“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” “Come and see for yourself,” Phillip replied. Jn 1:46
During the week of February 17-23, 9 students and 2 adult leaders travelled to Camden NJ, to participate in a service trip. The city of Camden is 9 square miles and populated by 80,000 people. It is located across the river and over the Ben Franklin Bridge from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Camden has consistently been voted the number one or two worst city in America based on the murder rate in the city. They call Camden “The City of Threes” because there are 3 high schools, 3 prisons, 3 hospitals, and 3 supermarkets. Fifty percent of the population of Camden is illiterate. One out of every 5 houses is abandoned; 42% of the residents can be described as addicted or recovering from drug addiction; and, there are 200 active drug corners with 3,000 drug dealers in the city. The unemployment rate is a staggering 3 times the national average and for the last 40 years, Camden has lost 1000 jobs a year.
While in Camden, the group stayed at the Romero Center, a retreat center and educational foundation to bring suburban high school and college students into Camden to learn firsthand about urban poverty. La Salle teachers and students worked in person to person service agencies, such as New Visions, a homeless shelter; Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, a day care; The Inglis House, a community for disabled adults in wheel chairs; and, Abigail House a nursing home for lifelong Camden residents. The group was also able to participate in social justice activities like working with a community housing project, The Heart of Camden, where it helped a family with an emergency eviction and relocation as well as packing 420 bags of food for senior citizens in Camden City. The Romero Center also provided opportunities for the group to learn about and experience hunger by asking the students and teachers to spend one day living on the money that welfare recipients receive for food: 3 dollars per person. Evenings were spent in prayer and reflection groups, as well as listening to local speakers who work for the betterment of the poor in Camden, like Father Bob McDermott, who started The Romero Center and Vince Gallagher, author and labor activist.
The week in Camden helped this group of Lasallians to live as St. John Baptist de La Salle urged his first brothers and in a way that the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools holds today as a cornerstone of Lasallian mission and charism. In St. La Salle’s own words: “Recognize Jesus beneath the poor rags of the children whom you have to instruct. Adore him in them. Love and honor these poor children after the example of the Magi. May faith lead you to do this with affection and zeal, because these children are the members of Jesus Christ. In this way the Savior will be pleased with you, and you will find him, because he always loved the poor.”
Marissa Salvati ’13
Hanna Curran ’13
Sydney Resendes ’13
Sojeong Jun ’13
Levi Swanson ’14
Naryan Murthy ’14
Eric Authelet ’14
Jack Packhem ’14
Kevin Chrones ’14
Mark Carty and Maggie Naughton
On February 17th, 12 students led by faculty members Brian Broulliard and Elissa Cerros boarded a plane in a snowstorm and took off for a service learning trip to New Orleans. The group, made up of 7 girls and 5 boys, juniors and seniors, had gotten together regularly since the beginning of the year to learn about the area and the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the people who lived there….they were ready!
Once they were settled in at Duchesne House, a volunteer house run by three lovely Sisters of the Sacred Heart, they were given a tour of the most devastated areas of the city including the Lower 9th Ward and Brad Pitt’s project to gain some visual perspective. The next morning, the group reported to Project Homecoming to get their assignment and get to work.
The week was one of prayerful reflection, hard work and learning. The team reports that although they were physically tired at the end of each work day, they felt spiritually fulfilled knowing that they were helping to bring a man back to the community he grew up in. There was a great deal of conversation about the importance of a home and a community during their building and reflection time. Many students talked about how powerful it was to have a chance to speak with the homeowner on the phone (he was undergoing chemo in Atlanta) and hear him thank them for the work they were doing to give him back his life.
On Friday, the group had some time to tour the city. The students learned about the history of Jazz in Congo Square, toured the famous cemeteries, visited the powerful Katrina experience at the Presbetyre and ate some good local fare. They ended the day at Christian Brothers School in City Park where they were given an excellent tour and then treated to dinner courtesy of Lasallian Youth! What a day!
All in all, the students and faculty members have described the entire experience as “life-changing” and would go back again in a heartbeat