We learn to become more empathetic when we slow down, become present, and are fully committed to understanding another person’s uniqueness.
Arthur P. Ciaramicoli
Laughter and verbose conversation filled the room. Hearing an elderly woman next to me took some effort. I leaned in closer.
“I got up at 6 am each day,” confided my new friend. “I washed sheets, bathed him daily, shopped for groceries. But I was never really with him.”
Her vulnerability surprised me, especially since we had only met a few minutes earlier. My simple question: “How are you doing?” turned into a confessional about the last year of her husband’s life—a difficult, slow death from Parkinson’s Disease. I hoisted a fork full of vegetable medley to my lips. I chewed quietly and listened.
“That’s my one regret. Does that make sense?” she asked. “Physically I was doing all this stuff, but emotionally I wasn’t there. I never really asked him how he was feeling. He went downhill quickly. Then he was gone.”
My regret-filled friend did all the right things for her dying husband. Her one regret—not being emotionally and spiritually present for him.
Most of us can relate. Buying the right gifts, arriving on time, fighting traffic, cooking the flawless meal, sending that last email, putting up the perfect decorations might occupy our minds and energy this holy season. But in the midst of our frenetic lives, we can forget to be truly present—enjoying friends, family, and strangers in our midst with a listening ear, an attentive spirit, and attuned to what God is doing in our midst. As C.S. Lewis said so beautifully, “Next to the blessed sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
1. What are the major distractions in your life keeping you from being fully attentive and present?
2. What are some things you can do to help focus on what’s really important during this season?
Soup and salad were on the menu, lots of vegetables and apples to chop and even more opinions on soup and salad to share.
“I do NOT like chick peas!” announced Nailah Lipscomb emphatically, while she and the other junior chefs were chopping carrots, onions and celery to get the soup simmering. The soup recipe allowed us to talk about the building blocks of adding flavor to food.
“First Mise en Place and now Mirepoix? When will these French words stop?” asked Cianni Green, but all the girls could admire the nice, small even pieces of vegetables they created and the great aroma that was soon coming from the stock pot. While the soup simmered we made the Waldorf salad together, taking turns to stir the soup and add the seasonings, tomatoes and dreaded chick peas to the pot.
When we sat down to eat, the girls admired the meal. “I watch all the cooking shows and you have to have texture, this has texture” said Sobechi Igweatu.
“Smooth hot soup and a cool crunchy salad!” said Nailah, who carefully removed each and every chick pea from her soup before eating it.
Some girls liked the soup more than the salad and others preferred the salad. Eventually Nailah tasted the chick peas. “Actually these are not bad,” she said, popping a few more in her mouth.
This week’s stuffed peppers and cabbage slaw recipes gave everyone a chance to chop, dice, slice, and demonstrate their confidence and dexterity.
In our class we decided to chop up the tops of peppers and add them to the ground turkey mixture instead of sending them to the compost. Each of our junior chefs took a turn at the stove sautéing the onions and peppers, adding the turkey and seasonings until the kitchen was aromatic.
“You have to cook with onions,” said Cianni Green. “They make everything taste and smell so good!” Brazil Taylor had the last turn, adding the beans and cilantro to the skillet. “Here come the Mexican jumping beans!” she joked.
The cabbage slaw gave us the chance to talk about “whisking” and emulsifying” and a quick taste of the dressing confirmed that it was almost “creamy” as a result. Our junior chefs sat down to write predictions for the day’s meal and how it would taste, trying to find new and creative ways to describe the stuffed peppers.
“This is when you need a dictionary and you don’t have it,” said Nailah Lipscomb. “Well we know that the peppers looked cute and adorable!” said Brazil Taylor. Once served the girls decided they were spicy, chewy, delici
ous and according to Brazil Taylor “you can taste cute.”
This month I'm asking you to consider helping a bus! That's right: a bus.
Buses are a critical component in UrbanPromise's ability to serve hundreds of youth each day!
