What an amazing week we all have had here in Camden. For some of us it was our first trip in. For others, our second, third, forth, and fifth time in the city. Regardless of the number of times we had been to the city, we were challenged by what we saw, the kids we interacted with, and our role in it all. As college students, we are trying to figure out our calling in life--our vocation. Coming to Camden has opened our eyes a little more to the needs of a broken city, a broken world, and a broken people. Each of us have been wrestling with the questions, "Why are there cities like Camden?" "How do you change the odds for the children who live in this city?" "What is our role?" and "What are things we have learned from UP and the city to take back to our own communities to serve both those who live in our immediate communities and those who live in Camden?" As our week comes to a close we are left with more questions than answers--but maybe that is where we are supposed to be--questioning...searching...
From scraping paint off the trim of a building to getting beat in Connect Four by an eleven year old we have encountered both the beauty and brokenness of humanity. From the heart-breaking stories of the lives of the children to the joy-filled laughter as we played together on the playground we have had the opportunity to experience something life-changing--something Holy.
A first timer on our trip looked at me the first day we were here and said, "Urban Promise is a place that you know has been blessed by God". Thank you Urban Promise for allowing us to come and be a small part of something amazing-- of something that changes the lives of all who are involved-- of something sacred.
Ashley Clayton, Georgetown College
Serving a community often considered the most poverty-stricken city within the United States opened my eyes not only to the daily struggles faced by residents of Camden but also to the social injustice created as a byproduct of politics. Breathing the putrid air at a playground near the sewage facility, which was considered "acceptable" on that particular day, was only a tiny glimpse into the environment forged upon people living in the vicinity.
The definition of poverty for me has been redefined to include socioeconomic disadvantages that prevent a particular group from having a voice in the placement and development of undesirable facilities, such as wastewater systems and prisons. The fact that many kids did not show up on that day of the Olympics was a testament to the repulsive stench there.
In addition, interacting with kids K-8, StreetLeaders, and interns at an UrbanPromise after-school program was perhaps the most rewarding and valuable experience from the trip. I had the opportunity to see what Camden was like through their eyes,and, from these exchanges, learn more about community dynamics as well as myself as an individual. The week we helped out in Camden was well-spent and inspires me to pursue engaging in activities with UrbanPromise in the future.
-Tracy, Bowdoin College
Six students from UrbanPromise Academy traveled to Transvolcanic Mountains of Michoacán Mexico this past February. The students had the opportunity to do field research on pre-selected subjects and to meet with rural Mexican school students who are also studying the Monarch Butterfly and its migration north. Here are a few pictures of our travels.
It’s a bit of an unlikely recipe: take 19 college students from southern California and have them shovel snow in Camden, NJ. But believe it or not, that’s what we did and we enjoyed it! Our first day of work was a good one spent working in the snow, a new experience for many of us. We are a group of students from Pepperdine University, all connected by a college ministry group at Malibu Presbyterian Church. For a group of college kids far from home, snow shoveling can be a quality bonding experience.
So while we weren’t able to work with the kids on Monday as many of us had planned, it presented an opportunity to watch the documentary Ordinary Radicals about Shane Claiborne and the Jesus for President book tour. To say the least, it sparked some lively discussion about vocation, calling, and the will of God in our lives. It’s pretty hard to come from suburbia to UrbanPromise without being challenged regarding the will of God for us as Christians.
Tuesday was a bit more of a “normal” day. We went on a tour of Camden with Jim Cummings, which was both incredibly challenging and informative. Later, we sorted books, put seats in the bus, worked in the school, and participated in the after school programs in the afternoon. It truly is a joy to work with the kids and see the joy and hope instilled in them by Christ through UrbanPromise. In the evening we had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion with some of the program directors and interns. There’s light in darkness, joy in struggling, and a fearless refusal to allow these children to succumb to the odds of their surroundings. Indeed, all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us.
The rest of the week consisted of more of the same amazing things: working with kids, building relationships, learning about and praying for this broken city, and helping with the many work projects around the UrbanPromise campus. We’ve bonded as a team, done some work, and also hopefully have done some good.
The week has been Spirit-led, and a late night brainstorming session has led to us executing the first few steps of a potential new program at UrbanPromise. We’re looking into foreclosed properties and using workgroup labor to make them places of life once again. This is the first step in a much more ambitious idea, but we’ve spoken with Bruce Main and will just have to wait and see where it goes.
We leave tomorrow; it’s a bit crazy to think about. We’ve heard so many stories, and seen so much joy that the skeptics would say is impossible. We’ve seen the transforming power of Christ that is possible when His children just go and do His will. We’ve been greatly and profoundly impacted by this trip, both by UrbanPromise and the city of Camden. I have a feeling that several of us will be back very, very soon.
UrbanPromise was blessed last Wednesday to have 45 managers from the new Nordstrom's store in Cherry Hill, NJ come and spend a day serving the youth of Camden. We look forward to a continued partnership!
Staff & Youth of UrbanPromise
Please take a moment to enjoy a video Jennifer Herron, one of our talented AfterSchool Program directors created to illustrate the power of one program in a family's life.
