Sunday, June 27, 2010

BASE Camp 2010 Day Six - Family

"There is a terrible hunger for love. We all experience that in our lives--the pain, the loneliness. We must have the courage to recognize it. The poor you may have right in your own family. Find them. Love them." ~ Mother Teresa

Our fifth and final on-site work day began as all did this week... hot, muggy and a little bit slow. But the group soon got revving and the work quickly completed. Our friend Steve started our day with a rousing prayer and the Stockton Street park - which we have worked on every year of BASE Camp - was soon buzzing with activity.

Our last-second addition to our participants, Hser-Wah (pronounced CHAIR-wuh) soon led the charge on the dredging of the pond. Throughout the week Hser-Wah gained the reputation as our "BASE Camp ninja"... busily flying in every and any direction, vaulting vans and chasing down squirrels. Despite a limited grasp of the English language he was immediately embraced by the other participants as a member of the family, and a promise to return and join us next year was extracted. We were also joined on the last day by Grady Hipley, who after years of regaling us at BASE Camp with stories of Samurai and sword techniques finally got his chance to show his stuff by wielding a machete to hack through some serious growth that had blocked a pathway around the park.

Katie Parry - who stepped in to help with prayer and meal planning as well as on-site organization - took groups to the Arab stable for a visit. Other groups made the pilgrimage to the Hollins Market, sampling large quantities of Chuckie's Chicken as well as smoothies, snowballs and fried clams. Visits were made to our friend Robert's shop of museum-quality African art and ethnic trinkets, always an interesting experience. Throughout the week - wherever our participants traveled to - they joyfully greeted the residents of Southwest and engaged them in conversation. They took to heart Sr. Kitty's desire that the BASE Camp experience not just be about the work, that it is also about RELATIONSHIPS.

Our annual cookout at Stockton Street featured the usual jungle juice and blackened hot dogs, as well as visits from some of the more "colorful" local characters. But this, too is also part of the BASE Camp experience. It's what the memories are made of, and what keep us coming back.

Throwing 30-odd teens and young adults together for a week is not without it's challenges. After all, we are human. But we are also family. And even though there were the usual dramas, minidramas, microdramas and melodramas, this year was one of the smoothest BASE Camp experiences we have yet had. Like a family, our love and respect for one another always trumped any perceived failings. And those family bonds make us stronger.

After our return to St. Will's Fr. Marty celebrated Mass for us - his last liturgy specifically for youth at St. Will's before he moves on to his new parish. It was bittersweet, and following Mass we treated Fr. Marty to a SWYM tradition - a laying on of hands and praying over a family member that is moving on to new adventures and new challenges. Many tears flowed as the youth spoke of all Fr. Marty and his support has meant to us at St. Will's and to our youth ministry program.

Our day ended with a cookout and ultimate frisbee and music and games and fun and prayer and conversations that carried through the night into the early morning hours. All things that reminded us of the importance of what we are to one another - family... family in unity, family in Christ, family in love.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

BASE Camp 2010 Day Five - Humble Work

"Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do humble work." ~ Mother Teresa

Thankfully due to the great volume of work performed over the previous three days we had a light workload on Thursday. Thankfully, because as temperatures climbed near 100 it was clear working in that heat at the height of the afternoon would have been miserable. So, following lunch we headed back to our home base.

The morning was not without it's share of work, however. We had a crew finish the clearing and trimming of the lot on Pratt Street, even moving more debris out of the way creating more cleared green space. Part of the crew roamed the neighborhood collecting copious amounts of trash, and then we finished our work on that part of Pratt Street by weeding the property where two of the nuns connected to Hezekiah Movement live. While working the lot we had a visit from Taz, who spoke with our young people during last year's BASE Camp about the difference Hezekiah had made in his life. He was taking a group of people to Bible study, but took the time to stop and say "hello" and tell us again how much everyone in Southwest appreciates our work.

