First Weeks, New Perspectives, and Old Familiarity

New Augustinian Volunteer Travis Vermulm with two students at St. Anthony of Padua Elementary School

New Augustinian Volunteer Travis Vermulm with two students at St. Anthony of Padua Elementary School

by Augustinian Volunteer Travis Vermulm

Some part of me expected Philadelphia to come into view from the train window like the fin of a great whale, a mild reflection followed by a grand break in the horizon. I often build up my creative expectations as such, but the reality is sometimes more rewarding.

I saw the city for the first time in several bursts played out over the entire month of September (and even some of August). The first view I received of the city was that of the tourist’s eye, this was a place to visit. I stepped out of 30th street station, very weary from a two-day train ride out of Memphis, and I caught my first view of the skyline.

I’d seen New York before and enjoyed the views of the skyscrapers, but my first impression of Philadelphia was even more stunning. The statue of William Penn atop City Hall is something to behold; he stands amongst such modern developments, cane in hand daring the onslaught of the future to take away his history.

I was impressed and certainly ready to explore. The first weeks of orientation into the Augustinian Volunteers program were filled with much of this newness. I met new people, visited new places, ate new food, I even saw myself in a new light. This experience was the beginning of my first real step out of the undergraduate life and I was ready to see what it brought.

The second impression I had of the city of Philadelphia was as a place to study. When I started work at A.D.R.O.P. I was immediately spending my days in the rich history of South Philadelphia, not to mention living in Old City. Everywhere I turn there is a business that has been open since the early to mid-1900s. The churches, state buildings, schools, and offices, all demand to be studied and the information revealed is incredibly rewarding.

The Shrine of St. Rita stood out in my first experiences. The prayer candles surrounding the kneeling figure of this holy woman, the persistent widow, give the lower level a dim yet ever present light. The signs asking for silence outside of the lower shrine seemed unnecessary to me. Who could walk into this glorious artistic and holy presence and still have words within them?

There is much I anticipate learning from the history of Philadelphia and all its neighborhoods, but my third impression of the city has stirred the most excitement within my being. I recently experienced Philadelphia as a place where someone can truly live.

It might sound a little silly to say that it took almost a month for me to realize a place could be lived in, when thousands of people live here, but perspective is a very tricky word at times. Working at A.D.R.O.P. has reminded me the difference between living somewhere and merely visiting.

I drew comparisons of this experience from my home state of Montana. I live around 40 miles from Glacier National Park, which is a very popular travel destination for people all around the United States and even other countries. The landscape is beautiful, and I was lucky to have the park so close, but often I did not see the same side of the park that all the visitors saw. I saw the good along with the bad, the poverty of the reservation towns only blocks away from the rich resort streets reserved for celebrities.

I used to think this was cynical or even negative, but really it is just a different perspective. When one is in the shoes of the tourist, there is no immediate feeling to reach out and build upon the structures already in place. The tourist can view everything through a lens and that is their goal. I first arrived here as a tourist, hoping to see the history and places of visitation. I am hoping now to develop the view of the resident. Just like any other home there are issues, but the residents and community members are called to not ignore such issues, but to help those who need help. I know working at A.D.R.O.P. will show me where I can serve, and hopefully, in doing so, I will be welcomed as a member of this community.

Several moments stick in my mind that have helped me start to feel at peace in this new place, as I write this however, I cannot stop myself from fixating on one.

At St. Anthony of Padua’s kindergarten class, I wandered around desks finding where I was needed by the children. One boy raised his hand and summoned me over with a call of “Mr. Travis!”

When I came to his desk, I learned he was missing several colors from his collection of crayons. He had broken the others and wanted to know if there were extras. The teacher addressed me saying, “Yeah we will have extras for him, his sister did the same thing when I had her.”

Here, just like home, families are known, communities are close, and needs are met.

A.D.R.O.P. in Action

September 4th, 2019

Members of the A.D.R.O.P. team joined Cardinal Tobin and over 400 other in Newark, NJ for a march against the detention of immigrant children and separation of families. The group marched from St. Mary’s Church to the Federal Building/ICE offices to protest the inhumane actions threatening migrant families. If you want to learn more about what steps to take against the detention of migrant children and families follow this link.

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A.D.R.O.P. Photo Shoot!

John & Sue!

Yesterday A.D.R.O.P. hosted the St. Thomas of Villanova Province Communications team for a photo shoot of most of our ministries. Volunteers Sue and John Killeen posed for some sweet photos; the married couple works together in their ministry at Mary Mother of Captives. A.D.R.O.P. does so many different ministries, it was a joy to see them all come together! More photos to come from many of our ministries!