Our AfterSchool Programs require buses to pick up our youth from neighborhood schools, drive them to our programs, and then bring every child home each evening.
Our schools use buses for field trips and for weekly trips to our community Kroc Center for physical education classes.
We use them to take our teens on college visits throughout the year.
Our buses take kids places they might otherwise never go: swimming, camping, museums, the beach...Buses are essential to UrbanPromise’s ability to provide developmental and experiential opportunities for Camden youth.
UrbanPromise currently owns a fleet of 8 retired school buses to accommodate the 700 youth who participate in our programs. These vehicles are on the road 6 days a week. They need tune-ups, gas, new tires, brake pads, fluid changes, and basic upgrades.
Will you help me keep all 8 of our buses on the road this year?
Thank you in advance for considering this unusual request. Thanks for passionately caring about the safety of our children and helping to grow their life experiences.
Dr. Bruce Main
We have been busy. The groups are coming along very well.
As we get to know the groups and the individual students, stories are bound to come out. One of the students told a great story one of her first days in the shop: we were introducing the next topic of boatbuilding and Ha spoke up about her family.
Ha has come to Camden from across the ocean. Back home, she remembers her granddad bringing her to school by boat. She and her family lived on one side of the river and the only local school was across, on the other side of the river. So each day, if weather allowed, her granddad would take her and her sibling across the river to school. As we kept talking, Ha told me that her granddad built the boat they used each day! So great!!
So, weeks have passed and we have gotten to know Ha and her classmates more. They are a great group with lots of energy and artistic ability. We have seen some amazing pieces of art and it is coming through when it comes to boat building. Ha is very detail-orientated and accurate. So, it would seem, she has boat building in her blood.
There were a few wrinkled noses as we passed around the fish for a whiff at the start of class, but the promise of fish tacos had our five junior chefs optimistic. “You know the fish tacos are going to be the best part!” predicted Cianni Green, 10. The method of baking the fish instead of frying it gave us a chance to talk about making healthy choices as we divided the girls into two teams to tackle the recipes. The colorful vegetables gave everyone a chance to work on knife skills.
“I do not want salmonella!” said Nailah Lipscomb, 10, hurrying to the sink to wash her hands after helping bread the fish. Meanwhile the sweet potato crew got busy cutting the potatoes in even squares and deciding to move past just peeling the spots off the potatoes and peeling them completely. The cabbage girls were slightly put off by calling the cabbage red. “That is not red, it is purple!” said Sabechi Igweatu, but everyone agreed the orange of the potatoes and the purple of the cabbage made for a colorful dinner. We took a few extra moments to warm the whole wheat tortillas in a pan, before each girl began filling them with fish and cabbage slaw.
A’layvia Green set out to mix up the lime mayonnaise, zesting the lime as well as squeezing the juice to add extra flavor. “We are making Key West mayonnaise!” she announced to the class, launching a conversation on the merits of tartar sauce.
The finished plate did not disappoint, with our junior chefs using words like “tasty” and “crunchy” to describe the meal, but the potatoes according to our savvy chefs “were a little under-seasoned.”
What do you do when you have to nail a new rib into your boat What happens when the sides of the boat bounce a little and the nail just doesn't go in?
Well, you find a solution! You need a hand anvil! As your one hand hits the nail head with a hammer, your other hand holds the hand anvil against the rib and the boat's side so that all is strong enough to not bounce at the impact of the hammer and nail. Sound easy? We hope not--because it's not easy. This was the hard work being done on Thursday afternoon in the shop requiring coordination and consentration.
We started by steaming the cedar rib so that it would bend just right. The steamer was at full boil and the cedar bent very well into shape around the hull of the boat (see the picture below). Once it was bent, it was time to slip the rib into the boat. All the prep work had been done over the past few weeks. The rib slipped into its's spot perfectly. At that point, the only thing left was to fasten the rib to the rest of boat, which is where the hand anvil came in. The students tackled the project fully.
