The Urban Challenge Program is an urban, service-learning, immersion experience rooted in the Catholic faith tradition. Offering a point of access to the lives and stories of the people of Camden, NJ, and its surrounding communities, the Urban Challenge Program is a unique educational and retreat opportunity that serves mainly suburban high school and college-aged students. Please click here to download our Urban Challenge General Information Packet.
The Urban Challenge Program is built upon four fundamental components: prayer, service, education, and reflection. We hope that incorporating these components in the UC Program will lead participants to future action on behalf of the poor and vulnerable.
Prayer allows students a means to focus on their activities and set a meaningful backdrop for their experience in Camden. Prayer includes reflection on Scripture, Catholic Social Teaching, and words from figures in our faith tradition— including Archbishop Oscar Romero— whose lives were changed by encountering Christ in the poor.
Service is arranged by the staff of the UC Program with the intent of creating a space in which students will not only serve in the traditional sense (manual labor, babysitting, neighborhood clean-ups, serving food at soup kitchens and food banks) but also be present to the personhood of others (by spending time with people at nursing homes, rehabilitation Centers, homeless shelters, drop-in Centers for people infected and affected with HIV and AIDs, etc). These types of service experience allow students to enter into relationships which expose them to the challenges of life in the city of Camden and the sundry issues that confront persons living in America’s inner cities.
Educational activities (such as media and simulations, tours of the City of Camden, and creative projects focused on social inequality) aim to work from the starting point of relationships formed at service to increase the knowledge of participants about those issues they have encountered. With those service experiences and educational activities in mind, the UC Program, also, incorporates lectures by local professionals and members of our Young Adult Ministry program. These lecturers address groups with information that will enhance their learning experience and equip them with the insight of people who have actively followed God’s call in their life to realize the way they would live and work in relation to others.
Reflections round out the Program and allow students an opportunity to connect faith, service, and education. Through group discussion, students are invited to consider all that has happened – what they have seen, what they have heard, what they have felt – as they have been a part of the Program. They are called to awaken to: the intersection of their life with the lives of those in need, Christ’s call to respond to the needs of others, and the gifts and talents they possess that they might use in the service of that response.
UC Program participants (students and chaperones) are expected to fully participate in all programming. There may be times when participants will feel uncomfortable or unsure of themselves: this is okay. We recognize that everyone has their own story and is at a different place on their journey. We believe that through challenging ourselves to live “outside our comfort zones,” we open up to deepening our relationships with God, each other, and ourselves. The UC Program is available in overnight, weekend, and week-long formats. Please note that there may be multiple groups at the Romero Center at the same time. While groups will not be sleeping in the same rooms, they will likely be together for meals, large group reflection, and for evening educational activities.