Greetings from Camden, NJ!
We are less than a week from the official start of spring, but it has been a challenge figuring out what Mother Nature wants to do! What we do know is that spring will come, and spring is always a reminder that life always overcomes the best that the force of winter can throw at it. It is inspiring to see the daffodils begin to come out, only to be buried under snow, and when the snow melts, they are still there, announcing their resilience to any who will notice! Spring is the time to clear away the debris of winter, to prepare the soil for spring planting, to renew one’s mind and spirit in the light of the springtime sun. It is a time of reflection, oriented toward the future, as we imagine the produce of our labor in the gardens of our lives. I’m thinking of gourds!
The Center for Environmental Transformation began as a kernel of an idea in October 2005, in a church basement, in the Waterfront South neighborhood of Camden, NJ. At the time, no one knew for sure what that kernel could or would become. CFET has made quite a journey since that kernel settled into the rich soil of our hearts and minds that October day.
I recall a gourd plant that Andrea Ferich put in the ground a few summers ago along the side of the Emerald Street Garden. I’m sure it started as a small seedling, or several small seedlings, when she planted it in the garden. However, as it grew, it found its way up a neighbor’s fence, then up a nearby tree, until it began to birth fruit, fruit that became gorgeous large gourds, that eventually became bird houses. I remember coming upon this plant well into its growth cycle. By that time it was already over 15 feet tall, and its tendrils expanded at least 25 feet in both directions, entwining itself with any plant that it came across. It was beautiful to behold what happens when sun, rain and fertile soil transform a seedling into a productive and beautiful plant. CFET has been like that, too, in many ways in its journey from kernel in October 2007 to its current productive and beautiful reality in March 2014.
I’ve been considering what is at the core of CFET, since that kernel represented an idea that may or may not be apparent to those who come to CFET in these present days. What is the core? I think it has to do with a profound appreciation that matter matters. In the Catholic tradition, people gather around a table on which is set bread and wine, produce of the field and vineyard. This table, and the matter of bread and wine, work to center the Catholic imagination on the overwhelming and abundant life and love of God made manifest in matter. From the exploding nebula to the smallest element of an atom, all of the universe, in its dazzling complexity, and overwhelming beauty, manifests the creative and abundant love and life of God. We come to consciousness of this beauty, complexity, creativity and abundance in and through matter. There is no other way! So, matter matters, profoundly and unconditionally.
This is true even in Waterfront South, in Camden, NJ, a place and people so often damaged by polluting industries, by uncaring political and economic forces, by a neglect which speaks to a deep and abiding racism, of the worst kind. Yet even here, even in this blighted community, of dashed hopes and dreams, there is new life. There is a manifestation of beauty, of God’s presence, of hope, of possibility. CFET is a manifestation of the confident belief that God is present in every seed, in every harvest, in every young person who becomes an Eco-Intern, in every visitor who spends time with us, in every organization that puts faith in our work through a grant, in every newspaper reporter who shows up to write about our work, in every planting of potatoes in a snow storm, in the development of hot sauce from our peppers, in our work to give a voice to young people’s dreams, to maintain beautiful gardens and fruit orchards, to raise honey bees, to maintain the entrances to Waterfront South on S. Broadway (north and south) and, yes, in the laughter and delight of children who learn to prepare an unfamiliar vegetable or discover a creepy crawling thing that they can now hold in their hand.
The core of what we do at CFET is captured, in my mind, in the sacramental imagination which finds God manifest in all of creation, both large and small. It is a way of seeing the universe that prods us to work with youth, to find opportunities for skill development for them, to offer a vision of a different way of engaging the resources of the earth, to offer opportunities to people of all ages to join us in the work of transformation which, in some ways, is simply to join in the work of Mother Nature as she transforms what appears lifeless into abundance.
I’m under no illusion that CFET gets all that it does right. There are always areas of growth. I’d like there to be much more community engagement with our work and the activities at the Center. I’d like CFET to become more active in environmental advocacy for the people and animals of Waterfront South. I’d like to see the board of CFET become more diverse in its membership. However, having been present when the kernel was planted in the fertile soil of human imagination, persistence and faith, I’m amazed at where we are today, thanks to the amazing generosity of people like Fr. Michael Doyle and Ted and Cathy Fox, the fidelity of people like Susan Cedrone, and the talents of all the members of the board of trustees. We’ve had amazing people work for us over the years, including Andrea Ferich, and countless volunteers like Betty Musetto, Rich Van Vranken and Sheila Kanaley, Michael and Josephine Giacchino and Cheryl Heatwole-Shenk. Today Michael Zier and Ari Rosenberg continue the work. We’ve had generous support from various foundations and corporations over the last several years. I am amazed and humbled by the work of God in and through the people associated with CFET.
We have begun a search for an executive director, the first of our history. It is very important work. I ask your prayerful support as we begin. I am optimistic about the future. God is in charge, after all, and as with the gourd that Andrea planted, it is difficult to imagine what exactly the future will look like, but I can say, with a humble confidence born of my own experience, that it will be abundantly fruitful.
Mark Doorley, Ph.D.
Board of Trustees
The Center for Environmental Transformation