Sophomore Service Day – A first hand account

Gabrielle C. '18, Writer

    On Thursday, March 3, 2016, Mrs. McGuire, Mrs. Vavala, Ms. Penza, and twenty sophomores, including myself, drove to Camden, New Jersey and spent the day volunteering and learning about the current state of the town.

    The day started at the Cathedral Hall, where they had volunteers trying to match socks and make sandwiches. We met two people when we entered the building, Andrew and Sarah, who showed us what to do and gave us a small tour of the town. We split into two groups in the beginning; Mrs. McGuire’s group stayed and made sandwiches, while Mrs. Vavala’s group went to Joseph’s House. Joseph’s House is a night shelter for homeless men and women. It isn’t equipped to help children, so the workers will send families to a nearby shelter that is able to accommodate children. Sarah gave us a tour of Joseph’s House. First, she took us to the dining hall and the kitchen. She told us how people play games, read books, and watch the news, and she explained how people are always bringing casseroles and lasagna, and that they are grateful for those meals because they are easy to heat up in the ovens and serve to the people. She then took us to another room and pointed out where the women’s and men’s bathrooms were and explained to us the arrangements that they have for the cots. Some people have mental disorders, which makes them uncomfortable around certain people; those people have to be assigned specific cots in order to feel comfortable. People who bring possessions with them sleep with them because they’re afraid someone will steal their belongings. According to Sarah, the people who come and stay sometimes do have jobs, but don’t make enough money to even rent tiny apartments. Lastly, she took us into the storage room and revealed where they keep their blankets and clothing donations. They are very organized about where they put the clothing donations, having specific boxes and tables for everything. Sometimes, they are given clothing for children, so they re-donate those clothes to another house that takes in children. After the tour of Joseph’s House, everyone went back to the Cathedral Hall and attempted to match socks. It was frustrating work because we would find two socks and there would some sort of difference between them so they could not be a match. Mrs. McGuire said the sock sorting gave her nightmares.

    Afterwards, we went to the playground and waited for the children to come and play with us. When the kids came, they were shrieking with joy and laughter. They were evidently thrilled about getting to play with the ‘big kids’. Two little girls that looked about seven years old came up to me and asked me to play with them. Their names were Serenity and Andrea, and they were absolutely adorable and energetic beings. The first game was freeze tag. After a few minutes, they became tired of running around, so they thought having a race was the best solution. The rules were to run only on the blue squares. Serenity won both times; she was a little speed demon. For the remainder of recess, we pretended to be mermaids trapped on the beach. Later, the fourth and fifth graders came out to have recess. They didn’t really interact with us as much as the younger kids.

    We then went over to the house Padua faculty and students stay for encounters and retreats, and ate our lunch. After we finished eating our lunches, two middle-aged women came in and informed us they were addicts and were going to talk to us about their struggles. We only had enough time for one of the women to speak, so the woman with dark hair was the only one who told us her story. Her father had left her and her mother when she was a young girl. She grew up with it mostly being just her mother and her. She once stayed with her grandparents for a vacation trip while her mom was away, and her grandfather had molested her at the age of seven. She didn’t say anything at first to anyone about it, then she spent a weekend with her aunt and her aunt’s new boyfriend. She was then molested for a second time by him. Her mother couldn’t understand why she waited so long to tell her about the incidents. Her mom was very strict, so she became a bit of a rebellious teenager. At fifteen, she met the love of her life and soon became pregnant with her first child. She had two more children afterwards and began experimenting with different drugs. She lived a normal life, until one day, one of her coworkers offered her some heroin. She became a drug addict and lost her job that same year. She left her three sons and husband because she didn’t want them to see her as a messed up drug addict. For years, she wandered the streets looking for drugs and doing anything she could do get some. She had been to jail and overdosed numerous times. She ended up in a hospital, where they had groups from a local rehab house come and speak to patients struggling with drug abuse. At that time, she didn’t realize God had sent her a solution to drug problems. After being released from the hospital, she went back to scavenging for drugs. One day, she ran into a man whom suggested she go to the rehab house that came to the hospital. She has been there a few times and is now back for the fourth time. She hasn’t communicated with her children since she left, but discovered their father had committed suicide a few years ago.  At the time, she was currently 58 days sober. After the woman finished speaking to us, we asked questions, then drove back to Padua.

    When we arrived back at Padua, we went into the chapel, where we met up with Mrs. Alinda. We talked about how expectations of Camden were the opposite of what we actually experienced. Mrs. Alinda and Mrs. Vavala handed back our papers from before our departure to Camden and told us to choose one the questions to reply to. I replied to the third question “When did you see God today?” I first saw God in the cathedral hall where people spending their making sandwiches and matching socks for those in need. The second time was when I was playing with Serenity and Andrea. The third time was when the woman was telling us about her addiction to drugs because, even though she hit rock bottom, she still saw God was sending her signs to get help. This whole trip taught that people are able to find God in any situation life throws their way.