During Elon's Fall Break, fifteen members of the Elon CCM community traveled to Baltimore, Maryland, for an alternative trip of service and reflection. They spent the first full day building a house at a Habitat for Humanity worksite in nearby Annapolis. Then, the group served at Christopher Place, a men's rehabilitation and job center, and My Sister's Place, a women's center and cafeteria, both in Baltimore. Finally, they facilitated homework tutoring, computer use, and arts and crafts with the Westport Homes Boys & Girls Club just outside the city. In addition to the service that the group performed in Annapolis and Baltimore, the fourteen Elon students: Erin Bradley, Katie Dirks, Jess Duffy, Kricket Feeney, Steve Ferguson, Mallory Hinzman, Katie Koch, Nick Olano, Alex Ryskiewich, Chris Sainz, Lauren Sandberg, Erin Sawyer, Jessica Simmermeyer, Konstance Teleisha, and Elon staff member Mel Byerley also attended Mass at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, visited with family members in the area, toured Baltimore's Inner Harbor, and enjoyed dinner with several students at Loyola University in Baltimore.
The word of the week was dichotomy: whether that be the juxtaposition of the new Habitat houses being constructed no more than thirty yards from the nation's first public housing, now boarded up and ready to be torn down, the iconic skyline of Baltimore's Inner Harbor against the blocks and blocks of weary row houses, or the realization that we at Elon have, in all likelihood, lived much more comfortable lives than those of the many working poor who call these cities home.
One of the most impactful experiences of the trip was meeting with the men of Christopher Place Employment Academy. Christopher Place, unlike many other centers for men and women in Baltimore, is unique in that it houses up to sixty previously-homeless men who take part in its Academy Program. The program essentially provides the men room and board, free of charge, for eighteen months, as they become clean and sober, work a steady job, and prepare to re-integrate themselves into the community. The positive action that the men of Christopher Place have taken to completely transform their lives is nothing short of overwhelming. Many of the men came from drug and alcohol addictions, gang violence, and time in prison. Their motivations to join the program ranged from their families, to their children, to their desire to mentor young people and help them avoid the mistakes that they themselves had made. The men's faith was also incredibly strong, and all of those who spoke with the group following dinner glorified God as a central factor in the changes that they were making to better themselves.
Elon CCM's final service destination of Fall Break was at the Westport Homes Boys & Girls Club in Baltimore, a community comprised of (what appeared to be) public housing. The community had one large school, which children aged from Kindergarten to eighth grade attended. The Boys & Girls Club itself was a relatively large brick building situated on a hill, which overlooked some fallow fields and the distant Baltimore skyline. The Elon volunteers were designated tasks to do with the students, from helping with homework and aiding in computer usage, to facilitating arts and crafts and sharing positive experiences of college life. The young people at the Westport Homes Boys & Girls Club are immensely creative, and equally bright. The Elon group had a great time interacting with and helping the kids. Although the club has only two full-time staff members to look after the roughly forty-five young people who come every day after school, they are hopeful that additional volunteers from nearby college campuses can be recruited to support their cause.
The service that Elon CCM performed over this year's Fall Break in Annapolis and Baltimore was both eye-opening and transformational. Amidst the stories of good people falling upon rough times, there remains so much hope, for these cities in Maryland, and for similar cities across the United States. The Elon CCM Fall Break service group returns to Elon counting their many blessings and sharing their experiences with friends and peers. Special thanks to the Bradley family for housing accommodations.
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