Last night one of our BASE Camp alumni - Kate Cohagan - brought us a large donation of bread items from Atwater's in Catonsville. We delivered the bread to the community service center, where Dienna was thrilled to receive ANY donation, and ecstatic when she found it was about four dozen loaves. Dienna - who has known Sr. Kitty for 27 years since she was a 13 year old religious education student - explained that with the impending brutally hot weather many of the community's poor elderly would not venture out to try and get food. She was hopeful that she'd be able to distribute the bread along with peanut butter and canned fruit to tide those folks over.

Our crew finished the morning at St. Peter's, helping with a variety of tasks including staking up some "discovered" tomato plants and planting new flowers in some of the flower boxes. During lunch we were joined by Michael, another Hezekiah Movement success story. Michael talked of his own struggles with addiction and how Hezekiah had changed his life. He told the young people they should always remember that "God shows us a lot of love, even when we aren't deserving." Michael said he was hopeful he'd be able to give back to the community by woking at St. Peter's Center.

After lunch we headed back to St. Will's, where a large group of our young people assisted Fr. Marty in moving his office to his new parish. He greatly appreciated the help of the youth and their willingness to jump right into the task regardless of the weather. And, he treated them to a tour of his new parish.

Tomorrow will be our last day in Southwest with BASE Camp, and while there's a great sense of accomplishment there is also a sense of sadness. Our group grows very close during these experiences and creates bonds and memories that will last a lifetime. More and more we have been affirmed in our "humble work" by the community. As I returned the keys to the garage where we have been storing our tools this week to Brother Joe he said how sorry he would be to see us move on, but also how transforming our presence this week has been. I can guarantee that this has been a transforming experience not just for the Southwest community, but for our BASE Camp 2010 participants as well.

BASE Camp 2010 Day Four - Witness

"Love has a hem to her garment that reaches the very dust. It sweeps the stains from the streets and lanes, and because it can, it must." ~ Mother Teresa

Our third day of site work was brutally hot. Again and again people say to me "You certainly seem to pick the hottest week" for BASE Camp. Trust me, I had nothing to do with the picking. And it does seem that over the last few years our mid-June forays into Southwest Baltimore have been ridiculously hot. But as much as our participants acknowledge the heat I haven't really heard complaints about the heat. It is almost a source of pride that despite the less-than-ideal weather conditions our group presses on, and not only completes our assigned tasks but move beyond them.

Most of our group started the day attacking the Pratt Street lot which was a major undertaking in 2009. And although it wasn't easy work by any means this year, we were clearly able to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time thanks not only to last year's work during BASE Camp, but also due to the efforts of a group of our young people that returned to the site (on their own initiative) later in 2009 to work on the lot a second time. Our crew dug in and dove in, clearing the lot of trash and debris and mowing the grass.

But that wasn't all we did. One group worked with a volunteer from Southwest Visions and moved up and down local streets clearing weeds and removing trash. Other groups continued our work this week with the "Clean and Green" program that operates out of the Bon Secours of Maryland Foundation facility. "Clean and Green" is dedicated to improving the quality of life in Southwest Baltimore by turning acres of vacant lots in the area into attractive green spaces. We've worked with this organization for a number of years through Southwest Visions, most significantly with the creation and maintenance of a community vegetable garden on the corner of Fulton Avenue and Lexington Street.

We took a group of young people to Traci Atkins Park on Stricker Street to clear trash. The park was created in memory of a young girl who died after being struck by a car. She had been playing in the street because in her neighborhood there was nowhere safer to play. This was our second trip to the park and within a very short while we had it cleaned up and looking presentable and attractive.

Another group assisted at one of our favorite sites, St. Peter's Adult Learning Center which serves developmentally disabled adults in Baltimore City. Our group there helps with anything that can possibly be done... moving furniture, washing vehicles, weeding a lovely prayer garden we've been instrumental in maintaining throughout our years of BASE Camp. And of course, interacting with the center's clients, always some of the most joyful people we encounter in Southwest.

