Today is Wednesday, January 19th, 2011, but my post is going to be focused on my service experience from yesterday. I’m actually going to be typing something out of my journal, a journal I have kept for the entirety of this trip. Thus, the first person point of view to follow is a result of that.

On Tuesday, January 18th, 2011, the police force of the city of Camden was cut in half. Firemen and other city workers also faced job loss, and this shocks me. We are staying in the most dangerous city in America, a 9-square mile city with 200 known active drug corners, abandoned lots used as open-air drug markets in some of the worst parts of the city. It’s really upsetting to know that so many of the people here live below the poverty line, that money, and the desire for money, is the source of much evil in the city of Camden.

Tuesday wasn’t like our previous days at the Romero Center. While we had had some type of reflection every morning, Tuesday morning’s reflection was very focused. Our service, our experiences, and our reflections focused a lot on the concepts of compassion and solidarity – truly sharing in and understanding another person’s beliefs, lifestyles, whatever. With that in mind, I began to prepare myself for a day of service.

Annie, Sarah, Ariel, Liz, Lauren and I all went to Francis House today, a ministry of St. Anthony of Padua’s church in Camden. The organization, which has been around for over fourteen years, is run by a woman named Sue. From what John told us, Sue established Francis House in memory of her brother, who died from AIDS. The organization is a place for people infected with and/or affected by HIV/AIDS to gather, a safe place for them to relax, share a home-cooked meal, share in the understanding of a disease that many Americans, many people around the world, hold stereotypes about and are quite uncomfortable with. But over the years, with their family trees, picture-filled walls, trips to Disney and memory quilts, these individuals have become bound by so much more than the disease that unites them; they have become a family.

When the other groups and even the staff at the Romero Center told us about Francis House, they only had the best things to say. One suggestion came to us from Franciscan volunteers that we met at the start of Unity Week. These volunteers, here for an entire year, suggested that we not group together. They encouraged us to be proactive, and put ourselves out there. And right away, that’s what we tried to do, spreading out. Yet when everyone else came in, they clumped into a corner. Eventually, people started to open up and tell us some stories. Sue was working on a piece for a quilt at the time. Each piece was in memory of one of their friends, their family members, who had lost his or her battle with the disease. One of the quilts had been hung on the wall, and I thought that was a truly beautiful way to honor the memory of someone you love. Other than that quilt, there were tons of things filling the walls at Francis House. Tons and tons of pictures brought a true sense of family to the place. They even had a large tree painted on the wall, the leaves each holding the picture of someone special who had entered the center.

At one point during the day, Sue asked Liz and me to help her with something. Just to tell you a little bit about Sue, she is a wonderful person. She is the type of friend that anyone would be lucky to have, not afraid to speak what is on her mind and what she believes in. I feel as though that’s something rare to find in a city like Camden. But anyway, she asked Liz and I to help put together a Tree of Life. The tree had been donated to Francis House by the AIDS Foundation, which had been closed down due to lack of funding. The tree had gold leaves, engraved in memory of people who had lost their lives to HIV/AIDS. Even though we were simply screwing leaves onto a plastic tree, I felt as though the time we spent at Francis House was very meaningful. And although I did not get into deep conversations about the disease with anyone at the shelter, I heard people talking about some of there experiences. All in all, it was just really nice to get to put a face to this disease, and to know that these people are just like we are, that we are all the same in the end.

I’m really glad this blog is available for us to share our experiences from the week. This has really been an interesting week so far, I’m glad that I could be a part of something like it.

Until the next time, peace.