Six juniors from Xaverian H.S. Bay Ridge, left their Brooklyn homes to better understand those who live in poverty just over the Hudson River.
They traveled to Camden, N.J., to participate in the Romero Center’s Urban Challenge Program, a service-learning, immersion retreat experience.
Raysean Marin, Michael Paparelli, Marvel Tranquille, Francois Naaman, Patrick Saint-Amour and Giuseppe Costanza, along with Campus Minister John Dormer and faculty member Brian McCartney, stayed for two nights at the Romero Center. They participated in various service projects with the homeless, young children and individuals infected with HIV/AIDS while volunteering at MLK Jr. Developmental Center, Abigail House, the Habitat for Humanity ReStore Thrift Store and St. Francis House.
Here are the students’ reflections:
When Mr. Dormer told us about this retreat, I immediately raised my hand to participate, thinking that this would be the perfect chance to live out the Catholic social teachings which are a part of our curriculum this year. We are all made in the image and likeness of God, and it is our responsibility to represent that among our society as Catholics.
As we entered Camden, the extreme level of poverty I saw was unbelievable. More than half the houses were vandalized or evicted. My friends and I were shocked, especially when this neighborhood is only a couple of hours away from where we live. We entered the Romero Center and were introduced to the history of Camden and ways in which we could help.
Mr. Dormer and I, along with two of my fellow students, were assigned to work at an AIDS Hospice in Camden. This was my favorite experience: comforting those with companionship who have been basically shunned from society for this disease. We had lunch with our new friends, talking to them about their lives and providing them with a form of love.
Sue, the women who started this hospice, called us out to take a trip to a nearby park. As we entered the park, we saw a shopping cart filled with dirty canned goods, a wide piece of wood, garbage bags and broken tree branches. This was the shelter of a homeless man who had moved on to live in an abandoned house. As we were cleaning up the rigid wood on which he had slept, the dirt-covered garbage bags which he used as covers, and the tree branches which helped deflect the rain, we all realized how lucky we are to be living the way we are. This was one man of the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of homeless people living in the nearby “tent city.” This one experience changed my view on life completely. Always be thankful for what you have. Ever since my friends and I came back from the service trip, all that is talked about is going back and what we can do to make a bigger difference in Camden.
My service in Camden opened my eyes to what was happening in our own country. I never thought that poverty in such a country as ours would be this drastic.
It also made me wonder why there are not more people willing to help out another fellow citizen.
So much emphasis is put on the financial situation of other countries that it almost blinds us to our own economic distress.
One of the services that captivated me was when I, along with two other Xaverian students, went to visit a hospice home for HIV/AIDS patients. The way the patients interacted with one another, with the caretakers and even with us was what really amazed me. The patients treated each other like family. They had the biggest smiles on their faces and were so appreciative of our company and the service of the caretakers.
The fact that these people are suffering from such a horrible disease but are still able to remain upbeat made me more aware of all the blessings I have.
For my service project, I went to the Martin Luther King Jr. pre-school. When I was there, I saw how these kids were emotionally unstable due to hunger and financial/shelter problems at home.
I felt honored to be there and put a smile on their faces. To simply make a difference in these kids’ day was probably the best feeling I’ve ever felt.
My experience at Camden made me realize how much I have to be thankful for and how blessed I am. When I was in Camden, I was shocked to see how high the poverty level was and how these people live every day. When I got home, I was more appreciative toward everything my parents do for me. I was totally changed by the sights I saw, and these aspects definitely woke me up and made me realize just how lucky I truly am.