By Konnor La, an ACU student member and third year student at the University of California, Berkeley. Konnor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the Suitcase Clinic, visit their website at http://www.suitcaseclinic.org/.
Imagine a young man walking through the streets of a small, neat college town with his friends. He is carrying a large, heavy backpack filled with everything he thinks he will need throughout the day. Who do you imagine he is? A college student? This young man is actually just one of many transient youth who pass through the city of Berkeley and stop by the Suitcase Youth Clinic as they continue their travels beyond our city limits.
Transient youth are generally between the ages of 18 and 25, traveling with a group of people, exploring our country. They primarily travel by foot and, when the opportunity comes, any form of transportation they can come by. Many, depending on the generosity and resources of others, are able to continue their travels. However, while in Berkeley, they find the Youth Clinic is a welcoming place to rest their feet. “There is something about the Youth Clinic here … like the atmosphere where you won’t get pressured to have to use the services; you can just chill. Other places pressure you to utilize the services and if you don’t, they kind of want you to go,” said one Youth Clinic Client.
The Youth Clinic, located at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley, CA, is one of three Suitcase Clinic drop-in sites that cater to clients 25 years old and under. Here, traveling youth have a safe space to rest and can take advantage of the clinic’s many services, such as medical, optometry, pharmacy, massage, hygiene supplies, clean-needles, and acupuncture. The Suitcase Clinic also provides referrals to support out-of-clinic needs like housing, employment, and dental care. Our service providers include medical students from the distinguished UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program, UC Berkeley School of Optometry, Touro Pharmacy School and various other community volunteers. These service providers come in nearly every week and provide our clients with the quality medical services they need. The beauty of the relationship is that the service providers acknowledge the Suitcase Clinic as a student-run organization and act as supportive members of the community.
The Youth Clinic provides many essential items for our clients, and in return, the transient youth bring their good-hearted personalities and unique perspective on life. Despite similarities in age, the clients and volunteers have significantly different views about life. Many of the volunteers at Youth Clinic are UC Berkeley students who are fixated on their futures, whether it be the graduate school programs they hope to enter or the careers they wish to attain. This, unfortunately, makes them forget about living in the present. The transient youth, on the other hand, spend each day as if it is their last. This perspective enlightens many of our volunteers’ approach to and appreciation of life. “To simply put it, I was so focused on my future that I didn’t, in a sense, smell the roses. One client really put into perspective what my priorities are. That one conversation will stay with me,” said junior Suitcase volunteer, Charlie Shi.
The relationship of mutual growth and support that develops between the volunteers and clients is what makes the Youth Clinic unique. It is not simply a volunteer-client relationship, but a friendship. The Suitcase Clinic aims to promote the health and overall well-being of underserved individuals through service provision and cooperative learning. But it is the collective action among community and professional volunteers, students, and participants that is essential to our mission. It is our belief that through these friendships we not only provide short-term services, but more importantly provide long-term benefits to clients and volunteers alike.