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On Art, Advocacy, & Accompaniment: A Week in the Tenderloin

Sky is the limit: UC Berkeley students came to the Tenderloin with open hearts and minds on what they will learn

Through UC Berkeley Alternative Breaks—a service-learning program that takes students across California and Puerto Rico to learn in and support different communities—we spent an unforgettable week in the Tenderloin with the Faithful Fools. We were curious about the root causes of and solutions to poverty, yes, but we wanted to center the humanity of these issues. So, we landed on learning about the TL through art. We created and observed art in so many forms, we picked slugs out of gardens, we blew up countless balloons, and we had so many conversations and opportunities to learn all about the neighborhood and its residents from those who actually live there. It was truly an impactful experience that we will carry with us into our futures; we are beyond grateful for the Fools and Tenderloin community. We share with you reflections from our experience and what we love about the Tenderloin.


I’ve never been in a neighborhood so full of warmth, camaraderie, and vibrant life. Even amongst the difficulties that the community faces, I see the resilience and beauty of the neighborhood painted on murals on every street block, in the laughter I hear on the street corners, and in the smiles and hellos of those I pass by. I love that store owners let me pet their cats. I love that skateboarders can tell me the history of every corner. I love that in the midst of a city that tries its hardest to erase it, the Tenderloin remains true to its inherent worth as a neighborhood, shining so brightly with a history full of culture, life, art, and community. It leaves an indelible mark on your heart, and that is what I love about it.

The students explored, extended helping hands, and took a closer look at themselves and all they could in the Tenderloin


The pure joy and community that lives in the Tenderloin is unlike anything I've experienced. There’s an abundance of laughter, love, and light. It's a great warmth to walk through the neighborhood and have genuine conversations with people, even if we have never met before. The kindness of the TL never ceases to amaze me.


The Tenderloin is a community of people who have very little but give everything. The people you meet in the Tenderloin are the most welcoming, caring, and loving people despite the situation they are in. Everyone has assumptions about their Tenderloin because the media influences their thoughts. Still, if people participated in street retreats with the amazing Faithful Fools, they would get a taste of this fantastic community. The abundance of art and community here makes it extraordinary; conversations with people are eye-opening and engaging. I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity to stay and learn in the Tenderloin.


I was in awe of the strength of community in the Tenderloin. Walking on the streets, I immediately felt the love people had for the neighborhood. At every corner, I saw community organizations and members caring for each other. With an open heart, community members shared their art, self-expression, and life stories with us. The murals that cover the neighborhood reflect the vibrant and diverse community whose strength is cultivated through a shared love and passion for the Tenderloin.


What words do I have for the Tenderloin? Something magical happened being welcomed into this community by the Faithful Fools. I saw the light in the darkness within day one and realized I share so much with the people who call Tenderloin home. The entirety of the trip I was surrounded by a diversity of music, arts, stories, languages, skills and talents, and even pets. I was worried that coming to the Tenderloin I would feel a little homesick, but rather the complete opposite happened and I will definitely return to help in any way I can.

Students & Max Jerez at the Fools Fest


I love the kindness of the Tenderloin. I noticed many of the community members were very kind and beyond friendly. I love the community within the Tenderloin. It’s beautiful how those in the community rely on and look out for each other. I cherished my time here and hope to be a part of a community as tightly knit as the Tenderloin someday.


The Tenderloin is one large community, and that’s what I love about it most. That’s what makes it unique and special. Everyone knows everyone, people greet one another, passersby stop to chat as they walk down the street, and everybody appears to be within two degrees of social separation from one another. This community exists everywhere: Urban Alchemy workers, parks, the People’s Garden, churches, soup kitchens, murals, and the unhoused on the sidewalk. The Tenderloin has some of the kindest and also strongest people I have ever met.

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