Camden

Camden

Blessed Oscar Romero said “Aspire not to have more, but to be more.”

In volunteering at Merrimack College there are many opportunities to step outside of yourself and really be present to the students you are serving. This past week I was able to serve alongside twelve students and another advisor for an Alternative Spring Break trip to Camden, NJ.

Seeing Camden, NJ for the first time and driving to the Romero Center was an experience of awe, fear and familiarity. First noticing rod iron fencing around porches made me fearful of the area and what to expect, but getting to the Center and meeting Richard started cracking stereotypes from day one. Richard is one of the Urban Challenge Associates. He is always wearing a black beanie hat with a colorful, untucked buttoned down shirt and kakis. Stepping out of the van he greeted each of us with a handshake and a very calm and chill demeanor. His confidence and personable personality gave me ease for the road ahead.

There are so many experiences from this past week that I wish I could share and delve deeper into, but as it goes this is not an essay. Each day the Romero Center had a theme from a Catholic Social Teaching. They varied from life and dignity of the human person to solidarity. In the mornings we had a time of prayer and in the evenings we came together for reflections with videos, small group discussions and prayer once again. For the small group discussions, they provided guided questions which mentioned what was the most meaningful experience, challenging, how did you see God’s presence and ended with what are your hopes for tomorrow?

These questions helped me to pull apart my days, look at each moment, truly acknowledge and remember what had impacted me in various ways. It reminded me almost of an examination of conscience. It gave me the tools to understand where I was during each day and how I could better myself and continue growing for the next day. Not only writing your thoughts down in a journal, but then sharing them makes experiences such as these come alive in new ways. You gain perspectives from others, become more vulnerable and truly allow your true self to be received.

Our group came from varying backgrounds geographically, financially and with different family dynamics. Despite all of this, we became the CamFam and truly sought to build relationships with one another, those we served with and created plans to carry out what we have learned on the Merrimack Campus. These students not only spoke from their hearts, but allowed an environment of trust, vulnerability and acceptance which gave this experience the means to become something greater than I could have imagined. Each day I lived in the moment and was present to what the day would bring.

Being able to share this irreplaceable experience with the students at Merrimack gave me such a deeper appreciation for the college and those it serves. I know going to work on Tuesday morning that I will have more friendly faces around campus and will continue to strengthen these relationships especially in the last few months I have with them. They epitomize “Aspire not to have more, but to be more.”

Elise Zajicek
Lawrence, MA 2015-2016

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