Wednesday was one of those days.
One of those days when someone decides to carefully place one more straw upon the camel’s back, bringing everything crashing down. Crashing down with streams of tears and a slight, no- epic meltdown.
Stress had built up. Stress from trying to please too many people, taking on more than I can handle and juggling children without childcare while working a full time job and planning our church’s Vacation Bible School. I needed my drama queen moment and I took the chance to cash in.
The phone rings. It was Ashley calling.
But really it was God.
Ashley called to relay a message from the Neighborhood Center in Camden, New Jersey. A place that stole our hearts 3 years ago this month while on a mission trip with the youth from our church.
She had called the Neighborhood Center to ask if they would be willing to accept the proceeds from this month’s shirt design. God had put it on our hearts to reach out to them.
If you’ve ever heard of Camden, it was most likely for their not-so-lovely statistics.
Here are just a few:
1. 22% of Camden’s families earn less than $10,000 a year.
2. 5.5% of Camden’s adults have a bachelor’s or professional degree and only about half of Camden’s adult residents have completed high school.
3. The average income is around $24,000 a year compared to New Jersey’s almost $65,000 a year, giving it the title of “America’s Poorest City”
4. With a crime rate of 68 per one thousand residents it has one of the highest crime rates in the country, even compared to cities like New York and Chicago.
We were told all of these things in preparation to take our day trips to the Center but there were many things we were not prepared for.
We were there to volunteer at their Summer Day Camp that they open to the children of Camden. Our youth were dispersed into different areas of the camp. We would walk around checking in on everyone and saw many different activities being held, lessons being taught and games being played. But we saw one very obvious common denominator. These kids were attached to our youth like white on rice.
One specific female in our group had no less than 3 children hanging on her at one time. They were soaking up every ounce of love and kindness our youth were sharing with them. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time.
This summer camp saves these precious children from being at home alone while their guardians work, serves them meals that they would probably go without and teaches them values and life skills that they may not otherwise learn.
Before Ashley had called to explain our mission and goal to raise money for their benefit, the Neighborhood Center had realized they lacked the funds this year to provide t-shirts to their children during their Summer Program. They had come to terms with the fact that the children would just have to do without the shirts this time.
To any of us, the loss of a shirt from a summer camp or a Summer Vacation Bible School is no big deal. Sometimes even a relief with our overflowing drawers and clothing racks. But to these children it’s the loss of a brand new, clean and untattered shirt to add to their small and dwindling wardrobe. These aren’t just souvenirs of a successful summer at camp, it’s a shirt to cover their back and a gift of agape from a center that loves them unconditionally.
We now know completely why God had placed The Neighborhood Center on our hearts.
This was exactly what I needed- perspective.
The issues and stresses in my life are first world problems. Minor inconveniences compared to the daily struggles of the people of Camden. Thank God I have people in my life to please, precious children to juggle, opportunities to bring money in for my family and countless ways to serve and fellowship. How could I even count these blessings as burdens?! Maybe that's exactly what they are.. blessed burdens.
Our goal this month is to provide every single child attending The Neighborhood Center's summer program a shirt they can be proud of, that reminds them how much God loves them. It’s a big task, but we are determined. Camp Kumbaya, as they call it, expects to serve around 150 children this summer and we won’t stop until each child has a shirt of their own.
The shop will open next Friday, June 17th with a new shirt design and Same Cloth logo tees. If you aren't on our newsletter list, go to our home page and sign up. We will send an email to let you know the shirts are live.
Please keep this mission in your prayers. Pray that we can easily surpass this goal! Pray for the children and families of Camden and for the Neighborhood Center as they minister to their truly burdened community.
Love and Blessings,