Coming home from Camden


Jake Sorensen

Some perspectives on Urban Challenge 2013

Though it was only a few weeks ago, I am more than confident in saying that I’ll remember what happened in Urban Challenge for the rest of my life. And I can honestly say that I had no previous hopes of expecting me to come home with such thoughts. Last year at Old St. Augustine’s, where we slept overnight on the floor of a church’s basement, I left with mixed feelings; I was happy with how much we bonded in a day, yet I was disappointed with the service we attempted there. Camden was nothing like that, all.

I remember a few months before of what I thought it was going to be like. I’ve heard all of the horror stories, like how having a phone guarantees your mugging and how the compound we stayed on had fences lined with needles. This didn’t help my anxiety towards communal living, either. For once in my life I had to make my own food and clean my own dishes, and sleep in an extremely creaky and uncomfortable bed for three long nights. Only the bed, however, was something I barely got through.

Probably the most enlightening thing about the trip was how much I enjoyed communal living. Long story short, everyone played a part in making our weekend the weekend a good one. Nobody skimped on the clean up, and I can’t recall anyone complaining about the restrictions either. Since the people who worked at the Romero center didn’t have a hard time with us, we were awarded the title of “best group”. All in all, I had a great time in the center itself, which I something I didn’t really expect. That didn’t stop the beds from being terrible though.

Since we’re there for two whole days, we go out in small groups to various service sites. For service, I looked for a new experience, so I opted to go the MLK Jr. Day Care. In hindsight, it was a fantastic idea. The toddlers there were so adorable. One 3 year old, Raven, started playing with the zipper on my jacket… which I let her pull up and down for the next five minutes, since I didn’t mind it. We did leave the site remembering one cruel fact however: only 49% of those kids will graduate, thanks to the poor education system of Camden.

The second site I want to was actually on the outskirts of Philly. The Inglis House was a unique hospital where all of the patients were in wheelchairs. There were only 300 people being cared for, but each and every room was set up specifically for their needs.  While quite a few were mentally impaired, there were still some people who were only unable to walk. For the whole time, we stayed in a sort of “living room” that had shuffle boarding, loads of board games, and some cards. While we played these games for six hours, I listened to what many of them had to say, with their stories ranging from how enjoyable speeding around on an automatic wheelchair is, to creating incredible paintings with only his mouth. I felt terrible seeing how many of them would be stuck here, but I’m certain that our visit really made their day.

I really had a unique and satisfying experience in Camden. Though it was pretty intimidating, I can say that it’s not as bad as it could seem. The poverty there is shocking, and it’s certainly visible in a little “experiment” you carry out in the first day (which I don’t want to spoil for the Sophomores). It really taught me how better off I am, and I’m sure it has prepared me for what’ll be doing in the Summer. I am very happy with how it turned out, and I’m hoping that whoever does it next year will get as much out of it as I did.

Learn more about the Urban Challenge program