On the first full day of their three week stay in Camden, the Interns had Orientation. It was a chance to sit down and discuss what it means to be here- why did they come? What do they expect to get out of this experience? What are their fears, joys, or apprehensions? We also introduced the Interns to Salesian spirituality- a faith life based on the spirituality of St Francis de Sales. De Sales spoke many times about the little virtues of life. He pointed out that not often will we get to display grand heroic acts of faith, but we can do the little things well. In the evening, neighborhood kids Jose and his sister (I can never remember how to spell her name) stopped by and we played basketball in the backyard. To them our yard is a safe place to play, which is a big contrast to the street they live on which is a very high drug traffic area.
In the afternoons, each Intern goes their own way to their perspective ministries. In the mornings, we are all together doing a variety of activities that changes every day .On Tuesday morning, the Interns passed out flyers for Hopeworks, a well known non-profit across the street. This is where I (Mike) was a year-long volunteer last year, and now where Lisa is doing her Internship. Hopeworks is a youth development place where kids who dropped out of high school can go to further their education, get back on track for college, and learn marketable skills like website design. Our task was walking through the downtown neighborhood and passing out flyers to get more kids in the program. Most of the kids at Hopeworks come because they saw a flyer or had a relative or friend that went there. Hopefully we encouraged many new teens to sign up who are looking for a different path in life! Tuesday night we went to the Camden waterfront area to see the beautiful sunset over the Philly skyline and take silly jumping pictures. It was a chance to enjoy the good weather and reflect on the day. And I think we timed the jumping pictures pretty well!
Today Interns went to New Visions Day Shelter, or Franks Place as its called, which is a homeless day shelter. They sat down with the homeless, chatted about their days, and played checkers and yahtzee. Their ministry was being a presence, someone who is willing to listen, and to converse with the homeless like the equals they are. In the evening the Interns were graciously invited into the home of Sherine, our friend and neighbor across town. She from Jamaica and has been living in Camden for several years now. Sherine shared about her experience here, how her perspectives have changed since being here, and why her and her husband decided to live and buy a home in Camden. We discussed the negative images of Camden, structural causes of inner city plight, and what we can do to change it. We decided outsiders like us picking up trash is one step to making things beautiful, but doing it along side residents and not doing it for them is the next step.
This morning we worked with the Center for Environmental Transformation to build a rain garden at St. Anthony of Padua school in the Cramer Hill neighborhood of Camden. The Center plans and implements many environmental improvements in neighborhoods all across Camden. Their projects work to reduce flooding in areas where rainwater runoff is too much for drainage pipes, and also beautifies the area by increasing foliage. We were joined by Camden youth in The Work Group, an organization which teaches kids job skills and personal development.
To end the first week, we worked with the Camden Habitat for Humanity on housing units they are building in the Lanning Square neighborhood of the city. The group swept out interior spaces, moved flooring material, and dug out a large area of a backyard to prepare for a future yard. It was a long yet productive day, a fitting end to a productive and meaningful week.
The group worked with the Holy Name Scholars to continue working on the mosaic mural at the community garden. The Scholars are a group that graduated the catholic grade school and receive tuition at local catholic high schools if they participate in community service every month. In the afternoon, the group enjoyed a well-deserved relaxing weekend and had fun touring Philly.