Week two and our chefs burst into class and into a song and dance routine. All that energy was taken to the garden, where they sniffed the variety of herbs that grow and selected fresh oregano to season the cauliflower and apple side dish in today’s recipe, agreeing that it smelled like pizza. With clean hands and calm demeanors, we divided the class into two groups, one to prep and bake the chicken and one to prep and bake the vegetables.
“I’m getting my cooking on!” said Nailah Lipscomb, after she and Cianni Green abandoned using spoons to try and cover the chicken with marinade, and plunged their clean hands right into the bowl. The chicken cooked through but did not get brown in the oven, so we finished it in a skillet on the stove. The vegetable chefs chopped apples, cauliflower and onions—with a few tears from Malaysia Green “It hurts so bad!” she said, fanning her eyes. The vegetable crew all had a turn chopping the onions and gained skill and confidence with chopping.
While everything was cooking, the girls set the table, and made predictions about the day’s meal using their best adjectives and nibbling on a few extra pecans and apple pieces. “I think of ice cream when I taste pecans,” said Nailah Lipscomb. “I think of butter,” said Brazil Taylor.
Again this week, the girls finished, set the table and enthusiastically sat down to their meal. “It not only looks delicious, it tastes delicious,” said Cianni Green. No one disagreed and our enthusiastic chefs became enthusiastic diners.
Our six junior chefs, a group of six young ladies in the 5th grade, came to class with open minds, ready hands and evident enthusiasm for cooking. “I am the official taste-tester in my house,” said Sobechi Igweatu, 10. “And the chopper.” Before we started we paid a visit to the UrbanPromise garden, where instructor Jane Berkowitz taught the girls how to cut the fresh Swiss chard that was growing and would replace spinach in our recipe. A few late grape tomatoes were plucked as well and our chefs were willing to give them a try. Back inside with hands washed, we got down to business with a preview read through of the recipe and some talk about favorite foods; and learned our group of chefs had fairly sophisticated palates, rolling off dishes like Alfredo sauce and linguini with shrimp, and French macaroons as favorites. “One thing you need to know about me and understand is that chocolate is my life,” said Cianni Green.
The girls got their assignments, some chopping vegetables and some cutting oranges but all of them following the directive ‘Mise en place’ –or everything in its place. “Mise-en-what?’ said Nailah Lipscomb, “that sounds like a disease!” Instructors Becky Bryan, Jane Berkowitz and Maureen Dodson worked closely with the girls on knife skills, filling small bowls with chopped peppers and onions, acutting board full of Swiss chard and another larger bowl with compost waste. Everyone had a turn whisking the eggs, sautéing the vegetables and scrambling the eggs. “I’m like a pro!” said Brazil Taylor, 10, moving the eggs around the pan with a spatula. The table was set without complaint and we all lined up to fill pita pockets with eggs. “Look at this,” said Cianni Green, holding up her plate with her stuffed pita. “I can’t believe we made this!”
Week after week with the students in the boat shop, we are thinking about how to create and nurture minds that are curious. It is not that we stop and write this down, but we do dream about how to get students to think further than they did when they came in the shop.
Let's take looking at aline of a boat for example. In boatbuilding, we ask, "Is it fair?" Not in the sense of justice or beauty, but does the curved line look right? Is your brain telling you that it looks good? If your brain thinks it looks good, then maybe it is fair. The point is not necessarily an exact science, but did they think to come to that conclusion? A simple yes or no answer is immediately followed by, "What tells you that?" which allows the student to share their observations and reasoning for the determination.
Before students get to build boats and determine if lines are fair, we start with trips to interesting places like the Gazela, Philly's Tall Ship, and working with wood, seeing what we can make.
These adventures and hands-on experiences pique curiosity--we can see it in the students' eyes. I invite you to take a look at these pictures and see the students' interest--look at their eyes. These students are amazing.