My name is Sophy Gamber, and I’m a rising junior. This summer I interned at Broad Street Ministry in Center City, Philadelphia, working with the organization’s Summer Youth Initiative. BSM is a deeply intentional non-profit organization that opens its doors seven days a week to Philadelphia’s vulnerable populations. Six days a week BSM operates as a no-cost secular social service organization that provides table-side served gourmet meals to anyone who walks through our doors, in addition to many other essential stabilizing services, such as a much needed permanent mailing address, personal care items, therapeutic activities, and medical services. On Sundays, we hold a broad-minded, fully affirming Christian worship service that includes a hymnal filled with Bruce Springsteen and Beyoncé.
The Youth Initiative runs week long summer mission programs for middle school and high school youth from outside of Philadelphia. Our youth often come from affluent communities and have little prior knowledge or experience with service or the nuanced reality of poverty, racism, and other aspects of American inequality. The goal of the program is to ignite a passion for justice and ethical action in young people by exposing them to critical problems and some of the many different Philly organizations working to find solutions, all while exploring with them the lessons of God’s call for radical love and total justice. I and the rest of the Summer Staff took groups of youth across the city to volunteer during the day at a variety of different organizations, and then returned to BSM to lead nightly bible study programs that collaboratively investigated the connections between social justice work and efforts to “bring God’s kingdom about on earth.”
I loved my time at BSM, though the work was often extremely challenging. My faith was at times deeply shaken, but I feel now at the end of the summer that I have grown into a more nuanced and dynamic understanding of God, and I know that my own drive to work towards justice has been given a stronger foundation. I learned a lot about having honest, scary conversations with reluctant participants, and about doing informed, intentional justice work. There is no real way to know if the time we spent with the youth will stay with them and drive them to become servant-leaders in their own communities, but I do believe that we have at least planted a few seeds.