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After working an Austin Foundation event last Saturday, I spent most of my Sunday taking in the breathtaking view of Puget Sound from Pike Place Market. I enjoyed the pleasant ambiance of gentle winds, live music, hours of sunshine, and the pungent aroma of chowder, fresh seafood, and local produce. I met people from all walks of life at the world-famous public market including international and domestic tourists, local Seattleites, and visitors (such as myself). The experience of watching merchants man their tables, shops, and restaurants as well as sell fresh local seafood reminded me of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, California (a place that I visited quite often when I was younger). My weekend excursion left me relaxed, at peace, and ready to tackle on the challenges of the upcoming week.
I spent most of Monday and Tuesday conducting interviews and fitness tests for candidates applying to the Junior Trainers Program. As time went on, I connected better with most of the experienced Austin Foundation youth; I slowly became more comfortable with them as they did with me. However, on Wednesday, I was introduced to a new batch of youth from the Seattle Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and YMCA. I am not going to lie – having to learn the names and faces of over 30 youth in a week’s time is challenging (I now understand how teachers feel during the first few weeks of school).
So far, work at the Austin Foundation has been a humbling experience. Although I have worked with young people (teens) before, I have no previous experience working with at-risk youth. More and more every day, I become more appreciative of the work that is being accomplished at our gym. Willie (the organization’s founder), Vanisha (Willie’s wife), Ajene (a colleague) and the rest of the Austin Foundation staff work tremendously hard to make a difference in these youth’s lives. Yet, despite the organization’s mission of constant forward progression, reality does not always adhere to ideology. Work in this particular field is challenging and difficult. The process of making a difference in these youth’s lives is best articulated as: for every three steps forward, one must take one step back. Were it not for the Austin Foundation, many of the young men and women who walk through our doors would not continue with higher education, may be incarcerated in juvenile detention facilities, or be involved in gang activity. This is fact, not fiction.
Additionally, according to Willie, the Junior Trainers program will have the most activities and number of youth this summer than it has in its history. Given that there are only two interns in the office responsible for jobs and tasks typically more suited for three to four people, I will be busy this summer – to say the least. I never expected my responsibilities to be easy, but I am hopeful that I will be able to positively influence at least one youth by the time the program is over.
*As a side note, the Mariners against the Red Sox game was quite the experience. Third baseman Chone Figgins hit a sacrifice fly to win the game for the Mariners 3-2 in extra innings. Sitting in center field at Safeco Field with 17 other DukeEngagers as well as our two site coordinators was definitely the highlight of my weekend.
My name is Freddie Peng. I am a rising junior at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. I work with the Austin Foundation, a non-profit organization in Seattle, Washington dedicated to educating and inspiring at-risk youth to lead healthy lifestyles.