UrbanPromise AfterSchool Program
Check out the latest updates, photos, pictures and stories about what is happening with this new organization and the pilot program starting next month. We wish Matt and Blair all the best.
Leading a pack of scarf bundled teenagers was our UrbanTrekker director, Jim Cummings—Mr. C. to the kids. Annually Jim loads a group of 18 or so UrbanPromise teens into our bus and heads to the nation’s capital for three days of intensive history and museum visiting.
“We were walking down the ramp towards the Vietnam Memorial,” reported Jim when they returned. “There was an aging vet wearing a thread-bare army coat and a fatigued beret propped up against the wall.”
“‘How’s it going?’ I asked too cheerily.”
“‘Not so good,’ replied the disheveled Vet.”
From that too chipper greeting the conversation evolved and the students became mesmerized. The vet’s name was O’Donnell Parker. He had fought in Vietnam; after his discharge he said that he struggled to assimilate back into civilian life but encountered unusual difficulty getting jobs over the years. “I have been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, he added plainly.”
“And who are you kids?” called out O’Donnell, as he watched the teens reading the names of those memorialized servicemen and women who had lost their lives on the battle field. As spokesman, Jim identified that they were young people from Camden in New Jersey, and were a part of a ministry called UrbanPromise.
“Do ya think they might want to learn a little about Vietnam?” said O’Donnell with a glint of hope in his eyes.
The intrigued teens formed a circle around the weary veteran. He quickly created a stunning, terrible picture of what it was like to fight in Vietnam, what it was like to have friends die in his arms, what it was like to return home to find that our country had turned against the war. He showed the kids his amputated fingers—lost when machine gun fire ripped across his body. He was honest about his struggles and the mistakes he had made. Then he challenged the kids to use their lives to make a difference.
Tears rolled down the faces of our teens. History had come to life, their history lessons were now personified in an aging veteran.
“Mr. C,” one of the students quietly asked, after O’Donnell had finished his poignant story, “Can we pray for O’Donnell?”
There was really no need to ask the question. Within seconds the students spontaneously circled their new friend, who was crouched by the black marble memorial. They held hands and offered prayers for Donald’s safety and his circumstances.
“Mr. C,” Jose movingly whispered as the final prayer was uttered, “Let’s take an offering.” With that, the UrbanTrekkers, our impressive teenagers, were digging in their pockets pulling out quarters, dimes and a dollar bill. When the money was carefully counted there was $32. That was a spontaneous worship service at the always deeply moving Vietnam Memorial.
Back home when the students were asked about their most meaningful moment on the Trekker Trip to Washington, it was not the Air and Space Museum, nor the Smithsonian--although they were good—they wistfully said that it was when they were at the Vietnam Memorial listening to the real life story told by their veteran friend, Donald.
It’s because of your special gifts that UrbanPromise is able to create these life-defining moments for our young people in our programs.
Since September Shahad and his classmates have been part of a new and exciting elective course in our small UrbanPromise high school. The year long course, called “Journeys”, meets twice each week for a total of 3 hours. We’ve been studying the Monarch Butterfly and its migration to winter sanctuaries by using various approaches.
• From a historical and geographic approach, the course takes us into a study of both animal and human migration…we’ve explored topics on the “Great Migration” of African Americans relocating from the south to the northern cities of the United States during the first half of the 20th century. We have looked at issues of illegal immigration and the relationship of the United States and its Mexican neighbor. Our exploration of Mexican history has opened the door to studying pre-Columbian native Aztec and Purepecha cultures. We have also been learning about Mexico’s post-Spanish conquest and contemporary history.
• In the sciences, we studied the life cycle of the Monarch Butterfly while raising, tagging, collecting data and releasing them. We have explored issues of climate change, habitat loss, deforestation, endangered species through field trips to Cape May and the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Students have read, researched and then debated positions centered on environmental conservation/preservation, environmental injustice and economic development.
• In language and visual arts, the Journeys class is learning to observe not only with the eyes of a scientist but also the creative eyes of an artist. They have taken the time to sit quietly in the garden sketching plants and insects alike. They have created poetic verse, learning to wordsmith the myriad of new words and ideas that are revealed through their studies.
Our upcoming trip to the Transvolcanic Mountains of Michoacán will provide our students the opportunity to do field research on pre-selected subjects and to meet with rural Mexican school students who are also studying the Monarch Butterfly and its migration north. Our travels will take us to Mexico City. We will see the art work of Diego Rivera, often described as the greatest Mexican painter of the 20th century. We will visit the ancient ruins of Tzintzuntzan, center of Purepecha culture; Teotihuacan and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon including the Tenochtitlan, the ancient Aztec capital city.
In many ways it is the magnificent and miraculous “Danaus Plexippus” (Monarch Butterfly) that is our passport to learning as six young students from UrbanPromise Academy prepare for the journey of a lifetime. This small yet grand, fragile yet incredibly resilient creature has led us to a world beyond our classroom, a world beyond our small urban garden in Camden, New Jersey.
Peace, Like a Garden in Camden