Walsingham students from Virginia plant trees in the fall of 2011

Overview of Program

In the course of the 2012 – 2013 school year, over 2,000 individuals came to Camden to be a part of 76 different DSW service retreats! They came from 8 different high schools, 9 colleges and universities, 7 parish communities.

Service retreats offer people of all ages the opportunity to get away, reflect, pray and serve people in need. All retreat themes are rooted in the core teaching of St. Francis de Sales and involve direct service, facilitated reflection, presentations on Catholic social teaching, prayer and opportunity to celebrate Eucharist. These retreats are ideal for college service trips, teens, adults, school groups, or parish groups. They can be designed various lengths of time: a school day, an over-night, an evening, a weekend, a spring break, a week in the summer, etc.

Volunteers come to do much-needed, practical service in a very poor community. They serve, pray, reflect, and recreate while living in the DSW community. Salesian spirituality encourages a balanced life, and recreation is an important part of the experience. Groups here for an extended time can enjoy the school gym, Camden’s nearby waterfront, ballpark, and aquarium, as well as the cultural opportunities ten minutes away in downtown Philadelphia.

Our Neighborhood of North Camden

Camden: In a real sense, every setting is a place for service, but a place like Camden provides particularly clear service opportunities. The city was listed recently as the third poorest city of its size in the US. Like so many American urban neighborhoods, Camden is characterized by hard edges, constrained horizons, homelessness, drugs, and disorder.

The DSW Neighborhood: The service retreats take place in a very urban place; however, the DSW house is located in a lively, immigrant neighborhood in Camden on a block with eight Church and service related houses. There is a medical center, legal-aid center, convent of Medical Mission Sisters, youth-computer center called Hopeworks, Lutheran church and Catholic grade school. People know who we are and why we are in the city. Of course, it is important to be smart and safe when spending any time in an urban area.

The DSW house can accommodate up to 30 young people. It has a kitchen, meeting rooms, many bedrooms, and a chapel.

Why do groups come here to serve?

This may be the most important question. We invite people to join us here for retreat to experience the Christian worldview of St. Francis de Sales, which believes in the power of Salesian gentleness, humility, and optimism. Of course these powers are needed everywhere, especially in an environment that is poor, tough and needs hope. In Camden, NJ, the needs are obvious and urgent, but need is experienced wherever human beings are. We can make a difference in the lives of needy people in this poor city.

But a huge reason why to participate in a DSW service retreat is that it gives an opportunity to spend time away to for service, prayer and reflection to deepen a Christian vision in order more readily to recognize need and the power of Christian virtues for every place we find ourselves.