In February 2017, I spent four days at the St. Vincent DePaul Young Adult Center on a service retreat with my college, St. John’s University. We traveled from Queens, New York to Germantown, PA in order to do service with the community of Germantown and be able to reflect on our work through discussion and prayer. We knew that in some ways our perspectives on homelessness and poverty would be changed during this trip; however, we did not realize that we would be challenged with the question of food sustainability (food desserts and poor wages in certain areas make healthy eating impossible and cause a chain effect of negative consequences on families), with the difference between working with people rather than for people, and with the thought that maybe we make too many assumptions about the way people live before understanding their situation. This last notion, in particular, struck me the most after having lunch with one of the men who was receiving a meal at Whosoever Gospel Mission, which provides shelter, food, skills training, etc. to those who are in need in any situation. I was able to have lunch with one of the men there and at first, I definitely felt intimidated and maybe even a little scared to say something offensive or “wrong”. But we talked for 45 minutes about everyday things, including the topic of school when he told me about the parties he used to go to when he was in college. He took a large interest in what my hobbies were and the fact that I wanted to be a psychologist; he jokingly asked me if I was evaluating him and the funny part was that I was doing anything but that. Instead, it felt like I was talking to an old friend or a friendly face on the block of my neighborhood. Which was why I was so distraught when he shared with me that he and his family members were not close anymore, particularly his well educated sister, because of his situation. It was shocking to me that this kind man who took time out of his day to take an interest in my life, a stranger’s life, could be looked down upon. This was the spark, this compassionate man with a hidden story, that carries the flame behind this online blog.
The goal of Faces of Germantown is to collect stories and pictures from the people who reside, serve, or obtain services in the neighborhoods of Germantown. Through this project, the hope is to breakdown the stigmas surrounding urban poverty and showcase the talents and value that these neighborhoods bring to the table. As opposed to the dehumanizing newspaper headlines and narrow viewpoints of media and news stations, this site works to tell the complete story of both the struggles and the joys of those who belong to Germantown.
Before I left my new friend after our meal together to return to the working area, I told him what my name was. Upon hearing my name spoken out loud for the first time, a huge smile broke out on the man’s face and he said the words that made me truly believe that we are all more connected than we could ever possibly imagine, “That’s my sister’s name, too.”