The teens came out in full force for the second annual “Copan/UrbanPromise Video Scavenger Hunt." Adding in the staff and a visiting workgroup, about 70 young people were divided into 6 teams, handed a list of things to film in the town, and then given 30 minutes to record as many items on the list as possible.
Groups sang songs in the town Plaza, had to pet a stray dog, piled in a one seat taxi cap, and danced the “Funky Chicken” in a local restaurant. Silly stuff.
When I was a youth leader scavenger hunts meant collecting things—bottles, hubcaps, cans of soup, pieces of clothing. Sometimes we got in trouble for “borrowing” other people’s things. We ran through neighborhoods, knocked on doors and begged store owners to give us a needed item.
With the advent of IPhones and palm sized video cameras, scavenger hunts are now about capturing ‘moments’ on film.
I asked Gizelle what she thought of the event. Gizelle grew up in San Pedro Sula, one of the major cities in Honduras. She’s interning with UP this summer.
“The teens love this kind of stuff,” she began. “We never do these kinds of things in Honduras. Most teens stay home, watch TV, play video games or play soccer.”
When asked why she thinks these kinds of activities are important for teens she replied, “You know, our teens need hope. They need to have fun.”
In an abandoned school, just off the town plaza, we gathered to watch the short films. Kids laughed at themselves, ate chips and beans, and tallied up their points. More important, people came together –building bridges across race, culture and ethnicity. A new community is being birthed in Copan—a community where teens have can have fun and experience God's love in tangible ways.
At 10:55 am this morning people started arriving. Everyone carried a dish of food—a dish of fried Plantain, a bowl of fruit, a few boiled eggs, a bottle of Soda, a loaf of bread. Upon entering the make-shift sanctuary, these pilgrims placed their food on one big, wooden table. Grace was shared. People made up their plates, sat with friends, and shared God-stories from the past week.
This is church in Copan.
There is something wonderful about preaching to people who have just eaten a good potluck lunch. Food breaks down barriers. Food creates laughter. Food relaxes people. Maybe this is why the early church gathered around meals. Simple: food puts people in a better mood. And instead of thinking about what they’re going to put on their plate at The Grand Buffet after church, they can focus on the….sermon.
Church was special this morning. Gathering with young people, who live in community and seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus is a breath of fresh air. Beyond the denominational debates, the general sessions, position papers on how to slice and dice certain nuances of scripture, there are these small communities who worship, serve, and enjoy fellowship through the eating of a common shared meal. Church becomes the place to gather and celebrate what God is doing—through them, in them, around them.
Today is the feast of St. Ignatius. In 1540 Ignatius founded the Jesuit order. His challenge was for followers of Christ to be “contemplatives in action”—finding God in all things. Growing up Baptist, I never got to celebrate guys like Ignatius. Too bad, I think we could have learned a few things. We could have learned that church is not always about stain glass windows and reciting creeds. Church can be about eating a potluck lunch and sharing how we’ve seen God at work in our lives during the past week.
Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.
St. Ignatius, Prayer of Generosity
Jim--a recent graduate from Wake Forest University who is spending two years with Teach for America in Charlotte--decided to spend his summer break interning with UrbanPromise in Honduras…before he heads back for another long year of teaching. Jim could be doing a hundred different things with his summer, but has enthusiastically embraced a summer of sacrifice and challenge.
“What’s been the highlight of your summer?” I inquired between bites of fried Plantain.
Jim paused for a moment, smiled and told me that his highlight happened that morning.
“This kid named Marlone gave me a big hug after camp and told me that he really enjoyed the program this summer. When I asked why he was saying goodbye he said, ‘This is the last day of Camp Joy, right?’”
Jim broke the news to Marlone that there was still one more week of camp.
“When I told him there was still another week of camp, Marlone went nuts—he started dancing, singing, and just lit up with a big smile. He was just giddy. That made the whole summer for me!”
What an amazing image—an 8 year old boy dancing with joy over learning that he has an extra week of summer camp.
Three years ago Blair Quinius had a vision to develop an UrbanPromise type program in the remote town of Copan Ruinas. Copan has a population of about 8 thousand people with very few activities for children and teens. This summer UP Honduras is hosting 3 summer camps—Joy, Peace, and Grace—and a dynamic StreetLeader program. Hundreds of youth are touched by the programs.
