One duffel bag, an air mattress, and a plastic box fan in hand, I entered the Holy Spirit High School classroom in Absecon where I would be staying for the next week. I was embarking on a week of serving others and living simply.
This was the Camden Diocese’s annual Summer in the City (SITC) mission trip. Throughout the week, 48 other high school-aged teenagers and I would be volunteering at various sites throughout Atlantic City. I had no idea what I was up against, or how comfortable I was going to be among scores of unfamiliar faces, but I was willing to approach it with an open mind. As Karrie, my group leader, later told me, “You get from it what you take from it.”
One of the highlights of the week was serving at Sister Jean’s Kitchen. Frank, the man who had been running the kitchen for the past year, emphasized that at Sister Jean’s, “We don’t call them homeless, we call them needy.”
He told us that anyone could be in a job one day, and out of it the next. Just because a person was down on their luck or in-between jobs did not mean that they were a lost cause or that they were not trying to better themselves. That was what was most important to Frank—he worked to help those in need, and that was that.
The day of service that sticks out to me the most is the last day. My group went to the Rescue Mission to help sort donated clothes. Although there was a mountain of clothes to sort, after only an hour or so we got a call that they needed help at the Rescue Mission’s farm. We got back on the bus and went to pick up another group, whose work was cut short because their supervisor had to leave early.
Karrie told me and a few other girls that we didn’t have to go and work in the 96 degree heat, but I was up for the challenge.
The day’s plan had turned on a dime, but Karrie saw the unexpected jumble as an opportunity to apply the situation to real world scenarios.
“You are all workers,” she said. “Some of you were fired because your boss no longer needed you. Now you are homeless or starting a new job out of necessity, even though it’s not the best job. For others of you, your supervisor sent you to work somewhere else, even though you didn’t necessarily want to. Some of you could not do the work and are now homeless too, while others of you stepped up to the challenge and kept your job.”
So those of us who went to the farm were migrant workers for the day. Granted we had it a bit better than the average migrant worker, but the idea was still there, and we got to experience it firsthand. That is what struck me most about SITC—it gave us experiences that made greater real world occurrences tangible.
By the end of my week at SITC, I had gotten to know over 60 people, the most amazing and likable people I have ever met. On top of that, I discovered the most important effect SITC had on me once I got home—it was a greater sense of being. During the week, I discovered how stimulating it is to actively serve and seek new experiences. SITC weakened my priority for superfluities, and sharpened my focus on making a positive influence on the world.
Father James King, the presiding priest at Holy Spirit, really hit it home with his homily on one of the last nights. He spoke about an experience he had on a visit to India, where at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying he was tasked with helping a sick man take a bath and eat a meal, a humbling experience to say the least.
“When Jesus said feed the hungry, he didn’t mean donate to your local food bank—but that’s good! We should do that too… He meant feed the hungry. That’s not for them, that’s for you.”
Amanda Paule is a member of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Absecon.