Interning at A.D.R.O.P.

This summer A.D.R.O.P. had the pleasure of hosting two interns from the VietLead RICE (Real Internship for Community Engagement) Program. Mishelley Low and Angel Mawardy spent a significant part of their summer working primarily for the Unity Clinic but also for A.D.R.O.P.’s other ministries. We’re so grateful for their hard work and dedication.

Here’s a reflection from their experience:

Through the program VietLead RICE, we were given an opportunity to work at A.D.R.O.P. As a part of the internship, we were assigned prompts to write in our weekly blog and present our experience as well as how it ties with the issues that are occurring within our community. One of the issues that were mentioned was the lack of access to services, meaning that people, often within the Indonesian community, with low income or an unclear status of immigration do not have access to health services, education, and many more. That’s where A.D.R.O.P.’s role comes in.

 Part of the work that we’ve done is preparing the “behind the scenes” of the Unity Clinic. This includes creating a more convenient work space for the doctors and nurses to do their jobs, making sure that patients’ information are updated in the data, and recording temperatures of the immunization refrigerator. We also ensure that the community is aware of the clinic and other services by creating and translating nutritional flyers for the patients in the Unity Clinic, as well as a beginner computer class for Indonesian and English speakers that we recently started. As a result, part of the Indonesian community in Philadelphia are getting the access to healthcare and resources that they need.

A.D.R.O.P. Summer Inters: Lailany, Mishelley and Angel

A.D.R.O.P. Summer Inters: Lailany, Mishelley and Angel

We’re so thankful to be able to have this opportunity and to be involved in part of a change in the community especially as Indo-Americans ourselves.

Reflection from Villanova Summer Intern, Lailany Viera

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We are grateful to have Lailany Viera, a rising senior at Villanova University, working at A.D.R.O.P. this summer. Interested in the criminal justice system, Lailany is focusing a significant amount of her time working for our restorative justice ministries. Here is a reflection from her recent visit to a Mary Mother of Captives Family Support meeting.

I do not currently have a loved one who is incarcerated. Although I have had some experiences with loved ones getting in trouble with the law or involved with illicit substances my passion for criminal justice reform is based more in my beliefs of the worth and dignity of all human life and in the teachings of mercy, forgiveness, and justice than on personal grievances with the system.

Learning about the injustices of the criminal justice system fired me up enough to feel a calling to study it and volunteer with the Prison Literacy Program and to now work with A.D.R.O.P.’s restorative justice ministry.


At the Mary Mother of Captives Meeting, for the loved ones of those who are incarcerated or struggling with addiction, I at first felt like an intruder into their safe space. This space was constructed on a mutual support system of those who have similar life experiences. There is no way I can begin to imagine or fully understand the pain in their hearts, but, nonetheless, they welcomed me and I learned so much from them. I was in awe of the strong men and women I encountered who had so much love to give and the strength to laugh despite the depths of pain, sorrow, and anger they must all be feeling. The issues they discussed were problems that had never really occurred to me before, things as simple as, “Will the prison let me send a birthday card to my son?” and as profound and complex as, “What do I do about extended family members rejecting and ignoring my son because he is locked up?”

Their perspective is one that is rarely talked about and certainly one that I had never thought deeply about.

My time spent with them hearing their stories opened my eyes to a whole new set of struggles. I realized that these loved ones of the incarcerated were some of the most forgotten casualties of the criminal justice system because their concerns and needs are hardly ever addressed - why the Mary Mother of Captives group was established back in 1996 in the first place. I will forever be grateful to them for sharing their experiences with me and I will not soon forget the impact of their love, kindness, and support of one another when the world is not exactly the most kind, loving, and supportive of them and their loved ones.

South Philly Family Health Walk + Expo!

Thank you to all of the supporters who came out for the walk! We had a great time, great weather, and really enjoyed spending time together! Many thanks to all those who financially supported the walk, your funds will go directly into supporting and running the Unity Clinic and all the good work done by the Methodist Hospital Foundation.

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Special thanks to Fr. Dan McLaughlin, O.S.A. for the photos.

Easter Cheer

AV René recently organized the students at St. Anthony of Padua Regional Catholic school to make Easter cards for the Friars at the Villanova Monastery. She is pictured here at the Monastery delivering the cards. The Friars were delighted at the visit and to receive the thoughtful and sweet well wishes.

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