Sunday, May 2, 2010

Thoughts on Camden

For every project round, NCCC teams must complete a project portfolio, which includes reflections from each member on what the team achieved and how he or she grew individually. Below is what I wrote about Badger 6's time spent in Camden. Our last day of work at the Camden Children's Garden is Tuesday.

Read more about the Garden and its mission here.


Before my team even heard about our project assignment to Camden, I was talking with one of my fellow Corps members about potential first round destinations. As a New Jersey native, he said he’d welcome an assignment to anywhere but Camden.

“You don’t want to go there,” he warned, with an air of menace hanging about his words.

After the news came that Badger 6 was Camden-bound, the grim stories and innuendos kept coming. Some of the teams who previously served in the area openly compared it to a Third World country. Our project sponsor implied that the city was not necessarily a “walkable community.” My imagination filled in the rest, painting visions of a post-apocalyptic moonscape, with bulletholes and emptied syringes decorating every street corner.

Camden, in many ways, has earned its brutal reputation. Its crime and poverty rates routinely top the national rankings. During our month-long project at the Camden Children’s Garden, we saw hints of these problems lurking the shadows. But I believe that we were fortunate enough to see the best of what Camden has to offer: the pride and spirit of its citizens.

That starts with the employees at the Children’s Garden, who were incredible as educators, supervisors and work partners. They’ve worked with several AmeriCorps teams in the past, and were quick to adopt us into their little family. Every day we worked with them, their passion for their work was on display.

The same goes for the community gardeners who work to grow oases of green amidst the asphalt and concrete of Camden’s streets. It was extremely rewarding to help these folks along, bringing a small touch of beauty to what can be an ugly place to live.

I’m not going to sit here and say that our month of weeding, planting, harvesting, painting and teaching has Camden on the road to immediate recovery. There’s a long and perilous road to travel, still. But we worked our tails off for a city that was crying out for assistance. That alone made the project worth any of the strain we might have felt along the way.