Two Queens teens, Jesse Jaroszewski and Hanna May, spent five days in the heart of East Camden, N.J., to serve and learn.
They joined six of their classmates from Loyola School, Manhattan, for a service trip at Romero Center Ministries, an urban retreat and Catholic social justice education center.
They participated in the Urban Challenge Program, a service-learning and immersion experience rooted in the Catholic faith tradition.
They participated in various volunteer projects and spent one day living on just $3 to better understand what it means to live in poverty.
They also worked with babies and children up to age five; served meals to the homeless and hungry; spent time with the elderly; helped renovate a home for Habitat for Humanity; and walked in a peace rally and vigil.
Before leaving Camden, they attended Mass at St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral where they were able to be in solidarity with the community they served that week.
Jesse Jaroszewski, senior
Long Island City
Although it saddens me to see the poverty that exists in places like Camden, I loved our school service event in Camden. This was my fourth trip with Loyola to Camden, and as I’ve noticed in past visits, my willingness to serve my community grows incrementally.
Seeing that amongst the poverty is a force pushing for a better neighborhood is always amazing, especially when I am able to take part in the cause for justice.
My work in Camden varied; I helped serve meals at a soup kitchen, helped around a sort of pre-school center managing children, spent time at an elderly center and helped workers from Habitat for Humanity move into an abandoned building, providing a home for another family.
I met many great people, both those who lived in Camden and those who volunteered alongside me. I plan on attending one more service event at Camden before my senior year ends, and hopefully I could visit again after my graduation.
Hanna May, junior
I went on my first of three Camden, N.J., excursions during Holy Week of my freshman year and have since returned twice, both in August. Normally, one visit is enough to a neighborhood with a 50 percent literacy rate, but something about this neglected corner of one of the wealthiest states in the nation resonated with me.
Loyola is truly unique in offering each of its students a practically life-altering experience four times a year. Living and working in one of America’s poorest cities, as I am sure any Loyolan will testify, changes your perspective on charity, social justice and our place among our own marginalized brothers and sisters.
Learning from the Romero Center staff, surviving on $3 a day and meeting some of the most special and inspirational people at a service event helps you come to terms with your place in the world. It is a deeply spiritual and conveniently timed event for any adolescent.
We leave with a greater awareness of urban poverty, conversations that changed our way of thinking and experiences that challenge us to contemplate our roles of social justice. Personally, my most worthwhile time in Camden was at the Martin Luther King Child Development Center (MLKCDC), a daycare that serves Camden’s youth.
Inspired by the great work I saw in their staff and children, I hoped to bring that same spirit to my grammar school, St. Joan of Arc Catholic School, in my own neighborhood by organizing two school supply drives – from my town’s kids to theirs. Many trips to MLKCDC later, seeing the connections formed between the children at both schools is something I continue to carry with me.