by Marilyn Ampadu 

Our Branch Out trip to Philadelphia, PA may be the event that sets the course for the rest of my life, but before you can understand that, we have to go to the beginning. Even before I had ever heard of or worked with Branch Out, I had an instinctual passion for social justice and equality. I had already decided to pursue a life of active service and deal with incorporating my occupation later. The trip to Philadelphia was focused on labor rights and living wages, two causes I strongly advocate. Even with this, the thought of losing time from family, friends, and home to go to a place I’d never been and partner with strangers took time to settle in me. In the end, I left for Philadelphia that morning feeling slightly apprehensive of the week ahead of me.

The trip commenced with a shaky start. We arrived to find our host community in disarray while gearing up for what seemed like the millionth winter storm of the season. The snow would take a whole day out of our schedule. Yet we arrived just in time to see what our entire week was about. Our partner church, Arch Street United Methodist, ran a weekly dinner service for the homeless citizens of the city. Along with this, the church also served as a shelter, hosting events daily and housing 30-50 men each night.

Along with Grace Cafe, we got to work with Serenity House, a branch of the church located in one of the most conflicted and fear-ridden parts of the city. This colorful building filled with books, toys, tea, and love served as an asylum for the neighborhood. While there, we aided in some cleaning and renovation. One of the greatest moments of our trip was watching members of the community gather on the porch of the house to pick out some of the discarded items we had cleared out. Seeing this served as a reminder of the humanity that was in the world and of the small and common things that can bring us together. But the most influential event for me was working with a group called POWER.

On our second to last day in Philadelphia we partnered with Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild. Based in the city, POWER is an organization made up of several multi-denominational and religious congregations who set aside their faith differences to unite on common goals and beliefs for humanity. Hearing of this group’s accomplishments and the work they were doing everyday to change that city for the better was one of the most deeply impacting moments of my life. I had seen the Occupy Movement on television, heard of people coming together, and always found it amazing, but it was the first time I was physically aware of the power of people around me. Partnering with POWER, Serenity House, and Arch Street through Branch Out did more for me than I may have done for them. This trip gave me a hope and passion of what is possible if even a few people believe it into existence. It is because of this profound experience that I am returning to Philadelphia this summer to continue the change, not only in a city, but in myself, that began this Spring Break. I hope, through my work, I can make a lasting impact to the city of Philadelphia. But more so, I hope the city and people of Philadelphia can continue to make a lasting impact on me and the plans of my future. And to think, I almost didn’t go…