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“What exactly is your vision for us here?”

One of my fellow interns at Larkin Street asked our supervisor this at our weekly meeting this past week. I believe it’s a question that has been on all of our minds since we started working here, but it took five weeks into the internship to ask.

Throughout my time here, one of the consistent concerns with all of the projects that I have been a part of is how they will be maintained after we leave. There is no guarantee that the newsletter that I have been working on for the past weeks will continue, because the staff here already have their plates full. All of the ping pong tournaments, dance lessons, and meditation workshops that we have been hosting will likely fade as no one is left to take care of them (lead them?). The GED Boot camp that so many of us have been working with will no longer have the flexibility of having more tutors than students.

Although there are a handful of more permanent projects that we are working on, it seems like most of our projects are temporary. So what’s the point?

As our supervisor explained it to us, I only partially understood.

Of course, us being here means that things get done that might not have been otherwise; however, there is more to our presence than just that.

We are the same age as the youth that we are working with. There is a different connection between us because we are their peers, not their elders. Although my supervisor explained this to us, I did not really understand it until a new youth client came into the Larkin Street Academy that afternoon.

One afternoon, the client I was supposed to tutor could not come in due to other meetings, so I was working on the computer and a/this new client came up to me and asked if we had any GED resources that he could borrow. While looking through the materials, he asked what my role in the organization was, and I told him that I was an intern from Duke University. Immediately, he started asking what I was studying, how I got there, what it was like there; it was like this lone fact that I’m a Duke student fully captured his interest.

He immediately decided to divulge his story to me. To say the least, he started with almost nothing, and still had to suffer through everything getting taken away from him in the most painful ways imaginable. He could not afford to get an education while growing up, because it was considered only for the wealthy.

“Back home, I had only heard of colleges like Stanford and Duke. Education is synonymous with dream for me.”

This statement struck me. I realized the whole time I had been captured by his incredible story and inspired by his incredible motivation, he had been looking to me as a role model in a way that he might not have been able to with the older staff here. Even with everything my peer already uses to motivate himself, he has incorporated me as well, and I feel honored.

It can be easy for us to wonder whether or not we are making an impact, especially since, in reality, the clients do everything for themselves and we are just here for support. In our DukeEngage, there’s no palpable result: no bridge, basketball court, or other structure that we build. Due to the brevity of our internship, we don’t even get to see the youth that we are working with reach the goals that they set. However, it’s moments like this that remind me that we do contribute to the community at Larkin Street.

Context on the Client:

Although I will not tell his story, I can assure you that this youth might be the most inspirational person I have ever had the privilege to meet. His dedication to receiving his GED and any other education extends far beyond the classroom and tutoring sessions. His intelligence is incredible, his curiosity is insatiable, his moral compass is great, and his work ethic is his most impressive quality, seeing that he self-taught many of the skills he possesses. Truly, he is a brilliant, outstanding person.