We started walking north on Fourteenth Street towards the Mall after three intense hours at the Holocaust Museum. Realizing it was still early in the mental processing of what we experienced, I began asking my Urban Trekkers what their initial impression was of what they had seen. "I hated those Nazis, I wanted to kill them!” one of the freshmen told me. Another girl, a sophomore, said "That’s just the way it was Mr. C, there wasn’t anything the people could do." My own feelings covered a lot of ground between those two extremes shared by the two students. Most importantly our students were feeling a range of emotions and the history of WWII and the Holocaust had come alive for them.
Nineteen Urban Trekkers visited Washington D.C. during the Christmas break. We were fourteen students and five adult volunteers who drove down from Camden and stayed four days and three nights at the International Youth Hostel located at Eleventh & K Streets. Being downtown afforded us the opportunity to visit most of our destinations on foot. We sure did some hiking, with so much to see and the excitement of being away from home the miles didn’t seem to be noticed.
Our destinations included many of the memorials; it was pretty cool to stand on the terrace at the Lincoln Memorial, the very spot where Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" address. While visiting the wall of the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial I asked the students to find the name of a soldier I had known from my high school days. In the age of digital photography it wasn’t long before two students came running over to me with the image of Andrew P. Corbin displayed in the frame of their digital camera.
Unfortunately we were not able to get passes for a White House tour, though we did take a walk around the building and got to see the White House Christmas Tree. My own impressions of our Nations capitol these days is one of a "bunker state" barricades, dividing walls, Capitol police standing on the steps of the Capitol with loaded rifles and dark wrap around sunglasses. One of the students recited a quote for me, she said it was from one of the founding fathers, "when you give up freedom for security you gain neither", an issue worth discussion for all of us.
We also visited the House of Representatives in The Capitol Building, Folger Shakespeare Library, Ford’s Theater, and the rooming house across the street where Lincoln succumbed to his gunshot wound. After leaving the Capitol we walked down First Street past the Supreme Court building (where we saw our first organized protest - for the pro-life cause) to Union Station. A trip to the National Zoo, in search of the baby panda only revealed his dad. The National Cathedral was an interesting stop along our trek. Among the over one hundred gargoyles and hundreds of grotesques carved into stone on the outside of the cathedral walls there exists a carving of Darth Vader, who would have known!
There were many places we had hoped to visit but time ran out ... although I would be amiss if I didn't mention the awesome experience we had by staying at the International Youth Hostel. As I mentioned earlier the downtown location served us well. We were able to walk to many of our locations and the time spent trekking afforded us close-ups of DC’s magnificent statues and architecture. The hostel with its eight and ten bunk rooms and common bathroom facilities provided affordable lodging for our group. We were also able to bring our own food, store it in the refrigerator and prepare our meals. The large dining area provided a place to start our day with devotion and a time to lay out the plans for the day. The large private bunk room gave us a place to gather, mentally unpack our day’s activities and relax together during the evening. We divided ourselves into three crews, kitchen, planning and activity, we were an efficient group.
Our DC expedition is now a memory, but a significant benchmark in the travel logs of Urban Trekkers. We have a retreat coming up in February and much planning to do for our Mount Washington, New Hampshire Expedition in April.
I slept well - my new 2.5 inch thick "deluxe model" camp rollup bed just purchased from REI was the charm, at age 50 plus the pad keeps getting thicker. It was the break of dawn on Saturday morning, June 4, and we were waking up on the beach at Assateague Island, Maryland. We are the Urban Promise Academy Outdoor Club, associated with a small high school at the UrbanPromise Ministries, in Camden, New Jersey. Our encampment was just up from the surf where we had set up two large tents and a tarp to cover our cooking and eating areas. There were ten of us who camped, six male students and four adult men volunteers. Rae Ann, my wife, had spent the night in a motel, just off the Island with the three girls who would be joining us shortly for a camp-prepared breakfast over a hot skillet. It would soon be time to pack up the tents and prepare for a day of paddling canoes and kayaks on the bay side of the Island.
Assateague Island has been one of my favorite places. A place I couldn't wait to share with the high school youth of the Academy. Paddling along side wild ponies and trying to identify the myriad of water fowl that inhabit the salt marshes of the coastal bay would be an experience the youth wouldn't forget. One student, floating along in a kayak said "if only I had a place like this in Camden where I could escape." I knew exactly how she was feeling! Working with high school youth, combining a love of nature with outdoor adventure has been a passion for both Rae Ann and I. We had spent many years leading a church youth group and teaching Sunday school in our home town of Pitman, New Jersey. Beginning with our own two children it has always been clear to us that youth want and need strong, healthy relationships with caring adults.
In the fall of 2004 the Urban Promise Outdoor Club began as an extracurricular activity for high school youth. Our original purpose was "to share our love, passion, and curiosity for the outdoors through regularly scheduled field trips that would take us up close to God's magnificent creation through nature and humanity. We seek to see God's hand in all creation and to find our place and purpose within."
In October of 2004 we took our first day trip to Cape May, New Jersey. We devoted the day to environmental stewardship, working with the New Jersey Audubon on a beach clean-up project. With binoculars in hand we hiked the nature trails and looked for migratory raptors from the hawk watch platform. Other trips included visiting the New Jersey Pine Barrens, canoeing the Wading River and visiting the historic Whitesbog village, where Elizabeth White first cultivated the blueberry. We spent time at an Alpaca farm in New Lisbon learning the toils and rewards of an agrarian way of life. We journeyed to Valley Forge National Park and experienced a reenactment of Washington's winter encampment of 1777. The Assateague Island National Seashore trip provided us with our first overnight camping experience. We saw this experiential learning as the beginning of more involved multi-day expeditions - designed with the students, and intended to generate a high level of interest. It is our intent that they be motivated to learn from these experiences and to carry that motivation into their studies. We offer youths opportunities to develop skills in teamwork, decision- making, and identifying appropriate life choices.
After a successful and rewarding first year of growing our relationship and building trust with the youth, it became apparent to us that we were on the right track and had stayed true to our original purpose. The leadership of Urban Promise also recognized this and connected us with a youth development and mentoring program located in Maine called Trekkers. We spent time this summer in Maine visiting with the youth and leaders of Trekkers. We came away believing this could be the model for the program we were pursuing at the Academy, stretching beyond the limits of the Outdoor Club. As we started to see more clearly the vision for our group we sought to find a new name that would capture the imagination and at the same time connect us to the people and places that have encouraged us to pursue this dream. It was too easy! We would be Urban Trekkers, and work with the Urban Promise Academy.
To make Urban Trekkers a reality, we are looking for financial and material support for the program. We are committed to the idea that the experiences we have during our teen years help to set the direction and paths that we will follow the rest of our lives. Our vision is to provide quality, experiential opportunities for the youth of the Academy and we believe Urban Trekkers can help to accomplish that goal. Youth need and want healthy relationships with positive adult role models and friends, people who trust in them and offer on-going support. We believe we can change lives and the world, one student at a time.