Blog: 2011

Saturday, December 31

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As I reflect on another great year at UrbanPromise I wanted to share with you a few accomplishments and milestones reached these past 12 months.

Thanks to you and God's goodness, UrbanPromise has grown, our youth have succeeded, and our families have been blessed through your giving.

As we prepare for the New Year we hope you will celebrate these achievements with us:

• 600 children, teenagers, and college students engaged in UP’s after school programs, experiential learning, boat building, StreetLeader job training, schools, and summer camps.

• 4 UrbanPromise alumni returned to UrbanPromise after graduating from college to play significant roles in our ministry.

• 110 individuals from the Camden area volunteered weekly in one of UP's programs. They helped our ministry run effectively and, perhaps more importantly, blessed youth and staff through kindness, support, and friendships.

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• 50 college students from all over the world served as interns and learned, lived in community, grew, and gave selflessly through their work in Camden.

• 2 resiliency/counseling groups were started in our schools by professional volunteers: one for children who have lost a loved one to death; the other for teen girls facing issues of loss and abandonment.

• 0 days when we did not experience God at work through the life of our ministry and lives of our young people.

Whether you gave your time, resources, prayers, or talents, we thank you for embracing and supporting UrbanPromise Camden in 2011.

May you experience peace and joy this upcoming year,

Jodina Hicks
Executive Director

Tuesday, December 27

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Forty-eight homicides so far this year, aggravated assault is up 45-percent! This month Camden was named the second most dangerous city in the United States.

These statistics send a clear message that something needs to change. Vulnerable children must get off the streets between 3:00-6:00 p.m.

That's why I am excited about Albert Vega's vision for a new UrbanPromise AfterSchool Program in North Camden.

Albert grew up in North Camden, attended our AfterSchool Program, worked as a teen leader and graduated from Eastern University on an UrbanPromise scholarship. He embodies the UrbanPromise vision.

camp_joy_2This past September Albert and his team created a safe place for North Camden's children by opening Camp Joy in an old church building. Even with sparse supplies, no vehicle and a borrowed classroom, the team is establishing a refuge for neighborhood kids. What Albert's team lacks in provisions, they make up for in passion and vision.

At this year's end, I need you to follow Albert's lead and do something special for the children of Camden. I need you to buy a day of peace for the children at Camp Joy.

"How does one buy a day of peace?" you ask.

It's simple. Each day a child or teen enters a place of peace-a sacred place that provides safety from bullies, gangs, and peer pressure-at one of UrbanPromise's programs.

I need to provide 365 days of peace to 30 children who attend Camp Joy. Here's what it costs us: $1 to offer a day of peace for one child in Albert's after school program. Make a gift of $30 and provide a month of peace. Or perhaps you can provide two months for $60-or maybe an entire year for $360.

And here's the best part, we have a generous donor that is offering a dollar-for-dollar match through December 31, 2011. You give a dollar and UrbanPromise receives two dollars!

DONATE NOW: http://upusa.servicenetwork.com/Display.asp?Page=peace&adcode=A1211C

As we sing “Peace on Earth” this Christmas season, let’s remember that we can honor the Prince of Peace—Jesus Christ—by creating peace for Camden youth year-round.

Blessings to you and your family this holiday season,

Dr. Bruce Main
President

Sunday, December 25

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We did it! Amazing! Hundreds of gifts were delivered in the last week because of your generous, heart-warming response to our Christmas delivery appeal.

The incredible response from our UrbanPromise supporters allowed our vans to be fueled, gifts to be wrapped, and deliveries to be made.

I wish I could share all the notes, the phone calls, the hugs, the tears and the smiles our staff have received from grateful families.

Here is one short, powerful note from an appreciative mother.

“Words cannot express nor explain the joy I feel right now…I was embarrassed by my hardship and then I let it go and gave it to God. I was no longer embarrassed and then UrbanPromise showed up to bless my family….My children will now have gifts under the tree. We will also have a blessed meal along with food after the holidays. Thank you! Thank you! I can go on forever saying saying thank you because I truly mean it!”

This is just one of hundreds of stories. I hope your Christmas was as have joy-filled, peaceful and wonderful as ours. From all the UrbanPromise staff, volunteers and children.

We love you!

Dr. Bruce Main
President

Monday, December 5

UrbanPromie Thanksgiving

Thank you for your generosity this Thanksgiving! Because you and many others gave to UrbanPromise's Thanksgiving dinners, more than 650 after school program families received holiday feasts this past month.

There was enough turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie for all who came. Children unveiled dance and vocal performances they'd been practicing and blessed their families and all in attendance with their holiday acts. UrbanPromise Children's Ministry staff worked tirelessly to host meals on the Friday, Saturday, and Monday evenings before Thanksgiving.

And the best part of the meals? Seeing the happiness and fellowship enjoyed among guests. Families who were otherwise strangers shared a meal together--black, white, Asian, and Latino families, from babies to senior citizens, broke bread (and ate turkey) at the same table.

In addition to these three dinners, UrbanPromise sent home more than 100 turkeys and sides dishes to families in need.

We, and our families, thank you. The best thanks I received came from a single mother struggling to raise seven children on her own:

I was so glad to see you at the Thanksgiving dinner. You didn't know what I was going through and that I didn't want be there, but my daughter begged me to come because we attend every year. I was really feeling down because of our situation. One reason is that we didn't have Thanksgiving preparations of our own. Through God's grace and mercy we received a turkey basket at the dinner, so it was meant for us to be there. God already knew what blessing He had in store for us to receive."

I hope you experience similar blessings this Advent season.

Jodina Hicks
Executive Director

Friday, October 14

On October 5, 2010 UrbanPromise student's Karim and Ivan traveled to New York City to visited Diane Sawyer in New York to ask her some very important questions.

