by Ellie Jamerson

This past spring break I went to Philadelphia, PA to work with POWER and Arch Street on labor rights and living wages. Before departing for the trip, I expected certain activities to be challenging, but I did not have too many expectations. I wanted to keep an open mind so that I could really absorb my surroundings. All in all, I took away more from this trip than I could ever have anticipated.

 When we first arrived to Arch Street, we immediately jumped right in with our service work. Our group helped with the execution of Grace Café, a night that Arch Street Church dedicates every Sunday to feeding those experiencing homelessness. This was an excellent opportunity for our group to bond not only with each other, but the community partner as well. Everyone was willing to lend a hand when needed, regardless of previous experience. It was very rewarding to actually see satisfaction and appreciation from the community we were helping after the hard work that went into the preparation for the evening.

One of the aspects of the trip that had the most impact for me was just being around those experiencing homelessness everyday. Arch Street is always welcoming of someone who needs a place to rest and take shelter, so visitors were always present. In our daily lives, homelessness seems to be something at a distance; it’s a person you see on the street asking for money that your either ignore or to whom you give some spare change. You can read statistics of urban poverty and homelessness, but it just never really sinks in the gravity of the situation. Interacting with people who face these challenges on a day-to-day basis really struck a chord with me; they all have stories, fears, hopes, and anxieties. One man discussed with a few of us how he had a college degree but certain circumstances over the past years left him without employment. These daily interactions made the problems of poverty and homelessness very real and inspired me, and I think I could speak for most of the group as well, to put in all our efforts to try and make a difference to such an incredible problem our country is facing.

Our time spent in Philadelphia showed me that every proactive step one takes towards making progress with a social issue is much bigger than he thinks. One day, we worked with POWER, an organization that is currently working on getting voters to pass a referendum on the May ballot that will raise the minimum wage. Before I left for Philadelphia, I felt that it was through this kind of activity that one could actually make a difference with the problems of labor rights and living wages. I thought that to go through legislation was the only way to really make an impact. However, I realized that contributing to solving the problem is so much more. Working at a soup kitchen, such as we did with Grace Café, or getting an area set up that will bring a community together away from violence, such as our work with Serenity House, can have a huge impact on a community. Those we worked with at Arch Street never let us feel that our work was without merit; every day they expressed such genuine gratification that we could really understand that what we were doing was helping, even if it was just cleaning out a basement.

My trip to Philadelphia was such a great opportunity that I will always value. I grew very close with my group; not a day went by that we didn’t laugh about something insanely ridiculous. We were able to have lots of fun amidst learning about such a heavy topic. This trip showed me that not even the smallest deed goes unnoticed; everyone can be an active citizen if you make the conscious effort to try and better your community. I feel now that I am more politically aware of what is happening in our country and its citizens, but also inspired that I can help to a solution to the problem.