Even after seven weeks interning at Larkin Street Youth Services, I still can’t say that I know what to expect as I head to work each day. Many of the projects I had been so heavily involved in throughout the summer are coming to a close. My afternoons have become more spontaneous, and the fluidity and diversity of projects I’ve been involved in lately have left me questioning whether I am still making a significant, valuable contribution with each of my remaining days. At times, I’ve felt like I’m just filling my time with busy work, like organizing the clothing closet, rearranging the desks of the Larkin Street Academy, or impromptu babysitting. On the other hand, I realize that while these projects may not be as glamorous or take as long to complete as those I had been working on for the bulk of the summer, they can hold just as much value. Days that aren’t packed with appointments or working at a computer mean that I have more time to connect with clients or provide a listening ear in the more casual setting of the drop-in Engagement Community Center. I’ve recently been able to spend bigger chunks of time really getting to know people. I recognize that the odd jobs, although short-lived, have purpose too. Playing with a client’s toddler allows for the temporary relief she needed to complete the essay she was working on for college. Rearranging the academy established a more community-based layout which will hopefully promote consistency in the long term, and I can immediately see how worthy it it is to keep the clothing closet orderly when a client is able to find what they’re looking for.
While I navigate a less structured work environment in the afternoon, I’ve recently begun a new morning role at one of Larkin’s housing sites, Routz. The main challenge of my work at Routz has actually been the formality of the workflow as it impacts my interactions. I conduct assessments with clients to gauge their understanding of self-care and basic housekeeping skills, which in turn helps staff determine how to best provide support. Topics include concepts many people consider to be common knowledge — things like how to clean a countertop, how to put a red shirt in the wash, or how much sleep you should get in a night. I’ve become hyper-aware of my age, noticing more frequently its effects on how I’m perceived and how I choose to communicate. It has been challenging for me to strike a balance between finding out what the client knows on their own and explaining to them the correct answers, all without sounding like a snobby, privileged know-it-all, especially since pretty much all the clients are at least my age. At first, I’d feel condescending as I’d awkwardly wait to record their answer while they’d look to me for a hint. I found myself wondering if the value of what I was doing truly outweighed the discomfort that it created, especially considering the power dynamic that already exists given my dual role as an intern and a peer. However, as time goes on, I’m reassured by my growing familiarity with the community as well as the staff’s gushing gratitude.
While I can’t answer for sure whether everything I do at Larkin Street Youth Services is truly valuable, or who it benefits most, I think that asking these questions helps me focus on why I’m here and do my best to support clients and staff. I know that I have learned and grown from the discomfort I’ve experienced throughout my time here, and I’ll carry that forward in everything I do after my time here comes to a close.