We also squeezed in a walking tour for our BASE Camp "newbies" to the Arab stable on Carlton Street. A true and unfortunately diminishing piece of Baltimore history, our young people have always enjoyed hearing about the long history (this particular stable - one of only two remaining in Baltimore - has been in operation for 110 years) and of course having the opportunity to visit with and feed the stable's "residents." Our young friend Donte always seems happy to see our group come and visit each year, and you can see the great pride he has in the work they do there.

Our evening was filled with much laughter and joy and more than a few tears. A constant stream of BASE Camp alumni kept things lively at our home base, and our young adults had the opportunity to sit down with Fr. Marty and speak with him about all he has meant to our parish community and youth ministry program at St. William of York. Fr. Marty will be moving on next week to a new parish assignment, but his legacy of support for youth at St. Will's will carry on, and carry on due to the efforts and involvement of the many youth and young adults whose hearts he has touched during his 14 years at the parish.

Our packed day finally ended with stories and thoughts and prayers of witness... of Kevin, who worked with the Clean and Green crew and all he shared about his life struggles with drug abuse and how his faith has saved and sustained him. Of Donte at the Arab stable, the latest of generations of people who have worked served the residents of Southwest Baltimore. Of Chip Woods at St. Peter's and his constant energy and joy in what he does to make the community a better place to live and work for all it's residents. And of course, of Fr. Marty and all he has meant for our family.

The list goes on and on. And as we manifest that "garment of love" in what we do for Southwest Baltimore our young people can be secure in the knowledge that they also are joining that great cloud of witnesses to the faith. Witnesses to what it means to be a person of Christ in our world today. Witnesses that live the "E" of Evangelization (in BASE Camp) in everything we do.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

BASE Camp 2010 Day Three - Small Things

"It is not what we do that is important, but how much love we put into what we do: we should do small things with great love."
~ Mother Teresa

Small things with great love. Again and again today we were told that these seemingly small things we do when we venture into Southwest Baltimore demonstrate great love. And, as Brother Joe told me today, "your young people have truly transformed our community."

It was a busy day today with multiple crews going in varying directions. We did everything from street cleanup to setting up for a retirement party to moving furniture. Along the way we talked with a great many people, many who shared with us the joy they felt we had brought to their community. One young man - who goes by the name "Pig" - kept circling around us on his bicycle. Every time he came close and we tried to strike up a conversation with him he'd turn and ride away. But within a few short moments he would return, each time venturing closer. Finally he dismounted the bike and - still not really conversing - picked up a rake and began helping with the work. He helped us finish the work on that street and then rode off again. But little moments like that, where we have the opportunity to make even the smallest connection with someone are true gifts.

During lunch our group was visited by Laurie, who shared with us her struggles with alcohol and drug addiction and how organizations like Hezekiah Movement helps keep her clean and productive. She talked with joy about her three children, the middle one planning on entering college this fall. Her journey into addiction began at the age of 13 as a result of peer pressure and it's been a 27 year battle for her, But there was much joy and hope in how she views her life today and her continuing recovery. Our young people strongly affirmed her path and promised to pray for her.

One of our crews worked on a prayer garden behind the newly opened "Island of Hope" building. If you're familiar with the television program "The Wire" which infamously chronicles the drug wars in Baltimore or "Homicide: Life on the Street" you may also know that the Baltimore writer whose works these are based on - David Simon - also co-wrote the book "The Corner" about Baltimore's most notorious drug trafficking location. Island of Hope is located on this corner. It is indeed an island of hope for the community - a place where people of the community can join together to pray, to meditate and to find healing. The prayer garden itself was one of the first lot cleanups we did back in 2005 (before BASE Camp was BASE Camp). It's incredible to see what the small seed planted five years ago has grown into. That crew was supervised by Jerry Buettner - a fellow youth minister, good friend, and social justice shining light. Jerry calls Baltimore "Smalltimore" because of it's neighborhood character. And it seems everyone knows Jerry - again and again I encounter people that have somehow had their lives touched by Jerry. Our young people had a great day working with him.

