February/ March 2012 Update!

Download this Update Letter! Update Feb-Apr 2012

April 10, 2012

March, and April, much Activity, oh my


Dear Family and Friends,

I’m not sure what God’s plan is for the small city of Camden in the current year of our Lord two thousand and twelve, but it’s apparent He has one. I was never able to say with certainty that I was called to be in Camden, but I figured if I did good things to benefit others, work for justice and to restore human dignity then I’m in the right place, right? Over the course of being here I have found many people who definitely were called to be here, as seen through their positive impact. Also because they told me so.

I live in Camden (and so can you!)

There’s enough negative activity in the city so far this year, so I won’t belabor the point by describing it all. Yet Camden is blessed through many messengers of peace, whether it’s the many Christian groups or individuals, or the Muslim brothers I worked with at the shelter. People like William Butler and his family- they visited Camden several times before moving here last year from Iowa to open up his art studio in a renovated fire house. William and Ronja said they felt called to move here with their two kids to live and serve. His art, and their presence, is already an important ministry here. People like Patrick and Catherine Cashio who recently moved here with their new son Jeremiah. Patrick was a year-long Jesuit Volunteer in Camden a few years back and decided to return and do great things through the Romero Center. Sherine Green, also at Romero, and her husband Jay are the best neighbors across town you could have. Chris Haw and his wife moved here with their young son, Simon. Chris is an author and fine woodworker, and he’s had a hand in a lot of home remediation in his neighborhood, South Camden. They are what you might call implants- those of us who did not grow up here but have made the intentional decision to work and live in Camden. And that helps make all the difference I think- living in a struggling neighborhood and experiencing the same violence and community events that the rest of the neighborhood does.

And then of course there are those that have tirelessly lived and worked in Camden for years and years fighting for its rebirth- the Sister Helens among us, the Father Michael Doyles, and the Bob McDermotts. The Jesuits were a great positive presence in our neighborhood parish for many years, and now it’s the Oblates who have taken over that ministry- Fathers’ Mike, Matt, Frank, and artist Brother Mickey. And there’s the myriad of current or former volunteers and workers who are implants like myself who decided to be here. People will ask why we’d move to a violent city to serve others when you could be anywhere else. It’s an especially relevant question for those who move here with families. Why would a person of relative means move to an inner city with a dangerous reputation? And I can see the craziness in it. But you have to realize violence happens everywhere, no where is fully safe, and answering God’s call to serve is greater than constant worry over safety. It’s a hard decision to come to if you have a family, which is why I’m proud to know the Cashios and Haws.

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Virginia Visitors

It is true all can’t move to Camden however, which is why a support network is so important- those who are able to visit and donate either their time or treasure through many different ways. I’ve been fortunate to know the Randall family for the last nine years or so since my middle school days. Sarah, Becky, Mr. and Mrs. Randall so readily answered the call to help here after reading an update letter from last November. Mrs. Randall initiated a clothing drive for the homeless shelter Joseph’s House at my old school, WCA. It started with her kindergarten class, which grew to the entire elementary school, and ended with the Randall’s driving up a U-haul from Williamsburg, VA with 68 boxes of all types of clothing for those at the shelter! The clothes definitely went fast! I occasionally see guys walking around with t-shirts that are clearly from the Williamsburg area- Busch Gardens, ODU, Jamestown HS, etc! It’s hard to describe the welcome generosity of the Randalls- just their presence and seeing old friends was such a welcome thing.

Closing Time

It was closing time at the shelter on March 31st. As I sit here in the office in the wee hours of the morning, doing data entry for happily the last time, I’m thinking back on the journey of the last 5 months. I forget that working with the homeless isn’t a normal job. I guess the most obvious way its not normal is because really its a ministry. Us former and current volunteers in Camden, we don’t make alot of money in what we do, but we’ve chosen these paths because we do what we love. I decided to work at the shelter when I accepted the position, but in reality it was a daily decision. Some days you’re fired up for it and others you are tired out- but that’s with any job I suppose. The shelter closing is kind of like graduation around here, I’m asking everyone what they’re doing next, seeing where the next phase in their life takes them. But unlike graduation, we’re closing the doors not handing out diplomas, so the mood is a little less than congratulatory. But it was still a jolly night, full of good conversations and pastries, ice cream, cookies, (read: copious amounts of sugar). Our volunteers for the night included our retreat group from the University of Wisconsin, who just arrived after driving 15 hours. They are some dedicated Badgers.

I would describe my time at the shelter as a Goo Goo Dolls song, Give a Little Bit. We’re only a part of our homeless guests lives for 5 months, but in that time we gave a little bit of our love to them. Get to know them, help them out how we can. Realize that regardless of station in life we’re all equals. We helped several individuals and couples find housing, which is a great feeling! Course things happen and some came back, but hey you can only show them the door right? Hopefully I didn’t paint too rosy a picture of working at a shelter, cause things do happen- there’s verbal (and the once in a blue moon physical) altercations to mediate. With a room full of 45 people there was enough drama to write a soap opera script for seasons to come. No lie. But in the end, you remember better the good things that happened.

Holy Week in Camden

(pictures are on the blog and DSW Facebook)

Holy Week in Camden is something not to miss, and the UW group was fortunately able to join before their long drive back. Multiple parishes in town have feet washing services on Thursday, living stations of the cross (Via de las cruices) on Friday, and a sunrise service at Sacred Heart on Sunday. The stations were an especially powerful experience. We walked from Holy Name to the Cathedral downtown, weaving our way through the rough streets of north Camden. One of the stations was on a street corner where gun violence occurred only a few weeks before, right by Esperanza Community Garden. Seeing the stations played out and walking the way of the cross gives a much more real portrayal of the journey Jesus took. A small reminder of His sacrifice. The Gospel message of suffering and unyielding hope is understood more deeply, and is more relevant and tangibly vibrant in places which have suffered great loss and pain. I’ve lived in two such places in my life: Virginia Tech, after the shootings on April 16, 2007– and Camden, it’s violence and exalted street culture contrasted by residents of faith and love.

Links to things

  • Know anyone who wants a life changing experience serving the poor? DSW has short term (3 weeks) and long term (one year) service opportunities-

Desales Service Works Website!

  • William Butler- Local Artist

Art Eleven-One

-Recent Newspaper Article Featuring the Butler’s! “Entrepeneur’s Invest in Camden”

  • Chris Haw- Local Author/Woodworker

Chris’ Blog

Work Portfolio

Until May,


We love because it’s the only true adventure
Nikki Giovanni


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