Download this update letter! Update 10-8-2011
October 9, 2011
Dear Family, friends, friends of the family, and friends who are like family,
While sitting in our backyard listening to Dean, I kept thinking to myself, you just can’t make this stuff up. Dean lives on the streets and decided to help us with an alley clean up one day, just walked up and pitched in. We had a group from Villanova for the day, and cleaned out our back alley next to the school and the back yard of an abandoned house. Dean joked he was neighbors with Father Mike the other night because he was sleeping outside, homeless, next to the rectory where Fr Mike lives. He said it made him really mad when he saw other homeless disrespect the church by going to the bathroom on the wall outside. He was a cool guy to work with for a day, he said he liked to know good people in an area instead of just people on the street. He said he was a drug addict himself and admitted it. I kept thinking, only here can I go to work one day and hear a drug addicts story sitting in my own backyard during lunch, and keep going like its just a part of the day.
September was a month of firsts. The first full month at my new position here, first month I actually updated my blog on a regular basis (finally!) and first time I’m actually writing this monthly update a month after the last (finally again!). And, more importantly, last night was the first time I played the original Oregon Trail in years, thanks to my sister Lisa and Tim. It really doesn’t top that. Oh, except it did, because I also drove for the first time, though we’ve had it for YEARS, my Dad’s 1963 Chevy Impala, a 409, white four door automatic. A lifelong dream realized. My Dad’s precious car for years. Thanks Dad for trusting me! I still swear I don’t know where that tree came from…
At this point you’re probably trying to remember again, what is Mike doing in Camden this year? I know it might be confusing since I’m doing a variety of things and I probably didn’t explain it well, so you’re off the hook. Except I’m about to explain it well now, so you have to remember from now on. I’m now on staff here at Desales Service Works as a Community Outreach person. So I do officey things like budgeting and keeping track of finances. Also Rachel and I recruit for full-time volunteers for next year, we even went to Chicago and Notre Dame for a volunteer fair! We made visits to a few schools to talk with campus ministry about sending retreat groups to Camden- Depaul U, Univ. of Illinois-Chicago, and Northwestern. As if that wasn’t great enough, we stayed with Stephanie for two nights (our Former Jesuit Volunteer compadre)! It was great meeting her fam and seeing her again. We also got a visit from another FJV Katie Arden who came down for DSW’s Open House in mid September! Thanks for making the trek down from NY Katie!
My other work things include keeping up with Northgate park around the corner, ascertaining what’s best to do about the abandoned housing in the neighborhood (going slowly so far), and what I want to highlight mostly- an after school program. I’m helping lead a Civic Engagement after school class, and we just had the first class. It’s all about how to be an active citizen, learning about the community organizing process, and learning about the general power structure of Camden. The theme of the class is- How do we get people to listen to us? How do you get your interests heard in the political process? I might have thought civic engagement wouldn’t be of interest to 8th graders or that they wouldn’t participate much, but I guess that shows my lack of knowledge of 8th graders, because they had A LOT to say and wouldn’t stop saying it. We asked about what problems they saw in Camden, and its flooring just how aware of things they are at that age. They know everything that goes on, you can try to shelter them from the drugs and crime, but they know it all, and often imitate street culture in some ways. When asked if they thought Camden could ever change, one very vocal girl Julisa said, ‘no, its never going to change, that’s how I think, I’ll be honest.’ We also asked about how it makes them feel that the park across the street from their school, Northgate Park, is often unsafe for them to be in, and Maya said, ‘Normal’. Violence, drugs, and street culture are normal to them and they don’t know any other way. Most of the kids were born and raised in Camden and know nothing else. I’m really excited to see their progress throughout the school year and see if they’re opinions about Camden will change.
I have applied to work at Joseph’s House for the winter months, which would mean a complete shift of working place starting in November. It’s an overnight homeless shelter started by Father Mike and others, and opened last winter. We volunteered there one night a week, sitting with the homeless and usually playing dominoes or getting beat at chess by James. I’m still a little bitter but I’m getting over it. If I’m accepted I will be the director of one of the two sites, which means I’d work four 10 hour days a week, from 9 at night till 7 am. So I’ll have a backward sleeping schedule for several months and might not see the light of day. Our new community of Rachel, Tim, Conor and I is going well. In September we saw a few retreat groups- Bishop Ireton from northern Virginia and Sister Bethany’s group of adults from northern NY. And the next group just got here today—Walsingham Academy from my own Williamsburg VA. The first time they came in March was one of my favorite groups. But I won’t tell you about the new group now, I’ll save it for next time…
Until next month,
We are forms of all the things we love
— Jars of Clay