Social Science Scholar: City Service Mission (CSM) San Francisco

This summer I interned for ten weeks in the San Francisco Bay Area with City Service Mission (CSM), a faith-based organization and short-term mission agency that works to build partnerships with existing nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area by providing much needed volunteers to these organizations. CSM introduces important topics to the volunteers like existing social issues in the local area, specifically homelessness and poverty, which is aggravated by the increase in the cost of living.

My time in the city consisted of regularly visiting many nonprofits in the area, including the SF Marin Food Bank, Bay Area Rescue Mission (BARM), Project Open Hand, and many more. I also had the opportunity to build relationships with other nonprofit organizations in the area and learn about issues they are facing firsthand.

Akice (center) volunteering at BARM

A typical day would include volunteering at one to two nonprofit agencies, one in the morning, one in the afternoon; engaging in a learning activity to enhance participants’ understanding of the issues the CSM nonprofits are looking to alleviate; and finally having plenty of time for debriefing.

The organization I worked with is looking to reframe what it means to engage in short-term service trips and how to unlearn harmful savior complexes often found in faith-based mission trips.

In the San Francisco area, there upwards of ten thousand people experiencing homelessness. Homelessness is an extremely visible issue noticeable within seconds of stepping foot in the city. The median cost to rent a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco is nearly 3,500 USD. This is triple the amount it would cost across the nation. It simply is not possible to work a minimum wage job in the city and afford housing, let alone any other living expenses. This is an issue I saw daily as I walked in the city or worked in one of the dining rooms in Tenderloin, a neighborhood in downtown San Francisco, that collectively served nearly three thousand meals, three times a day.

Akice (far right) volunteering at Project Open Hand’s kitchen and warehouse.

One fond memory I have is of a woman named Comfort I met at BARM. She was originally from Liberia and while in the states suffered from addiction. She was enrolled in the free year-long program BARM offers to help change the lives of people who want to find sustainable change in their lifestyles, whether from addictions, unemployment, homelessness, etc. As I went to BARM every week over my time in the Bay Area, I saw Comfort many times and built a relationship with her. This was a climactic moment in my life, when I saw tangible work that needed to be done in the communities we live in, and furthermore how fulfilled I was building relationships with marginalized groups.

Sign outside of BARM highlighting their slogan

Without the Social Science Scholars program and guidance, I would not have had the opportunity to discover my career passions and how I want to translate the in-class learning I receive to my practical real-world applications. This summer I learned how nonprofits work on a deeper level, how my own identities shape the work I want to do in the future, and how social issues like homelessness are being addressed in cities across the nation.

Akice Agwa is a Social Science Scholar studying international affairs, Arabic, and public administration with a passion for international humanitarian work. Following graduation, Akice plans to work with refugees and continue Arabic study in a Middle Eastern country. She hopes to pursue a graduate degree in public administration and public policy.

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