This picture is humorous, but we all know that trailer parks are not usually that glamorous.
For my photojournalism class this semester, we were assigned to document a photo story on any topic or subject we choose. My professor mentioned the random trailer park on Atherton Street, and it sounded very intriguing to me, so I decided to check it out.
Nestled next to a gas station in the quaint little college town of State College, PA, lies this misplaced collection of mobile homes. It seems ridiculous that an area dominated by educated middle- to upper-middle class people would allow such a community to survive, and next to one of the three busiest roads in town.
Colin and I parked near the gas station and slowly made our way up the muddy hill sprinkled with “Beware of Dog” and “No Trespassing” signs (and of course, various lawn ornaments). We tried a few doors but nobody answered. We could sense people peering out of their windows wondering what the heck two college students were doing on their turf. We could sense that we weren’t welcome there. I’ll admit, I judged the trailers by their appearances and at first was only comfortable approaching the nicely decorated ones with chimes and “God Bless This Home” signs in the windows. Some trailers looked abandoned, but we found a light blue one with shamrocks and leprechaun decorations in the window, so we headed towards it. Before we could get to the front steps, the door flung open and an older woman, probably in her late 60s, defensively filled the door frame.
“What do you want?” she yelled.
I wanted to make it clear that I wasn’t there to harm her or bring bad news, so I quickly extended my hand and introduced myself. I walked up the steps and asked her what her name was. “Betty.” I explained that I had to take pictures for a project and asked for permission to photograph her and her house sometime in the near future, but she explained that her husband had just passed away two weeks ago, and she had to take care of things for his service, so I could probably come back in a month. Well, I couldn’t wait that long, so I thanked her for her time. With tears in her eyes, she continued to tell us about her husband — how he was sick and the tiring journey she walked to take care of him up until two weeks ago. It was heartbreaking. She said they had been together for 35 years and he was 82 years old. She said when he was getting very sick, his nose bled for 9 hours once and when she called the hospital, nobody came to help her. Determined, she picked him up by herself and took him to the hospital, but they just yelled at her for doing that herself.
I was blown away by how much she opened up to two complete strangers, but it just made my heart ache for her more because it proved to me that not many people take the time to reach out to her — we were in the minority. As we said goodbye, I asked her if she had any suggestions as to which trailer we visited next. She explained that most people in the trailer park keep to themselves and nobody is very friendly with each other
After we walked around the whole trailer park and talked to people who were missing teeth, whose houses smelled like formaldehyde and human waste, some of whom honestly looked like they came out of Sid’s backyard (from Toy Story), we decided to leave. I wasn’t going to get permission from anyone to take pictures here. We decided to stop by Betty’s trailer to say goodbye and pray for her before we left. When we asked if we could pray for her, she immediately stepped out onto her porch and held our hands. We all bowed down in prayer and afterwards, she didn’t say a word, but the tears in her eyes showed us how thankful she was. I said we would continue to pray for her and she nodded and quickly ran back inside.
It was the greatest feeling. Colin said he felt so aligned with God’s heart — that he was saddened by what saddens God. My heart truly broke for Betty and the people in her neighborhood. We travel miles and miles to go on these mission trips/service projects to help people in New Orleans, Atlanta, Jacksonville, etc., but there are people in need right here in our own neighborhood! It breaks my heart to think about how forgotten these people are. How much some of them may be longing for a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around (Leo Buscaglia).
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” -Matthew 25:40
I was thinking about that verse the other day and was struck by the double meaning of it. Whatever we do for the least of our brothers, we do for God. Are we doing it for Him like we’re actually serving God and not people? Or are we doing it for Him like we’re doing a favor for Him, like He is just using us to reach the Bettys in our lives? Either way, I was excited to serve God, for God, and I encourage you to find the Bettys in your life!