By Joel Hoover
My time in Philadelphia these past two-plus months so far has been an eclectic mix of excitement, activity, stress, time-crunching, and sacrifice. Being an RA, having a challenging slate of journalism courses, volunteering in the city, and experiencing all the various activities that come with living in a place like this has been exhausting at times, but exceedingly exhilarating at the same time.
At a future time, I may tell of my other experiences in the city. But one of the best parts of my time at MCPC so far has been my opportunity to serve at the Helping Hand Rescue Mission three days each week as a part of my Urban Field Experience class. As part of the class, I was asked to select a place in the city to volunteer at for 90 hours over the duration of the semester, learning about how things are in the city and in this particular area.
I originally was looking at volunteering at an after school tutoring program at a charter school, but I got directed to a former indoor soccer player for the Philadelphia Kixx named Adam Bruckner. He is in charge of the youth operations at the Helping Hand Rescue Mission, which involves an after school program, several extracurricular activities, and a Thursday night Mission Soccer Academy. Given my love for soccer and wanting to teach kids the game, I jumped at the chance to contact him and help out with both that and the after school program. In addition, Adam connected me to Pastor Matt Gallashaw, who is in charge of the Sunday afternoon homeless church service and feeding that is done at the mission.
My week at the Mission starts on Wednesdays, when myself and two other Messiah students travel down the Broad Street Line subway to the Spring Garden station, hop off, then walk seven blocks east to the Rescue Mission for the after school program. The kids there range in age from 1st grade all the way through 4th, 5th and 6th, and all are attendees of the local school in the neighborhood. Each week, I provide any assistance kids at a table may need with their homework, whether it be math, spelling, or grammar. Much of the issue is keeping them all on track—they really like to get off task and their minds tend to wander. (I forgot how easy it is for kids that age to do that!) However, it’s nice to give them some help and it’s always a joy to see the looks on their faces when they get the answer right to a question.
Thursday evening is always a great thrill, as I rush from my afternoon class at Temple to a quick dinner, then to the subway, and finally back to the Mission to walk over with Adam and the kids to a local rec center for the indoor Mission Soccer Academy. Myself, along with a few other older kids from the Mission who are in high school, work as the “coaches” who help oversee the friendly games that take place on one end of the court, while Adam is the main director and works with the kids on things like stretching, learning about the game, and learning some basic skills. A couple of full-court games between the different age groups takes place over the second half of the session, followed by the awarding of two MVPs for the night and a group cheer. The second two hours are for older high school kids, which gives me a chance to jump in and play with them. We always have a fun time kicking around, and a few friends of Adam’s also come and play.
Sunday after lunch is when I make my way back to the Mission to help with the homeless feeding. While the homeless are getting their church service upstairs, I work downstairs with a revolving door of volunteers and people at the church to prepare the tables, food, and any clothing that we are giving away to the homeless guests. Once their service is complete, they all come downstairs, where we seat them and put out the spread, which includes donated meals and desserts. It’s been really rewarding getting to serve them and give them a boost—many of these people know the Gospel as well from all their time coming to the Rescue Mission (many are repeat attendees), but, as one worker at the Mission named Milton put it, they just “need some direction”, which the Mission strives to give them through a Bible Study during the week and other training. Pastor Matt also takes some time to share a few words with them as the eat about the hope that comes with the good news of Jesus and how He is the centerpiece of our lives.
It has been a lot of work and a big commitment of my time, but working at the Helping Hand Rescue Mission has been one of the most rewarding parts of my Philadelphia experience thus far. I’ve gotten a chance to learn a lot about the city community, its people, its future, and how I can be a part of giving it a boost. These kids I work with on Wednesdays and Thursdays are the future of this city, and need good influences and direction. Hopefully, I can show them a little bit of Jesus as I help them with their work and soccer skills. In the same manner, I hope I can provide some encouragement and support to the homeless who visit on Sundays with little more than their clothes and a few other belongings.
I’m seeing and experiencing things I never imagined I would since I’ve been here in Philadelphia. I know it’s all for a big purpose though, and I continue to pray that the Lord will guide me and use me through this program as my volunteer work enters its final month!