April 2012 Camden Update!


May 15, 2012

Another Perspective Away

Dear Pals,

It’s a fascinating thing when you realize how much of the world depends on your perception. Conflict can be perceived as an obstacle or an opportunity, and it shapes your emotions and determines your subsequent actions. Driving down the same block I always do, I used to notice how many abandoned houses there were. The sheer amount of delinquency, and knowing that most blocks in Camden look this way, felt dismal. After an extra hopeful meeting about neighborhood issues one day, I drove that same block and only noticed the nicely kept, well maintained properties. Where did they suddenly come from?! A little boy named Jorge is another example. Last fall, 9-year old Jorge was shot through the temple by a stray bullet. He was blinded for life, and said that ‘God must hate him’ for what happened. He’s only nine after all, and has experienced a traumatizing experience beyond most of us! But eight months later, Jorge has a new view on life. Before he was causing trouble at school, now he is doing well at a special school he started going to for his blindness. He was not a church-goer, but now attends Sacred Heart parish in South Camden, and Police Chief Scott Thompson is his godfather. A housing group, Heart of Camden, renovated a house for him and his grandmother so they can live in a safer neighborhood next to Sacred Heart. Being blinded at 9 years old can seem like the end, but Jorge is more full of life than ever. He chose to see conflict as an opportunity not an obstacle.

Live for 32

In Blacksburg, Virginia, on April 16, at 7:30pm, a candlelight vigil was held in honor of 32 people who lost their lives during the Virginia Tech shooting. The vigil has occurred every year for the past 5 years, and this was the first time I was not there to attend. At the same time, 7:30pm, at our community house we prayed in solidarity in honor of the victims of April 16, for victims of local violence, and for the death of J.J. Stinson, an Oblate Associate and Virginia Tech student and a big part of the Newman Community at Tech. In attendance were the DSW community, Jesuit Volunteer Community, and other friends from town. We sang songs from Voices of Hope, the album recorded by Tech’s Newman choir for the 1 year anniversary of the shooting. We read the names of the 32 victims who died on April 16 and a little about their life. We lit candles for those we cared about that have passed, and shared about their life instead of focusing on their death.

 

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Nico and Obi

The first week of Easter Season in Camden saw the death of two teenagers. It’s scary how quickly hearing about a murder in our small city becomes an unremarkable event. The same week, our retreat group from Delaware was painting an abandoned house next to the empty lot they were killed. While working on the house all day, mourners came to visit the makeshift memorial in the dirt, adding balloons, flowers, candles, and bottles. We painted a simple memorial on the house with their names. We went over to pay respects and pray with those who were there. It’s hard to think of what to say when comforting a grieving stranger, but then again your presence doesn’t always need to be useful. The compassion is in letting the other person know you are there, right next to them, and that you do indeed care. We are now helping Nico’s mom inquire about the owner of the abandoned lots where he was killed. She wants to turn the dirt lot where people park their cars into a beautiful, flower filled area to memorialize her son. I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

Summer Interns

In just a few short days we will have Interns moving into DSW! Summer Interns is a new program at DSW this year, which I am coordinating, and both sessions filled up—7 Interns in May, and 5 coming in July. Many of them have been to DSW before on service trips, and are returning to seek a deeper experience by living and working here for a three week period. They will be volunteering at a variety of local service sites (Hopeworks, New Visions, Habitat) and will also leave their mark on Camden by completing their own projects. Their projects range from creating mosaic murals, recording stories of Camden’s residents, creating summer programs for neighborhood kids, running sports clinics in the park, and more. We are fortunate to have so many talented and energetic students coming this summer as Interns! Of all the places to be, summer in Camden is hard to beat.

Until June,

Mike

Tell someone you love them today, because life is short….

 but shout it at them in German, because life is also terrifying and confusing.

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