Whitney Caves is a Licensed Professional Counselor, speaker, and former FUGE staffer. She and her husband Will, another former FUGE staffer, live in Clinton, MS. Whitney worked camp at five different locations from 2006-2010, and she is forever grateful for the lasting impact that the experience has had on her life. She enjoys reading, telling a good story, and making attempts at ridding her “new” home of all evidence of being built in 1983. Keep up with Whitney by following her blog at whitneycaves.com.
Hearing the sound of “Miss Whitney! Miss Whitney!” Seeing young, old, and in-between faces that didn’t look like mine. Where the color of your skin never mattered but the color of your heart always did. Learning from an angel who has gone to be with Jesus since I saw her last. Knowing that each moment was a gift, and trying to make them all count. These are the things that I think of when I think of Summer 2010 at Carroll Park.
Carroll Park, located in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is one of the ministry sites original to MFUGE Philly. Taking up an entire city block, the park was once a dangerous place full of crime, drugs, and gangs. In the 1990’s, the park was renovated, and a group called Carroll Park Neighbors, made up of dedicated citizens who lived in the area, was established to maintain the space. It was the place where I took my Children’s Ministry group each day that summer.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw it. It was full of beautiful trees, colorful playground equipment, and smiling faces. Having grown up in South Mississippi, the inner city of West Philly was as foreign to me as any foreign country would have been. But there was something there that made me know, deep in my spirit, this place is special. God has moved in this place. God is moving in this place now.
Each week, I would bring my Bible study group to the park. Ms. Doris, the volunteer leader of Carroll Park Neighbors and one of the greatest women I have ever known, would greet my group. She loved to tell the story of the first MFUGE group that ever came to the park, and how the group from the park stared at the strangers who were so different from them, not knowing what to make of them, until one boy stepped out to bridge the gap. He hugged the volunteer closest to him saying, “Welcome to Carroll Park.” She would always end her story by reaching out to hug the person closest to her, welcoming us to Carroll Park, and saying “And it’s been a love story with MFUGE ever since”.
We would come bringing games, crafts, sidewalk chalk, and Bible stories with us. We would arrive each day and the kids would start appearing in droves, bringing with them energy and questions. I tried my best to be organized and divide the kids into different groups. Some days this worked and some days it didn’t, but it never really mattered. Sometimes I would stand back and just take it in—the sight of so many different people, overcoming those differences to laugh and love together, and the sound of the gospel being shared—and I would wonder how I got lucky enough to be a part of it.
When I drove away that last day, I left a piece of my heart in Carroll Park. I couldn’t even talk about it for a while, because it hurt too much to think about that season of my life being over. Technically, I was the one there to make an impact that summer—both on the kids at the park and the campers and adults in my group-but I’m the one who got the biggest blessing.
Ms. Doris passed away long after that summer was over. When I first heard the news, I felt the loss in my bones. Somehow I think I always knew that I wouldn’t see her again here on Earth. But I will meet Ms. Doris again one day, in another place where the voices don’t sound alike and the faces don’t look the same. And when I do, I have a feeling that she will reach out to greet me just like she loved to do to the campers who arrived at her park. But instead of saying “Welcome to Carroll Park”, she’ll say “Welcome Home.”