Many are familiar with Camden’s challenges: abandoned houses, homelessness, hunger, drug abuse and cycles of poverty among other things. But negatives are by no means the whole story of Camden. This community has many good aspects and is far more complicated than one might think relying on media reports or on reputation.
DeSales Service Works (DSW) is a project of the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales in Camden that hosts volunteer groups who join us in prayer, service, and reflection.
Whether volunteers are here for part of a school day, a weekend, or for longer, we stress something important: “Don’t come to ‘save’ Camden. Come to learn from Camden.” So our volunteer groups are not here to solve all the problems of Camden, but they do learn, and their service contributes to the good that goes on here, reaching out to our neighbors in need.
We quote Saint Francis de Sales stressing that “nothing is small in the service of God.” Students working at the Cathedral sandwich line may not end hunger, but can offer respect and kindness along with a baloney and cheese sandwich. Talking with a person at a shelter will not end homelessness, but it may communicate God’s presence and care. Joining with neighbors cleaning a park or painting over graffiti or planting trees may not reverse climate change, but small things contribute to the good, in lifting up this community.
One of the neighborhood efforts DSW partners with is the Last Stop, a drug and alcohol recovery program based in Camden and in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. Two years ago Edward Zampitella, director of the Last Stop, began restoring the long abandoned row house next to DSW. After plans for a meeting space changed, he gave the house to the Oblates to enable us expand our project. Previously a burned out shell with four walls, thanks to the Last Stop, the new building has a roof, floors and windows.
DeSales Service Works is currently raising funds to complete the renovation of 526 State Street into more space to host service retreats so we can continue serving those in need in Camden. The service retreats we host provide an opportunity to meet God in our neighbors. Volunteers share over and over how much the experience impacts their understanding of God and the world around us.
Join us this Saturday, June 9, at the Cathedral Hall on Market Street in Camden for our fundraiser to support this cause, or you can donate online if you are unable to attend. For more information you can visit our website at desalesservice.org.
Father Mike McCue, OSFS, is the DSW spiritual director.