As a rising senior, I started my DukeEngage program thinking that not much is left for me to explore in Durham. As an experienced advocate in Community Empowerment Fund, I expected my summer service to be mostly an application of my previous experiences. Yet it turns out that I seriously underestimated what this summer has to offer. After just a couple of days into the program, I realized that a brand new perspective of the Durham community is about to be included in my college experience.
I am interning with three other DukeEngage participants at Threshold, a clubhouse dedicated to helping adults with mental illnesses. Members are actively engaged in the operation of the clubhouse, taking on a variety of tasks that range from cooking to drafting newsletters to donors. Our major goals in the six-week internship include launching a budgeting campaign, enhancing social media outreach, and increasing technology literacy among members.
During orientation, we rotated in four different units: clerical, employment and development, kitchen, and snack bar. To be honest, I was surprised by the amount of responsibility taken by members. As someone who has only cooked one single dish her entire life (assuming that instant noodles counts as a dish), I was worried that my first day in the kitchen would end up being a disaster. As I was anxiously cooking my squash, a member kept checking on me to make sure I put in the right amount of ingredients at the right time while assuring me that everything would be fine. It was that moment when I sincerely realized that Threshold is truly defined by the collective effort put into its operation.
After settling into our projects, I spent most of my time in the Employment and Development unit focusing on job search and social media outreach. While being excited for all the progress we made, we are continually faced with new challenges. The attempt to learn from leading clubhouses is limited by our budget; some members are only interested in jobs that require degrees or skills they do not have; and the videos we made for Threshold do not seem engaging enough for members. We need to constantly remind ourselves of all current limitations and keep brainstorming how we could help members with finance and employment and promote our clubhouse in a sustainable way.
Overall, in the past few weeks, I was exposed to a part of the Durham community that I was totally unfamiliar with and was able to work with community partners on quite different aspects as I did with CEF. Despite all the challenges along the way, I can’t wait for what the next three weeks in Durham has to offer.
— Stella Zhang