Download this update letter! Update 11-11-2011
Dear Family and Friends,
Back in 10th grade when I was but a young lad, my favorite high school teacher Mr. Simone told us by the time we are in our early to mid twenties, we will essentially become the person we will be for the rest of our lives. By that age we will have mostly matured mentally and emotionally- our interests and personalities are formed, how we address conflict, how we love, introverted/extroverted. Not to say that adults cannot change, but that we come by change increasingly slower the older we get. Kids are comfortable with change because their daily activities are out of their hands- adults control their lives. They’re told what to do and when to do it. Teenagers are constantly in search of who they are and where they fit in. They are still forming their beliefs and who they hang out with. But the older we get, the more we seek consistency and routine. I tended to take Mr. Simone’s statement a bit fatalistically, thinking that whatever character flaws I have I better fix before I’m in my twenties, as if the age of 22-25 was an impending deadline for character improvement. It doesn’t really work that way of course, but now that I’ve finally approached that age, I can intangibly feel myself settling into a way of being. “Be Who You Are and Be That Well,” as St. Francis de Sales would say.
October began with another great high school retreat group from my hometown of Williamsburg. They were from Walsingham Academy, the big brother to the tiny Christian school I went to, Williamsburg Christian Academy. Now if you aren’t familiar with the rivalries of small private schools in southeast Virginia, I’ll fill you in real quick. Back in my high school days, those eons ago, Walsingham beat WCA in every sport. The scrappy team that made up WCA’s soccer roster always put up a good fight, but alas, we never beat our nemesis in my years. But both groups Walsingham brought have been fantastic and had great leadership through their teachers Ed and Steve. It helped ebb away those years of bitterness I harbored for all those defeats on the soccer field. They participated in a tree planting with NJ Tree Foundation, planting 35 trees in the blocks surrounding the Esperanza Community Garden. It was such a big event with lots of volunteer participation- thanks to them those blocks look great, have shade, and the trees will increase property value.
I had the chance to visit the amazing place that is Blacksburg and, I must say, its even better than I remembered it. Maybe because I don’t have homework anymore while I’m there. I’d forgotten how relaxing it is, and how much I enjoyed nature, mountains, and being able to look in a direction and not see anything man-made. When you look around Camden you pretty much either see your house or the house next door. Virginia not only has trees, but forests! If you find more than three trees next to each other in Jersey that aren’t surrounded by concrete you win a prize. To those I got to see while in town—Reba, Joe, Nathaniel, Laura, Olivia, MJ, Mike, Bryan, Father John, Jenn- you are all awesome people and I’m very glad we’ve kept in touch! And I really hope you can visit Camden soon.
I was hired at Joseph’s House and started last week! If you remember from last time, JH is an overnight homeless shelter that started January 2011 and has expanded (hopefully) to two sites this year. Our purpose is to provide a warm, safe shelter from the cold, serve food, and provide a little human dignity to those who might not get a nod on the street. Our space holds 45 people each night, a mixture of old and new faces. The more the same people come by, the more we build relationships, the more we are able to discover people’s needs; for disabled veterans, counseling from various trauma, financial assistance. I nightly get to talk to people of all backgrounds and stories, and boy do they have stories. Young veterans back from Afghanistan, a young woman escaping domestic abuse, some who are mentally ill, the chronic homeless and the homeless who are just out of a roof while between jobs. The homeless are difficult to generalize about because their common factor, lacking a home, is such a broad category. One of the things the homeless like to remind is us that it could always be us- it could always be us sleeping out in the cold. Anything can cause you to lose your dwelling.
While on a visit to tent city with a retreat group, a white woman in her early 30’s told us her story. She grew up well to do and, as she described it, could have grown up daddy’s little girl and lived off his money. But she opted out, and whatever happened in between, here she is in tent city in Camden. She urged the high school group to not make mistakes in life. But then, as the poor often do, she showed her great understanding of community when said- “Don’t mess up. But if you do, we’ll take you in.” She admitted she made mistakes to end up where she is.
But people have helped her along the way, and offers that nonjudgmental help to others, knowing that no one is perfect.
For the family of Katie Mausteller: Katie graduated from WCA in 2008 and died Oct 11 from head trauma from a skateboarding accident. She was an amazing person and the Maustellers are a big part of WCA. She was a 22 year old senior at JMU.
Till next time,
It is in the shelter of each other that the people will live