I went on a service trip over the summer to Camden, NJ. My experience there was incredible. If you don’t know anything about the situation there, google it. Just one exerpt from Wiki reads, “Based on statistics reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Camden was the third-most dangerous city in the U.S. during 2002, and has been ranked the nation’s most dangerous city in 2004, 2005 and 2009, based on crime statistics in the six categories of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and auto theft.
The newspaper at my school asked me to write about my favorite experience there. They’ll probably only use parts of it but still… this is my first draft. Any editing advice would be much appreciated (:
Visiting New Visions was by far my favorite part of this summer’s trip to Camden, NJ. New Visions is a homeless day shelter—a living room for those who don’t have one. Here, the homeless can “hang out,” socialize, rest, acquire donated clothes, receive a meal, shower, and even use the address for job applications. Visiting a place like this can feel somewhat awkward at first. I walked into the living room nervous and unsure of what to expect, and left with a changed perspective on…everything. The best decision I made at there was sitting down with someone alone. Though this was quite daunting at first, I ended up having some of the best one-on-one conversations of my life. Because of this, I met David. He’s this super skinny, tall black man who always wears those dress-up vests you commonly see under a suit. He has two (when I met him he was wearing a brown one) and these vests are his signature style. He personalized them with a Support Our Troops pin—he’s a Vietnam veteran of the Air Force. And now he’s homeless. In Junior Year history we learn about Vietnam and the high rate of homelessness facing the veterans. I met this statistic face to face and he was so much more than a number, one of the most down-to-earth people I have ever met. He was open, honest, blunt, loving, and very articulate as he shared about his childhood in Philadelphia, his two daughters who are happy, healthy and far away from Camden, his time at war, and the many struggles he’s faced since then. He was also intrigued by my own life. In about an hour, we had both learned, it seemed, an unmeasurable amount from one another. But when the time came to leave, my heart throbbed when I remembered where this man who had made such an impact on me would sleep that night: a tent under a bridge on the side of a highway in, what is known as, tent city. Before I left that day, David gave me a parting gift—one of his two prized Support Our Troops pins. Come ask me to see it, it’s on my school backpack. This pin serves as a constant reminder of the struggles I witnessed in Camden, but also of the hope and love instilled in the people there. Despite their circumstances, their faith and courage is evident to anyone who steps out of their comfort zone and puts him or herself out there. The experience of getting to know these people is more than worth it. It will change your perspective on life and allow you to feel connected to all people, regardless of superficial boundaries, such as one’s socio-economic status. So, take the next service opportunity to go to Camden andstep out of your comfort zone, away from everything you know.Immerse yourself in this new experience and let it change you and help you grow. Engage in conversation and, instead of listening with your ears, listen with your heart. You won’t regret it—that’s a guarantee.
open your eyes and observe everything. open your ears and listen to everyone. at night, listen to the silence. open your heart and leave it open. open your mind and think. then open your mouth and say what you will. - EJM.