Seven students from Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, put their faith and training into practice by participating in the Urban Challenge program sponsored by the Romero Center in Camden, N.J.
The Urban Challenge is a retreat with service, learning and immersion. It offered the students an opportunity to participate in various service projects with young children, the elderly and individuals infected with HIV/AIDS at the MLK Jr. Developmental Center, Abigail House and St. Francis House.
In order to expand their horizon, the students spent one day living on $3 each. They did this to help them understand how the poorest residents in the state of New Jersey feed themselves and their families.
The students spent three nights at Romero Center with their mentors.
Raj Patel, Senior
One of the things that really impacted me was meeting an AIDS patient named Keith. He told us how he was “running the streets” of Camden before he found out he was HIV positive. Once he was diagnosed, he felt it was a wake-up call from God to give up his dangerous lifestyle and settle down. It was amazing to hear how he used a negative situation to make a change for the better and become a positive member of the community. To me, one way of looking at the situation is that our experience in Camden is OUR wake-up call to become positive forces and help our neighbors in need.
Andrew Schillaci, Senior
I’d say that the people of Camden did more for us than we did for them. The things I learned there will stay with me forever. Learning that even those students who graduate high school have only the educational level of an eighth grader is very disturbing. Seeing the kids’ faces at the Martin Luther King Child Care Center was upsetting knowing that the odds were stacked against them. The retreat also made me ask myself, “Why do the residents of Camden have to choose between housing, food and utilities?”
Kyle O’Halloran, Senior
This retreat, in one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the country, changed my outlook of society as a whole. After seeing the states that these fellow Americans live in, it saddens me to see those more fortunate waste their money or talent.
During the trip, I experienced true human love as I made new friendships with the children at the Martin Luther King Child Development Center. These children are ages two to six and live in a really bad neighborhood. Many people would think that they would be tough or mean due to their environment, but as soon as they saw me and my fellow Xaverian brothers, they welcomed us with love and affection.
Jacob Loff, Junior
One thing from the retreat I’ll never forget is surviving on $3 for a whole day. It was a challenging experience, but it really gave me some insight as to how most of the people in Camden live every day.