Blog: May 2011

Saturday, May 28

"Mr. Albert, you've gotta' let me go on that trip to Virginia."

Albert Vega glanced at 15 year old Micah and sadly explained.  “Micah, you knew the deal.  We are only able to take eight students from our camp and you didn’t make the cut because of your grades.”

For the past four months the young teenagers at Albert Vega’s UrbanPromise’s Camp Spirit AfterSchool Program, had been “earning points” in their effort to go on a Spring Break Trip.  The students were given points to go towards the trip for: good attendance, grade improvement, and positive progress in the attitude department.  Once all the points were tallied Micah had not made the cut.

“Come on Mr. Vega, please, please,” begged Micah. “Ya just gotta let me go!”

It was anguishing for Mr. Vega to tell Micah no, because for over the past year Micah had indeed made tremendous academic and attitudinal advancements, given that he had already failed 7th grade three times.  Albert became like the father Micah never had.  And the idea of Micah spending his spring break with nothing to do other than roam the streets of Camden, was disconcerting.

Then, of course, Micah was relentless with his pleading. “Please Mr. Vega, I just gotta go to Virginia, please!”

Do you remember the Biblical story about a widow who persistently asked a judge for mercy? The judge reluctantly capitulated to her demands, because the widow simply wore him out—she didn’t stop asking until she got what she wanted. Micah, like the widow, was wearing Albert down.

Albert needed a plan. “Okay Micah, I’ll make you a deal, if you raise 50 bucks—in the next 30 minutes—for the UrbanPromise kids in Africa, I’ll let you go with us to Virginia!”

Barely before Albert finished the last sentence, Micah was out of the classroom. Grabbing a few felt tip pens and a large piece of cardboard, he quickly crafted a poster.


With his impressive production, Micah was off to the traffic light at 36th and Federal Streets. For the next 30 minutes he waved to motorists, stopped cars, knocked on windows and pleaded for money.

“I got the money! I GOT THE MONEY!” Micah screamed across the parking lot—30 minutes later—to a startled Mr. Vega. “I got it. I got it and more.”

Micah dashed toward Mr. Vega and pulled a fist of bills from his pocket and excitedly shook them in front of his amazed friend.

“One hundred and eighty five bucks, Mr. Vega!” shouted the animated teen. “Look what I got--and its all for the kids in Africa!”

Micah’s sheer joy continued this past week as he enjoyed the first time wonders of east cost travel: the Smokey Mountains, Busch Gardens, sleeping in a tent and visiting Washington, DC, the White House, the Smithsonian. It was life changing.

Riding home Friday afternoon in the 15 passenger van, Micah leaned over to an exhausted Mr. Vega. “Thanks Mr. Vega,” he whispered. “Thanks for letting me go to Virginia. It was the most beautiful, exciting week of my life.”

If you ever doubt that your support of UrbanPromise is making a difference, just think of Micah and Albert.  Your faithfulness allows me to keep other exceptional workers, like Albert, who are deeply connected to young men and women in the city of Camden.

Micah’s life has changed. With God’s help, and yours, we continue to change this city….one child at a time.

Saturday, May 28

Camden Calling

By Hope McPherson | Photos by Brooke Fitts

Rather than go home at the close of Autumn Quarter, five Seattle Pacific University students took a seven-hour flight east. Their ultimate destination? UrbanPromise in Camden, New Jersey. Sent out by SPU’s John Perkins Center, they spent 12 days learning something of what it means to be an urban leader.

“This trip gives students an opportunity to see poverty and urban issues from a new perspective,” says Owen Sallee, Seattle Pacific’s coordinator for global and urban development. “Interacting with UrbanPromise staff — people who have dedicated their lives to working in Camden — allows them to consider how they might invest their own lives in community-development work.”

A thriving industrial city until the 1950s, Camden showed clear signs of urban dysfunction by the 1970s: high crime, poor schools, racial tensions. In 1988, UrbanPromise began serving area youth with a K–12 Christian CamdenForward School, after- school programs, summer camps, art camps, and other offerings. For two weeks in December 2010, SPU students Rebecca Gonzalez, Kirsten Jones, Chris Kyle, Olivia Lenz, and Lauren Oglesby experienced that work firsthand. Throughout the trip, they journaled about what they saw and did. Here are excerpts from their writings:

At CamdenForward School, SPU students volunteered in K–8 classrooms, covering subjects from art to math
Before the Trip

"My mom asked me last night why I was going on this trip. Honestly, I am not sure, except that I felt an unexplainable desire to go, serve, and learn. I don’t expect to radically change the lives of the students and teachers that I meet. Instead, I hope that I can learn from them. I also go to serve the servants, to give them an extra set of hands and feet as they serve the students of Camden."

