Blog: July 2009
As summer unfolds, and the temperature slowly rises to its peak, UrbanPromise receives its first work group for the summer of 2009 from North Davis Church of Christ, which is located in Arlington, Texas. They are enthusiastic and very friendly. Despite all the fatigue they have accumulated due to their long trip to
Camden, the group members are playful and eager to get acquainted with the new place. During their stay here at UP, they will alternate between helping out at camps and doing afternoon work projects that are intended to help maintain UP facilities.
Peter Mac Iver, a 16 year-old High School student from Baltimore that came with the work group from Faith Christian Fellowship, had to say:
When asked to write this review, I didn't know really what to say, so hopefully God will guide me in what to write. Our work group that came here to Camden is unique in two ways. We are visiting from Faith Christian Fellowship in Baltimore, MD. Most work group that come to urban promise to volunteer are larger groups, but are only a group of 7, including 4 students. We are also different in that many of the things we observed in Camden reminded us of the same problems that exist in Baltimore and the neighborhood around our urban church.
Personally, having been to Camden before in April with my school, I knew what to expect going in but the poverty didn't fail to shock me. I was skeptical to visit Camden for the second time because I didn't think it would be able to live to my amazing first trip to Camden. In retrospect, I'm glad that I decided to visit again as the trip has continued to solidify my sense of need in social justice.
My goal for this trip was to gather valuable information and quotes that could be used in a school newspaper article. Though there is no guarantee that my school will allow me to publish material that they feel is too "blunt" or "depressing." I feel that there is too much apathy in our society, especially in the white community which my school has a majority of, to the poor and socially marginalized. My hope is that my article is published, even if force is necessary, to bring awareness that injustice remains in Camden and there is a need for people to be aware of this and advocate work for a difference. To some heartless complacent people in my school, my article may seem stupid, but I find it necessary.
I was able to obtain lots of information at our panel forum with Tony and Miles. Their stories were compelling and the meeting remains a highlight of my trip. A downfall of the trip I would say would be the morning devotions. For some reason I didn't find them enjoyable and felt they were forced and random. Our typical schedule for the trip was morning devotions, the morning spent with children at various camps, and at work projects aka maintenance for Urban Promise in the afternoon. This opened up the evenings some days for free time if something was not scheduled at UP.
Overall, my experience at Up was very enjoyable and exceeded my expectations. All the UP staff was friendly. I'm still blown away by the maturity of the community youth that work at the camps and the behavior of the children themselves. I am glad I decided to return to the city of Camden, and will no doubt be back in the future.
Most volunteers that come to UrbanPromise for the first time have a common idea of the city of Camden, in which the ministry was born and still operates. "It is a poor and dangerous city to live in" I heard people say over and over again. Yet, UrbanPromise always receives volunteers from all over the world who, after their one week stay, wish they could delay their departure even for a day.
The change of heart is caused by no one else but the children they meet in camps; their love and liveliness cannot fail to conquer anyone's heart. One of our recent volunteers from Arlington, Texas was surprised by how, after only three days, the kids knew his name and would run towards him every time they saw him, asking for nothing but a hug.
Over the years, some people who had come to UrbanPromise for the first time as one-week volunteers came back as summer long or year long interns, and others became part of the UP staff because it became impossible for them to permanently part ways with the experience they had had at UrbanPromise during their one-week stay.
Furthermore, UrbanPromise has served as a chief inspiration for folks around the world to found similar non-profit organizations. In 2005, for instance, YouthCare was founded to meet the needs of the children and youth of Malawi. There are also UrbanPromise programs in places like Wilmington (Delaware), Toronto (Ontario), and Vancouver (British Columbia) that were started with the help of the UrbanPromise located in Camden, New Jersey.
" One day, as I was walking down the street on my way to work, I noticed roses blossoming amongst wild and tall grasses in front of an abandoned house, and it reminded me that there is beauty in Camden, despite all the negative media portrayals of the city," Elise Neumann, the Urban Promise workgroup coordinator, said during her morning devotion.
I was a new intern when she said that, and I could not help but think of the decay I saw in Camden; boarded up houses, unbearable smells that come from sewage treatment plants built in the vicinity of tenements, the unfavorable statistics that ranked Camden on the top of the list of dangerous cities to live in the same year as they placed Moorestown, a town located only 15 minutes away from Camden, among the best places to live and raise one's children in, and several other unpleasant sights and numbers. However, the more I talked to people who were born here and know more about Camden than what the media tells the public, I realized that roses really do bloom in Camden.
Despite having very little financial means, kids are always eager to contribute to programs that raise money to feed and shelter the hungry and homeless people in Africa. The love and heart of service for others that are found in Camden conquered the heart of one work group volunteer from The Free Evangelical Fellowship, located in Easton, MA. She was so pleased by her experience at UrbanPromise that she, and 6 of her fellow youth group members, came here for two consecutive summers. The following is what she said at the end of their stay here at UrbanPromise.
"Camden to me in the beginning was a city labeled with too many statistics for its size. Last year I was unsure of what I was going to experience, returning this year was all I dreamt about since the moment we said goodbye last year . God has taught me not to go into any situation with expectations. This year was amazing. A week of love is what I received. Camden to me has become my heart. Whether it is God or something else, it is amazing how the people here can care so much about so little. As I go back [home] I have found that I need to be more open to all aspects of freely giving and loving with the abundance God has given. One other thing I see is that through all the burden the community [has to bear] is shining. Over one year I have seen great improvement in many parts of the city. Some houses have been rebuilt, and there are more lively shopping areas."