With their UrbanPromise office in the heart of town, youth drop by around the clock to receive tutoring, dialogue with a staff member, or just hang out. In a few short years this ministry has become a fixture in the community—an oasis of hope for young people whose futures are often limited due to lack of educational and job opportunities.
This summer UP Honduras is hosting 11 college-age interns—like Jim—from around the world. These young people are staffing camps, living communally, learning about Honduran culture, and providing fun opportunities for kids like Marlone.
Over the years my role has distanced me from the front lines of youth ministry. I’m called to spend increasing amounts of time with donors, board members, and involved in strategy sessions. It’s always good for me to be guided by an image of a little Honduran boy, dancing with joy upon hearing the surprise news that there is one more week of day camp, one more week with his favorite counselor, one more week of singing crazy songs.
"I used to be out on the streets selling things," shared a 16 year old girl named Marsilla. She paused and sheepishly look at the audience of children and parents. "Now I work with these kids. They love me. I love them. I'm a different person."
I've heard testimonies like this before. This was different. Different because I was sitting in the fellowship hall of a catholic church in Little Havanah, Miami.
I was reminded of what one social scientist said, "every child has the opportunity of becoming 1000 different adults." The trajectory of Marsilla's life has been radically altered. She will be a different adult because of this opportunity.
This is the second summer for UP's Camp Courage--based in the heart of the Cuban-American community of Miami. Each day over 100 children and 17 Streetleaders provide a dynamic camp experience for this community.
Most encouraging for me is that camp leadership is being provided by two former Camden Streetleader's--Pookie and Justin. Both these young men are now students at Eastern University. Both young men started in UP Camden at the age of 6.
"They are remarkable leaders," shared Maria, a HR director for MTV. She serves as a volunteer with UP Miami. "I train a lot of managers and administrators. These young men are amazing. This Streetleader program is remarkable."
I leave Miami amazed at what is happening. I am reminded what people can do when they are committed. Two years ago I was approached by Kristy--a lawyer--and Ana, a child psychologist. Natives of Miami. They wanted to make a difference in their community. As "volunteers" they have raised money, hired staff, and shared their love with hundreds of families.
Last night reminded me of the early days of UP Camden. A period in our history when volunteers and caring people dared to make a difference--with scarce resources. Who knows what will happen next in Miami? There is a vision to grow. And with a little vision and a lot of hard work, ministries are birthed that will transform the lives of the next generation of leaders from Little Havanah and beyond.
By Richard Simon
The Geraldine R Dodge Foundation Blog
Today we focus on two new Dodge grantees, both doing admirable work in Camden, New Jersey.
The first grantee is UrbanPromise, which has fostered a community of support for the youth of Camden since 1988 through a leading edge development program to equip more than 500 young people and their families with the skills necessary for academic achievement, life management and leadership. In 2009, UrbanPromise created Urban BoatWorks, a wooden boat-building program where students learn problem-solving, critical thinking and vocational skills.
The boats are both real and symbolic in terms of the transformations that are occurring through the building process, and they are astonishingly beautiful. The program is anchored in Camden’s Waterfront South, and the Shipyard & Maritime Museum serves as an oasis in terms of place and space. The program is also more than experiential learning in terms of design, craft, and construction: there is a deeper vision to connect Camden youth to their waterfront, and there is a developing vision of a water trail and active environmental program.
Previously a 6-week boat building program, Urban BoatWorks is now a year-long comprehensive program that incorporates maritime history, swimming lessons, sailing lessons at the Cooper River Yacht Club, and a community launching ceremony. There is also a strong intergenerational mentoring component, as seasoned boat building and sailing enthusiasts from the region lend volunteer support to the program. Urban BoatWorks also hopes to add a new boat building initiative – the Traditional Build – to their two other programs, the Stitch and Glue Program, and the Advanced Stitch and Glue Build.
In addition to creating beautiful boats, Urban Boatworks is generating excitement and motivation for a program that nurtures learning, leading, creative thinking, problem solving, and character development in Camden youth.
Dodge also welcomes the Arden Theatre Company as a new grantee. Founded in 1988, the Arden is an award-winning professional regional theatre that offers the highest quality theatrical productions and educational programs to the artists, audiences and students of Greater Philadelphia.