Olivia Lenz, Senior, Chemistry Major

The City Tour

“We were taken to a park near one of UrbanPromise’s after school program campuses. I seriously think this is what got me the most. It’s fenced. Here’s why: Right next to it, on the same property, is a sewage plant. A sewage plant next to the park. This sewage plant supports at least 15 different cities, and all the waste goes to Camden. It was done in an effort to salvage the Delaware River from contamination. Right. Save the river, and pollute the air the people in Camden breathe. I just can’t understand why such an act could take place. I’m not a person for politics, but now I see the importance of knowing what is going on around me so that I can speak out and do something.”

Rebecca Gonzalez, Sophomore, Integrated Studies Major

Volunteer Time at CamdenForward School

“I spent much of my time with the music teacher, getting to see firsthand the talent and beauty of the kids, as well as the difficulties of teaching fine arts with very limited resources. It is humbling and scary and exhilarating to find yourself in front of 20 seventh graders who look at you with halfbored, half curious expressions that practically scream: 'What does learning the pattern of whole steps and half steps that comprise a major scale have to do with my life, Miss Lauren?'”

Lauren Oglesby, Senior, Music (vocal performance and composition) Major

SPU students in Camden (left to right): Kirsten Jones, Lauren Oglesby, Chris Kyle, Rebecca Gonzalez, and Olivia Lenz

Witnessing Transformation

"We met workers from other ministries helping to improve the city, including Heart of Camden. Heart of Camden renovates old houses and makes them into beautiful homes that are also affordable housing. With these houses, the streets are beginning to look nicer. At the Center for Transformation, Andrea Ferich, the Center’s sustainability director, started a garden to teach children about growing fruits and vegetables. In the spring, they sell their fruit and vegetables at the Camden farmers market. This allows students to feel successful — they gain a new outlook on the types of things Camden can produce. Andrea is also passionate about art. She and volunteers create art on abandoned and boarded up buildings in the city. Adding bold, bright, and beautiful colors to the doors, the artwork has encouraging mes  sages and stands out in the community. Art is powerful and makes a difference in this environment."

Kirsten Jones, Junior, Integrated Studies Major

Rethinking Generosity

"I came on this trip anticipating I’d learn a little about “America’s Most Dangerous City,” and I’d eat nothing but junk food, since there is only one grocery store within the city’s limits.

But I found something drastically dif  ferent in Camden. My perception of what it means to be a Christ follower now transcends daily prayer and Scripture reading, avid church going, short term mission  tripping, socially responsible shopping, homeless ministry serving, and everything else I once considered “enough” for my faith.

I suppose I need to coin a term for such a discovery. How about “irrevocable generosity”? We see this in the lives of Paul, Mother Teresa, and other Christian leaders. They gave up everything to pursue a life worthy of Jesus. I met a few of these kinds of people living in Camden, ministering to others at the expense and sacrifice of their own time, money, dreams, and passions.”

Chris Kyle, Senior, Theology and Communications Major

Tuesday, May 24

"Children have nevebeen very good at listening to their elders, but have never failed to imitate them."
~ James Arthur Baldwin.

I have found this quote to be true. We have been doing skits on the life of Jesus at Camp Grace. The skits are taken from the book of Mark and we call them "Marked". Through the skits we realized that Jesus did more than just having compassion on people, he did something about it like healing, feeding the five thousand and teaching his disciples.

We asked the kids what they would do to help their community. Pedro, one of the kids talked about picking up trash in the community. What a brilliant idea.

Hope Works is trying to make a community garden at an abandoned lot next to where Camp Grace is. The place was full of trash and with Pedro's idea; we decided to help Hope Works clear the place in readiness for the community garden.

In April, Camp Grace went outside, picked up trash and gave out lemonade to whoever stopped by. "This is fun; we should do this again, look at how clean this place looks." Xavier Rivera commented at the end of the daunting task.

Children might not listen to us as we tell them to pick up trash but they will never fail to imitate us in picking up trash and keeping the place clean.

I have all my trust in these kids, they are a generation of change, it starts with small things like picking up trash.

Camp Grace is not only telling kids what to do but showing them how to do it as well.

~ Garrett Poper, Camp Grace Director

Tuesday, May 24
Saturday, May 21

Highlights from the year...

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