The following is an article about the Reading, PA QuadW Team...
Nine young adults from across the United States and Africa spent eight weeks that ended Friday as mission-focused interns serving several local nonprofits. They served meals and washed dishes for the homeless in shelters, cleaned up city streets, chopped weeds, assisted at a church vacation Bible school and taught and entertained children at a church camp. On Sundays, they worshipped at different churches, enjoyed homemade dinners and visited with members of Berks County congregations committed to helping others in need.
"This is the first time we have had this program in Reading, and it's definitely been beneficial to us and to those who have come to serve," said Kristen Scholl, director of Bridge of Hope, a city ministry for homeless women, who served as a co-site director with Alex Cameron of Elm Street Ministries, which coordinates several city missions. The directors assisted the missionary interns from the international QuadW Missional Internship program, designed to develop leaders in an effort to change lives and demonstrate God's unconditional love.
While they were here, the young adults were housed in the 100 block of South Ninth Street at Freedom Gate Ministries, a halfway house for men released from prison.
"The feedback I had was good," Scholl said. "All the ministries we worked with were really glad for the extra volunteer help." Cameron said QuadW has its roots with a family whose son, Willie Tichenon, died of a rare form of cancer at age 19 in 2006. "This program was set up to honor his (Ticheron's) desire to make a positive change in the world," Cameron said, adding that the United Methodist Church is a partner in the missionary effort.
The name QuadW comes from the question at the root of the mission effort: "What would Willie want?"
This year the young mission interns are in six sites besides Reading, which gained national notoriety by having the highest share of its residents in poverty, according to the 2010 Census. Interns also served in Portland, OR; Mobile, AL; Columbus, OH; Pine Bluff and Little Rock, AK; and Kansas City, KS/MO.
The interns, most of them college students or recent graduates, were Ryan Anger, 20; Liahna Rowland, 24; Nyasha Kagoro, 22; Noemie Mutombo, 19; Alexandra Kegba, 27; Semaj King, 20; Bernard Opoku, 21; Clinton Williams Jr., 24; and Ronisha Byrd, 21.
"Actually, this was an opportunity to get back to my religious roots," said Anger, an economics major at Hampden-Sydney College, Farmville, Va. who, since college, drifted away from church and got more caught up in his own educational quest.
"This is my first mission trip," said Rowland of Tuscaloosa, AL., a student at the University of Montevallo, Montevallo, AL. "I'm just here to serve God. I didn't have any idea of what to expect before I came, but I found the people here very friendly."
Originally from the African country of Zimbawe, Kagoro said her father was a United Methodist pastor and her family moved around a lot in the United States after they moved here when she was 8 years old. "I've participated in four summer internships and experienced something different every time," she said. "I really loved working with the children in the summer camp (at El Portico Evangelical Free Church, 142 S. Sixth St.) because they had such energy and found joy in most anything. "If I was surprised at anything, it was the large Latino population that was here in a city in Pennsylvania - and I wondered how it grew here."
Questions of local history and demographics puzzled some of the interns, but most said they found the city safer than they expected. Some such as Mutombo of the Congo in Central Africa, a business administration student at Martin Methodist College, Pulaski, TN, said she felt many children may not have good parental examples, but long for love and attention. "I'm here because I want to share love in the name of God and do good things and have a good life," she said.
And while some expressed surprise at the amount of homelessness in Reading, others felt that many of those with whom they came in contact often expressed feelings of hope and joy while facing life's challenges.
"Being in America and Reading, you see it is so easy to become either rich or completely homeless," said Opoku, a native of Ghana, studying computer science at Cheyney University in Delaware County. He said that he felt many people may need stronger family and community support. "I just feel a lot of opportunities can slip away from people so easily because of bad choices or bad behaviors," he said.
Byrd of Chicago, a senior biology major at Philander Smith College, Little Rock, AK, a scientist with a Baptist background, said she came to serve in Reading out of a desire to form a new relationship with God. "I believe it's all about considering the needs of other people and being an advocate for them whether they believe in God or have other views," she said.