Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Children of Camden

Last night my husband and I watched ABC's 20/20 with Diane Sawyer. The program was about America's children in poverty. Camden, New Jersey was the star because it is the poorest and most violent community in our country. Sawyer profiled several kids living in Camden and compared them to a nearby neighborhood of kids living an upscale life. These two communities are ten minutes apart and yet the Camden kids live in complete squalor. Many of the children are homeless and if they are lucky enough to have a place to live, they survive without lights or heat surrounded by cockroaches and drug deals.

I think I lost it when little Ivan at the beginning of kindergarten was asked to count how many times a day we have meals and to name them. Easy for a five year old, right?? Answer: three meals a day 1-2-3, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Although this five year old was able to count, he had absolutely no idea how to respond to the simple question. Ivan doesn't have enough to eat---in the United States of America.

It all took me back to my days as a teacher's aide in a remedial program in a school in the poorest area of Kansas City, KS. No difference exists between the abilities of the kids in the oppressed parts of our cities and the abilities of the kids in fancy suburbs--NONE. The difference between the children is opportunity, chance, self-confidence and dignity. Having a warm home with books and three meals a day can change everything. It makes me furious that we have such a huge problem in this nation.

Drugs and alcohol ruin these kids forever when they hit their teen years. It is not hard to understand joining a gang and taking drugs if you sleep in a cold room on a chair with your siblings. Drugs and gangs are the symptom and not the cause. We need to help children at an early age in order to instill hope and to encourage their passions and dreams. They need to believe in themselves and the possibilities of a good life.

Imagine--imagine if we took a fraction of the 4 billion dollars a month we are pouring into the Iraq war and poured it into the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, the Quindaro district in Kansas City, or into Camden, New Jersey. Imagine the lives we could change. Imagine.

The link to information about 20/20 last night:

During the show, they mentioned the group Urban Promise which is making some inroads into the devastating poverty in Camden. They have set up a way to donate to help the kids Diane Sawyer profiled. I am so grateful this is available for us to help because during the entire program last night I kept asking what I could do.


After a little additional checking, it is not hard to find the saint who is behind all of this. His name is Bruce Main and in my opinion, he's got the right idea about what Jesus was trying to teach us. I am happy to see that an Episcopal church in the area--St. Mary's Episcopal--has invited Bruce Main to speak and that they support Urban Promise as a part of their outreach. Go St. Mary's!!