A Teen Reflects on Service in Camden

visi camden

Editor’s Note: The following entry is from Emma Dolson, a student at Georgetown Visitation Prep in Washington, DC, who did service in Camden this summer with De Sales Service Works.


This summer, I went to Camden, New Jersey for a week, with the intention of getting 50 service hours. This summer, I left Camden, New Jersey a changed person who gained SO much more than required service hours.


To put it simply, Camden was life-changing. I know most people say that about service trips, but I really, really mean it, as I am sure the rest of the girls that went on the trip would say as well. I’ll tell you one of the many experiences I had, to give you an idea of what we did from August 2 to August 6, 2010.


The first morning we were there, half of us went to the Cathedral to give out sandwich bags to the homeless. At first, all we did was pack the bags with different snacks. But after, we each got a chance to actually hand them out to the people. We were instructed to say hi, and have a smile on, which didn’t seem too hard. For my turn, I went up to the door and began to give bags out.


Most of the people that came up looked homeless. But then a girl came up, and she told me her name was Kelly. She is 24. I had a skewed vision of what I thought homeless people looked like, and she definitely did not fit the profile. She was pretty, young, fit. She looked just like us. I remembered her because of how out of place she looked. The next day, we went to a homeless day shelter. Again, we were instructed to say hi with a smiling face, and try to start up a conversation. This was the hardest part for me, and I think for most girls there. My mom, one of the chaperones, came with us that day. She, like the rest of us, was uneasy, but—I’m sure to try and set a good example for us—sat with a couple and began to talk. It was Kelly and her boyfriend. Apparently, Kelly was from a wealthy family in Philadelphia, and an avid swimmer in high school. However, she got addicted to heroin, and her family kicked her out. So now, she and her boyfriend are living under a bridge and struggling through every day to help each other stop taking drugs. My mom got the whole story, and by the end all three were in tears.


After we left, my mom said she was going to buy them a month’s worth of bus tokens so they could temporarily live with Kelly’s boyfriend’s family, and try and sort their lives out. They only had enough money to pay for medicine to keep them off heroin, but not enough for transportation to his mom’s house. The next day, I saw Kelly again at the sandwich service. I told her who I was, and the look on her face when she remembered my mom was the happiest face I’d seen on anyone in Camden. Both she and her boyfriend could not thank my mom (through me) enough.


So my mom gave Kelly a month’s worth of bus fare. But more than that, she gave the gift of her time and recognized Kelly’s humanity. People in poverty are not used to others listening to their stories, so simply giving your time to listen really means a lot. At that moment, I realized that little acts of kindness can go a long way. You don’t need to do something huge to make a difference. When people have nothing, giving a smile and a happy hello seriously impact that person’s life. My mom made a difference in their lives. All of us there made a difference in the lives of the people that we met. And, most importantly, they made a difference in our lives.
It’s hard to explain a service trip, as most people who have been on one would say. There is just something about the experience that cannot, no matter how hard you try, be put into words. So I can’t really tell you how it feels to go to Camden. I can, however, tell you to go. So go. Go play in an open fire hydrant with kids from the projects. Go talk to a homeless person, give them your story and listen to theirs.


Camden changed my life. And I know it changed my mom’s. Helping others, especially this close to home, and realizing that they aren’t much different from you and me, put my life into perspective, and I am so grateful I participated in this trip.


Thank you!
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