Editor’s Note: Meg Weber is a senior at De Sales University studying nursing. Over the Fall break at De Sales University, Meg traveled to Camden to work with De Sales Service Works (DSW). Meg had a powerful experience while in Camden and now hopes to serve as a year long volunteer with DSW after graduation this May. She reflects on her experience in the entry below. Meg’s entry highlights yet again how we can be transformed through service. Even though we frequently begin to serve others in order to help them, we soon learn that we are gaining just as much, if not more, from the experience. For more information on DSW, please visit http://www.oblates.org/dsw/.
On a cold Saturday morning in October, we departed for what was to become one of the most significantly reflective and life-changing weekends for me. Two other DeSales students, Tim, a senior studying theology, and Helen, a freshman studying to become a physician assistant, Latoya, our group leader, and I packed up a DSU van and started our drive to Camden, New Jersey. Though I was unfamiliar with the city, I soon enough learned of the immense and widespread poverty that Camden suffered. My first thoughts were positive, wanting to be fully open to the experience and therefore to make the best of the weekend. While I have a short history of working with the poor, I knew better than to expect a similar experience.
Our weekend events ranged from making bagged lunches for Sandwich Ministry to utilizing both white and colorful paint to decorate the boarded up windows and doors of a near by abandoned house. We also spent time on the streets, inviting local community members to a street cleanup that was to be hosted by Campbell’s and speaking with families of the parish who wished to be on the Christmas gift donation list. These opportunities were awesome, but just doing those above-mentioned things don’t make my weekend worthy of repeating.
I was definitely touched by the experiences of conversing with others and at the end of the day reflection. In the community, during our walk with Sr. Claire to find out details for the Christmas gift list, the members of the community opened their homes not only to her, but to me too. I had the chance to be in people’s homes, simply talking and praying with them. Now, to me, home is a special place of love and comfort, so to be invited into the homes of families exemplifies the generosity and love that people share in this community. I believe that, while it isn’t always the first thing that one notices on the streets of Camden, there is a huge amount of love: love for the community and love for one another. During one of our days, we visited a place called Hope Works. This place, while humble in appearance, is filled with hearts of young men and women who are immensely compassionate for achieving their dreams. How cool is that! This is a local program, dwelling within the rundown, poor streets of Camden that provides hope and opportunity for local young men and women who need guidance, who want to change their lives for the better.
Love. Such a powerful word, and yet one that is used much too frequently, in ways that deprive it of its true strength. I saw love in Camden… I really did. And I felt it too. I saw love in each person with whom I made eye contact or spoke to, because for me to try to imagine the struggles of their lives would do anything but comfort me. They are strong people. I felt love in the warm way that I was welcomed into people’s homes, and especially in the way that men and women would ask God to bless me, despite the fact that I was overwhelmed with the feeling that they are the ones who need the prayers.
Thus, reflecting at the end of the day would stir emotions of sadness, fear, and extreme joy; I felt an interesting mixture of them all over the weekend. And while my emotions were tossed from one end of the spectrum to the complete opposite, my faith and trust in the Lord matured.