Arden for All is an educational outreach program providing free tickets, show-related books and classroom visits from Arden Teaching Artists to economically disadvantaged students in Camden. Through this program, Arden has developed a model that combines in-classroom workshops, professional development for teachers and exposure to high quality performances. This allows children to get more from their classroom experience by embracing alternative learning styles, and offers the chance to travel outside their immediate neighborhood for a special experience that is both hopeful and inspiring. There are no other professional theatres in the area that offer this type of opportunity for Camden children and teachers.
Recently, a delightful production of The Borrowers mesmerized an audience of Camden kids and equally enthralled their teachers. And in a special education classroom, two teaching artists/actors led a class, about which its teacher reported positive growth in her students’ behavior and ability to read, write, and perform in front of an audience of their peers. She also spoke highly of the training she received from the Arden staff which empowered her to incorporate these creative techniques into other coursework.
Dodge is proud to support the work of these two imaginative and creative programs for the children and young adults of Camden.
“I was born deaf,” Michaela said rather matter-of-factly. “Sure, I always had hearing aids as a kid, but I had difficulty understanding speech, I only heard sounds. The cochlear implant helped me process speech and sign language played a big role with communication.”
Michaela discovered the challenges of living in two very different worlds--the world of the hearing and the world of the deaf. “The first big challenge of my life was finding my identity,” she continued. “Yes, I’m part of the deaf culture, but I also function within the hearing community. Sometimes those cultures are very conflicting. Sometimes it’s hard to know where I belong."
However, and heroically, this past June Michaela took on one more challenge. As a Communication Major at Azusa Pacific University, she decided to tithe the summer between her junior and senior year at UrbanPromise in Camden.
“At first I was a little afraid that I would not have the ability to communicate with the kids,” she confided. “But I’m learning that I don’t always have to communicate through words—hugs, smiles, and a helping hand bridge the gaps.”
But last Monday Michaela made history at UrbanPromise.
She started a Sign Language Class for 8 StreetLeaders—they’re our teen aged leaders who work as tutors, coaches, mentors and role models for the younger children in our many Summer Camps. This year over 65 teens are working at UrbanPromise! Instead of running the streets after work just to play or sleep, our teens can now enter a new world. They are learning a new language and experiencing the caring instructions of Michaela.
Megan was the first student. “I always thought sign language was strange, maybe weird, but interesting,” said our 16 year old, a third year StreetLeader. “One day it will be great to have a conversation with a deaf person. It’s a great new language and I want to learn it.”
And Megan is learning. First the alphabet--then the words and sentences.
“Yesterday we were on our swim trip with the children,” added Megan with a grin. “So Michaela started teaching me words like ‘swim,’ ‘sun,’ and ‘water.’ It was really incredible! I‘ve never been so excited.”
Teaching teens about new worlds, new languages, and new challenges is part of the UrbanPromise vision and experience. Hosting remarkable interns like Michaela allows UrbanPromise to offer the youth of Camden these incredible and unique opportunities.
You can help me keep the several hundred young people like Megan off the streets of Camden this summer, helping them be involved in life enriching programs like sign photography, dance, cooking, and Bible Study--and now even sign language.
For just $25 per day UrbanPromise can employ a teen like Megan and help her experience a remarkable role model like Michaela. Help employ a teen for $125 a week, $500 a month or $1,000 for the summer.
Thank you in advance for your support!
Dr. Bruce Main
Donate online: https://www.servicenetwork.com/olg/upusa-e/Donate.asp?Frequency=Monthly&Code=A811
We are off to a great start of the summer at Camp Saved. One of the highlights of the first week was sand art. All the supplies (including all the sand) came as a donation from a school in MA.
In Bible we are learning about truth - and this week true power. We are learning about how Jesus calmed the storm - now that is power. The disciples asked, "What kind of man is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?" We are learning that Jesus has true power because he is more than just a man - He is also the Son of God.
It is great to be back at camp with old friends and to have the chance to make new ones!
We would like to thank everyone who attended the event on Tuesday, June 7, 2011, at Bar 7 in Washington D.C.
As a result of this amazing and successful effort, over $56,000 has been raised to date. Resulting in 15 college scholarships for UrbanPromise youth attending college in the fall.