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Called to Serve: Rother Immersion Trip to Camden

Michael Hershey
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts

While many Mount students went home for spring break, some joined the Center for Service to help communities across the region. Cheyenne McGowan, C’24, who is a sociology and peace, conflict, and social justice double major and political science minor, as well as the president of the Sociology Club, spent her break volunteering her talents at the Romero Center in Camden, New Jersey. Cheyenne grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, less than an hour away from Camden, where she had heard stories about the destitution of the city and had kept her distance.

Cheyenne McGowan in CamdenHowever, noticing that one of the Center for Service’s spring break immersion trips would go there gave her the confidence to explore a community that she had grown up being wary of due to its reputation for crime and drugs. To combat these stereotypes, and to help rather than judge, is the work of the Romero Center. Mount students went to aid the Center’s Urban Challenge Program. This initiative is built on the pillars of faith, service and community. Faith is incorporated through prayer and reflection, service through presence and labor, and community with respect and belonging for all.

Each day of the trip focused on a unique service provided by the Romero Center, like helping with food distribution, career development, education, and environmental social justice to name a few. One of the first places they worked was Cathedral Kitchen, a culinary arts school where all the food served is free and people learn how to cook as a skill.

Another workday was dedicated to clearing out an empty lot that had been used as an illegal dumping ground. These sites feature lots stacked as high as telephone poles with refuse which toxifies nearby soil and water. High levels of lead in the soil leak into plants and make most local vegetables more harmful than healthy. “People that see Camden say, ‘How could anyone live here?’ but the fact is people do and want to make a home for themselves here,” McGowan thoughtfully added.

 Cheyenne McGowan in kitchenFacing all these problems, it is impossible to help solve them in one day, but there were countless lessons learned about how to be a servant to people around you everywhere. McGowan summarized what she learned: “People in Camden deserve to have their voice heard and be loved and feel like they matter. You can’t make assumptions about people without knowing their struggles. Just me being a friendly face helped these people let their guard down after a life of not being able to trust anybody.” The opportunity to see kindness and love when they feel forsaken is an encounter that many citizens of Camden do not often experience. A little kindness goes a long way.

The Romero Center was one of three trips offered as the Center for Service's newly established Rother Immersion Trips. As Blessed Stanley Rother was called, so are we called to be present with our brothers and sisters who need us the most. The other immersion opportunities were Nazareth Farm in Center Point, West Virginia, and the Darst Center in Chicago. Director of the Center for Service Francis Lukban chose these locations to focus on three themes of Catholic Social Teaching: solidarity, the preferential option for the poor, and the dignity of the human person.

Michael Hershey
Graduate Assistant, College of Liberal Arts