is working with two organizations this year: Larkin Street and At The Crossroads. Another Duke student and I are working with At the Crossroads, and on our first day, we were excited (albeit still groggy) to start work at 9 am. We walked into the building, not knowing that the next week would be so trying.

For context, this is the first 9-5 I’ve ever done. I didn’t think much of it, but I quickly realized how long of a day that was. I had never experienced the absolutely thrilling experience of being in meetings and trainings from 9-5. The first week was filled with such days; I learned a lot about the organization, but came home everyday mentally exhausted.

Truthfully, at times I questioned the necessity of these trainings. I didn’t understand the purpose of learning about the philosophy of the organization or learning about the roles of the other staff. At first, it seemed that my job was literally just e-mailing people about a hike that ATC (At the Crossroads) organizes in mid-July (check it! So, you can understand how I was confused as to why I was learning about ATC’s budget distribution, or how the client-counselor relationship functions.

Slowly, as the days become more work and less meetings, I saw the true value of all that training. My work duties started to vary dramatically, from arranging food boxes, to tracking donations, to helping out during volunteer events. But, this variety in tasks isn’t specific to my position. As far as I can see, the staff all have a wide range of roles, many times overlapping so that different staff can assist each other on such tasks. For example, one staff member is in charge of going to the food bank and bringing back the goods, but when she comes back to the office, anyone that’s not in a meeting or phone call will go downstairs and help her bring it all up. Another example is that even though one staff member is the volunteer coordinator, the other staff will help set up for volunteer events or even help host the volunteer events. This sense of communal assistance helps the office function, and reduces the sole burden from one staff’s shoulders.

Because the office is so interconnected, it’s critical for each staff member to understand the role that each other staff member plays, as well as have a basic understanding of ATC’s philosophy and how that plays out in all that ATC does. So while I was drowning in information during my first week, it was actually one of the key characteristics of this organization’s structure. Only after working here for a little while longer did I see the true value of all that training; while I’m still very new to ATC, I’m learning more every day (and hopefully becoming more useful to ATC everyday!)