A Summer Well Spent Serving Others

Senior Madeleine Gesell ’19 shares a reflection on her summer internship at Lava Mae San Francisco—an opportunity made possible by SHC’s Community Learning Partnerships Program. The CLP facilitated opportunities for SHC students to expand their learning beyond the classroom.

This summer, I had the pleasure of fulfilling an internship with Lava Mae San Francisco. Lava Mae is a mobile hygiene service operating in Northern and Southern California to provide much-needed hygiene products and showers to our houseless neighbors living on the streets. Lava Mae was first started four years ago as a non-profit organization by a woman named Doniece Sandoval. She first had the idea to convert old Muni buses into showers for the homeless after finding out that there were only sixteen shower stalls available to the population of approximately 8,000 homeless people in San Francisco. This was the start of Lava Mae.

My internship at Lava Mae entailed working on-site to clean showers and to conduct guest interviews for Lava Mae’s social media. On my first day working on-site outside of Saint Anthony’s in the Tenderloin District, I quickly realized that this organization was much more than I had anticipated. Right away, I not only felt welcome by all of the employees on-site, I was also welcomed by the enormous line of people I saw waiting to take a shower. Throughout the day, I talked with many of the guests that waited in line. There were some days on which guests would be angry because they felt they had been waiting too long for a shower stall to open up. Over the course of my internship, I came to quickly understand some of the effects of homelessness that I had never seen before.

I found that many of the guests didn’t simply sit in the line of chairs for hygiene products. There seemed to be a great number of them just wanting to have a conversation, to tell us what they knew, and to ask us how our day was going. I realized that these were the people that really made this type of work worth it, because I understood that San Francisco’s homeless are discriminated against as less than human—many of them, because of a stroke of bad luck. Throughout the summer I ran into many guests that came from all over the world, and because I was assigned to do interviews, I found that they all had stories. I also found that these weren’t just any stories, these stories were real and emotional. These were all stories that deserved to be told.

To say Lava Mae taught me a lot would be an understatement. My favorite moments on-site came from my conversations with people. Some of the conversations would simply consist of weather talk, while others would be an excited guest telling us that she had gotten a job interview. This internship changed my perspective on homelessness as well as how homeless people are treated. Despite living in San Francisco, I had never paid attention to these types of issues before. Throughout the course of this summer I was inspired to get involved; to really do something. In this way, Lava Mae was truly life changing.

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