Camden service trip opens eyes for students

Brian Sheridan

At 8 a.m. Saturday morning Mendel field wasn’t the ordinary college scene. In fact, this was the first time many had seen it this early.

One thousand four hundred volunteers, mostly Villanova students, gathered in celebration of Father Donohue.

As the new president addressed the crowd, he echoed Villanova’s call to charity, stressing the community’s responsibility to “be brothers and sisters of the poor.”

Students found themselves at a variety of efforts across the Villanova area.

Groups were taken to 40 different sites that ranged from nursing homes to churches. One group of roughly 120 volunteers headed to Camden, N.J.

For many years Camden was an economic hub serving the greater Philadelphia region.

However, after the city lost its biggest employer in the 1960s, Camden began to fall victim to urban decay. Known as both the nation’s poorest and most dangerous city, it is safe to say Camden was eye-opening to many.

Plagued by poor environment, crime and drugs, it was the Villanova community’s goal to make a small dent in these problems.

The Heart of Camden is a non-profit development organization focused on saving the city.

Created in 1984, it concentrates mainly on the air pollution and the creation of affordable, low-income housing. Their task is a difficult one, but with the help of charity, volunteers and compassion, they are determined to improve the community.

Students planted trees along the streets and prepared houses for reconstruction in Camden’s Waterford South neighborhood.

Images of broken doors, shattered glass and trash were overshadowed by the greater image of Villanova students working together.

Not a single complaint was heard. Volunteers looked at the problems of this city and jumped in with teamwork and compassion.

“It was hard work, but gratifying,” said sophomore Kate McQuade. “It’s great to see everyone out helping others live a better life.”

Freshmen made up the majority of the volunteers in Camden.

While many admitted that the work had been required of them, they felt rewarded at the end of the day.

“It’s a shame when we are stereotyped as preppy, said freshman Kelli Imhoff. “We helped a lot of people today.”

Donohue took a tour of the sites and worked with students clearing debris.

The presence of sewage treatment plants had taken an incredible toll on the environment in this particular region.

In an effort to repair some of this damage, students planted 21 trees. The trees were donated by the New Jersey Tree Foundation.

Donohue expressed his satisfaction and excitement over the number of people from the University community who volunteered a day of service.

“I am amazed at what the heart of the Villanova community is doing through volunteering,” Donohue said.

Perhaps the most touching aspect of Camden’s plight is that of the children. As volunteers worked cleaning up the neighborhood, kids rode bikes through the streets.

These children have witnessed poverty and crime their entire lives. Villanova students worked to give these children a safer home.

Volunteers ended their day by attending a short blessing at Camden’s local Sacred Heart Church.

Pastor Michael Doyle, a Villanova alumnus, thanked Villanova for its support and stressed the University’s call to help.

However, he said, Camden can’t be saved in a couple of hours. The people of the Heart of Camden work year-round because they believe there is something good left in the city.

This past Saturday marked the first time that over 100 volunteers came to the Waterford South area of Camden, but with Villanova’s help, it certainly will not be the last.

Several students, including McQuade and many of her friends on the trip, have already begun making plans to travel to Camden at least once a month, or once every two weeks.