One of the most vivid memories I have from the New Generation Leadership Institute we worked at was one of the students telling me that he would rather work as the janitor at the convention center than keep sitting and listening to people talk in a traditional classroom setting.
That conversation gave me even more incentive to think about whether or not I would rather be doing something else with my DukeEngage experience. After the recent weeks, I am relieved that I can say that I would not rather spend my time elsewhere or doing different tasks than those I have been working on for Unidad.
A primary reason for my satisfaction is that the beginning of my time working at the Coral Rock House—Unidad’s primary office space that houses the senior and youth programs—has been rewarding because I have gotten to help the youth career advisors place the Level Two students from the Institute at actual job sites.
The students will get to work at these sites for the next three weeks. Some of the students had to interview for their new jobs, and seeing how excited they were about the process and to start working caused a sense of fulfillment because of how hard we worked to match student interests with the needs of local businesses.
At the DukeEngage Academy, a lot of people talked about bringing a fresh, young perspective to community partners and the positive impact that applying that perspective as part of a team rather than a judgmental outsider can have.
I was lucky to be able to see this situation play out when discussing the student placements. Although many of the students had documented official career interests on old paperwork, using my knowledge of their personalities and conversations we had about the subject during the Institute, I was able to aid the efficiency of the job selection process.
It was during this scenario that I saw the value of staying patient during the Institute and adjusting my own behavior to fit Unidad’s framework, as opposed to entering the summer with the mentality that I knew better than the community partner’s staff.
The career advisors gained trust in me and knew that I cared about the students, which is why they allow me to voice my opinions and give feedback on their work now. As someone who likes things to run efficiently, remembering the importance of waiting to judge and analyze a situation is something very important I can take away from my work this summer.
Since starting my full-time work at the Coral Rock House, I have also learned about how nonprofit youth programs operate within a general framework. This is because I have gotten to see exactly how the students’ activities—from receiving leadership training and tutoring to receiving the basic service of public transportation through a bus pas are turned into paperwork.
The youth program is evaluated and renewed based on how accurate and effective their filing is, so I am determined to continue doing my best to make sure that the files are as close to 100 percent perfect as they can get before I depart.
Although I have spent a great deal of time helping perfect files, it has also been nice to add variety to my experiences with other projects that are important to the organization and have still helped my development.
Unidad is going through a transition period with its funding sources, so being available to contribute to the projects the organization needs to complete—like inventorying all of its electrical equipment that one of its funding sources has provided—has given me more responsibility.
Such projects have benefited my time management and ability to sacrifice because sometimes they seem pointless as they are being completed; I have had to learn to trust those around me and put their needs ahead of mine, even when the only connection I have to some of the staff is that we work for Unidad.
One of the reasons I was able to not question people when given directions is that it hit me that when I started working at the Coral Rock House, for eight hours a day, I became part of a new kind of family—the family that is the Unidad staff.
When it was a staff member’s birthday, I was invited to indulge in birthday cake and take a break from work. When it was time to watch the World Cup game because Argentina’s fate was undecided, I was also invited to huddle around the computer and watch. And when no one else could stay late to talk to a student, I was asked to do so as part of the family.
Even though almost all of the Unidad staff have a lot (I mean a lot) of trouble saying my name, they have had no problem making me part of their unique team. It is not always the most efficient, but it’s always interesting, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be a part of a professional environment quite like it ever again. As always, I’m not sure what the next few weeks will bring as new projects keep emerging, but I plan to savor the end of this unique experience.