First thing this morning I was listening to Pamela Foxx, our only HR staff who also manages 200 volunteers AND corporate work groups, share her vision of UrbanPromise with 22 eager volunteers from Wegman’s intern program. I was taken with how she described our campus brimming with summer camp activity. And I was moved by the video she showed of our after school programs. And I was honored to describe the work I do…it was a good way to start the day.
10 of the volunteers headed over to the garden with me to pull weeds – lots and lots of weeds. We have nearly lost the battle this summer to these native species – but I am not giving in! As they settled into work, along came a large group of kids from Camp Faith – the intern in charge of them wanted to lead Bible study in the garden that morning. It was a sweet sight as the kids tried to name all they saw growing.
Meanwhile, Wegman volunteer Xavier was putting together the wheelbarrow that Ocean Heights Presbyterian church donated toward our cause. I was so excited to have it assembled finally – it’s been sitting for a few weeks due to vacation and lack of wheelbarrow-building-expertise! I was out by the sunflowers loosening massive clumps of weeds along the fence…when it started the rain. Dumping, drenching rain…which drove us all indoors and gave us all a chance for some meaningful conversation. The best question was from Xavier: “Why are people willing to come here and work for a lot less money?” We spoke of call, and work that has a purpose, that is deeply satisfying. It was a meaningful conversation.
Much to my surprise, a former student appeared on the back porch of the Peace House. I’ve mentored this young woman for 3 years now, but the past year has been rough – she’s made choices I wouldn’t have recommended as she desperately seeks independence from her dysfunctional family at the tender age of 18. She’s thinner than I’d like to see, and liked the idea of “shopping” in our clothes donation closet. Part of me was sad to see her where she is, and yet I am struck by her resilience. She manages to get 2 meals a day and finds safe enough places to sleep. She is determined to continue her education. I let her wash up in our bathroom, packed a bag full of clothes, and left her – with what cash I had to offer – at the McDonalds in the center of Camden. I have hopes that she takes the talk we had this afternoon to heart – she did tell me that “I have never steered her wrong”. I reminded myself that I am called to love and walk alongside these remarkable people, but not to fix their problems.
As I finished loading piles of weeds in my bright yellow wheelbarrow, I was thinking of how far this job is from seeing patients every 15 minutes and writing prescriptions. Of how tomorrow morning I’d be teaching again at Penn, how I doubted the students and faculty envisioned me correctly at work, covered in mud and wielding a pitchfork. And how fulfilling my “job” is…when I heard mumbling. “Hello…mumble mumble…Hello…” – it was Horace! Horace is a local guy from the neighborhood, talks a lot to himself, has become an awesome volunteer at the food co-op. “Hi Horace!” I smiled, “want to take home some vegetables?” He answered in the affirmative so in we went to the kitchen to load him up with beans and lettuce. His wonderful sister, with whom he lives, would likely appreciate it. Horace makes my heart sing, and helped me end my day with a smile. Thanks be to God!