We made new friends on the basketball courts of the Hollins Market community and unfortunately had to say good-bye to one old one... Sr. Kitty. Sr. Kitty had to travel to a national conference of Mercy Sisters in Charlotte, North Carolina and won't be able to be with us for the remainder of the week. This pained her greatly because she loves spending time with our young people. But she also left town confident in the knowledge that our young people would perform the work spectacularly, infusing each small act with great love. We won't let her down.

Monday, June 21, 2010

BASE Camp 2010 Day Two - Presence

Our first on-site day of BASE Camp went very well despite ridiculously hot temperatures throughout the day. The young people worked, and sweated, and worked and sweated some more. But they never backed off on the work, despite a dead animal removal to start the day to spreading bag after bag of mulch in the hot afternoon sun. Attitude was great and we accomplished more than we were expected to.

At lunch we talked with Sr. Kitty about the history of this area of Baltimore as well as her own time here. She spoke of coming to the community in 1978, and despite a planned retirement spent in her hometown of Savannah, Georgia, she has continued her work against all the odds - a spiraling economy, issues with the city, her own battle with cancer - in her current and always home. Sr. Kitty talked frankly of "getting down" when she first found out she'd need to continue with her chemotherapy, but how she concluded that she wasn't going to let it get in her way, she wasn't going to allow it to slow her down, all because she still has much ministry to do in her beloved Hollins Market community. One of the Hezekiah Movement volunteers spoke with our group about the "broken, battered down and wounded" nature of the community. But he also strongly reminded our youth that they "give people hope" and lift people's hearts in the community by showing we care. A group of us were able to visit the site of one of our first community cleanups back in 2005 and see how the space has been turned into a lovely prayer and meditation garden. And how we'll have a hand in finishing it off in the days ahead.

The evening was filled with prayer and laughter and visits from old friends and new. The BASE Camp faithful met the new pastor for our soon-to-be-joined relationship with St. Agnes parish, Fr. Michael DeAscanis. Fr. Michael appeared impressed with the size of our group as well as our focus on the teachings of Mother Teresa this week. We shared with him a little about our work in the Southwest Baltimore community as well as our relationship with Sr. Kitty.

We spoke much of presence today. Not just our being present to the Southwest Baltimore community, but being present to one another in our own woundedness. And understanding that like the mustard seed of scripture we can grow big things from the smallest of seeds. We have the opportunity to make great change with the smallest of acts.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

BASE Camp 2010 Day One - Dignity

"We should not serve the poor like they were Jesus. We should serve the poor because they are Jesus." ~ Mother Teresa

Treating others with dignity. Understanding that it's not always our responsibility to attempt to "fix" others, but that there is a great gift in presence, in the extending of one's hand. These ideas are the foundation of what we're focusing on this year at BASE Camp.

The first day is always joyful. I love seeing everyone come together for liturgy, for prayer, for friendship. Seeing some we have not seen in weeks, months, perhaps since last year's BASE Camp. Seeing the instant camaraderie. Seeing the way our BASE Camp "newbies" are immediately welcomed into the community. Seeing the ways the ties of this family continue to bond, and that bond be strengthened.

We're focusing on the words of Mother Teresa for this year's BASE Camp experience because her life, her ministry was all about treating others with dignity. Each day our prayer focus will be on her words and what they speak to us about the human condition and our call as Christians.

Tonight we watched the film "The Soloist." And as I explained to the young people it aptly portrays the stages we often go through in our relationships... the first tentative reaching out... developing our conversation and interaction... going to that next level of empathy and compassion... our sometimes misguided (no matter how noble) attempts to make change in someone else's life... and finally realizing that what's most important is the be present, to be a friend.

We will have many opportunities in the week ahead to be present. To be present to our good friend Sr. Kitty. To be present to the people of Southwest Baltimore. And sometimes most importantly to be present to one another. To be present, and treat others with the dignity they deserve. To see the Christ that is present in others. To be the presence of Christ to all those we encounter.