Tuesday, October 11

The Waltonian
Kimberly Zayac
October 11, 2011
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On September 30, Windows on the World welcomed to its stage Jodina Hicks, Eastern alum and executive director of Urban Promise. Her presentation, "American Prisons: Justice for Whom?" focused on the shortcomings of America's prison systems, particularly as they relate to urban youth.

Located in Camden, New Jersey, Urban Promise is an outreach organization that is designed to supply children and teenagers with academic skills that will help them throughout their lives.

Hicks began by telling the crowd about the early years of her involvement with Urban Promise, dating back to her freshman year at Eastern. To illustrate her experience during this time, she described six children that she met through the organization.

All six children that Hicks mentioned were born to heroin-addicted mothers. They all suffered domestic abuse without any police intervention. One, a 14-year-old, had resorted to selling drugs to support his family. All six children had at some point been in prison.

Hicks confessed that on weekends she would sometimes bring a child back to Eastern because, as she said, "we didn't like to leave them behind."

Hicks presented mind-blowing statistics about children in Camden, stating that 45% of the city lives in poverty and 70% of children end up dropping out of school.
"In Camden, the drug trade became the job market," Hicks said.

Turning her attention to the prison system, Hicks then noted that there are 2.3 million people in prison today, a number that has quadrupled since 1980. Half of these are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes.

The reason for the surge in the prison population, Hicks explained, is that the nation's laws have changed. Today, there are fewer community service options for those who are convicted. Meanwhile, the amount of jobs within the prison system has increased.

The prison system is becoming a job market, Hicks argued. On average, the United States spends 69 million dollars every year on its prison systems. Despite all of the money that the nation dishes out, the prison system shows little results. The rate of recidivism, or repeat offense, is alarmingly high. Most prisoners appear once again behind bars within three years of their release.

In the prisons themselves, living arrangements are poor. Inmates are locked up 23 hours out of the day and given food that is almost inedible. Few prisons have education systems or drug treatment programs. This makes it even harder for prisoners to find legal work once they are released, so many turn once again to the drug trade.

Hicks is part of a movement to address these issues. In addition to Urban Promise, she is working with communities and churches to promote laws that would establish college-level education systems in prisons. The results of such programs have already been proven: 50% of those who have participated in mentoring and education programs while in prison have met with success upon their release.

Hicks said that "making a difference is not as hard as it sounds." For those who want to see a change in legislation, she suggests getting into contact with local elected officials. Organizing, writing letters and joining groups are all ways to help bring justice to the prison system.

"We can find policies that help people improve their lives," Hicks said. "It all starts somewhere."

Sunday, October 2

It was graduation night, 2011 at Azusa Pacific University, Southern California! The excitement was electric.greg3

My wife, Pam, and I stood at the side of the stage, straining to see over the crowds of families and friends who waited for the name of their son or daughter to be announced. As each graduate's name was called, shouts of joy reverberated throughout the stadium. If you've had a graduate, you know it was a very happy moment for everyone.

It was a particularly special event for me. As an alumnus of APU, I was there to witness Greg Collins, the first UrbanPromise youth to graduate from my alma mater. Starting in the 3rd grade as a camper, Greg had attended all of the UrbanPromise programs. He became an Afterschool Program participant and then a StreetLeader--where his obvious leadership skills were recognized and honed.

Because of a generous “Presidential Scholarship” from Azusa Pacific's President, Jon Wallace, Greg was awarded the opportunity to attain a Bachelor of Arts in Education. He studied hard, enjoyed the southern California lifestyle and became a leader on campus. Greg, with his proudly awarded degree, truly embodies the potential of our youth.

But Greg never forgot his hometown and the young people of Camden. Greg resisted what social scientist call, the brain drain.

In a landmark book called, Hollowing Out the Middle, two Philadelphia-based scholars looked at the devastating impact on cities and rural towns when the brightest and best young people leave for college…and never return. They called this trend “civic suicide”. All too often intelligent young people, like Greg, get university degrees and don’t come back to inner city communities because the job market is so bleak. Consequently our cities lose the smartest and most dynamic young leaders.

However at UrbanPromise we’re continuing our trend to foster an environment where the best and brightest want to be part of our mission. Two weeks ago Greg was hired as our new Third Grade Teacher at UrbanPromise’s CamdenForward School.

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“These kids need role models,” Greg said this summer, “role models who have grown up in Camden and yet have been able to do something positive with their lives--and for their country.”

“He is remarkably talented with children,” affirms our principal, Denise Baker. “Even as a college student I wanted to hire him. Our young people need positive male leadership.”

After 24 years of ministry in Camden, Pam and I are seeing some remarkable fruit—young people like Greg, coming back to Camden as teachers, social workers and counselors. It’s very gratifying.

Now, of course, you can help us celebrate our 24 Years of Promise!

With a gift of $24—that's a dollar for each year—you can help UrbanPromise celebrate this milestone.

Or, how about $240—that's just $10 a year—I can enroll the next Greg Collins in an AfterSchool Program this fall.

Donate now: http://upusa.servicenetwork.com/Display.asp?Page=24years&adcode=A911

Your gift will affirm our vision of keeping this ministry vibrant, forward looking and creative.

God Bless You,

Dr. Bruce Main
President

Saturday, August 6

There is something significant about a really nice night out—especially for kids whose parents don’t have  resources to dress them up and take the family out for dinner occasionally.  Tonight UrbanPromise Honduras sponsored a fancy dinner for 30 teens and their family to celebrate a remarkable summer of ministry.

People might frown and say, “You could have used that money more prudently.  You could have spread the resources and impacted more kids.  Instead of serving 30 kids chicken, you could have fed 60 with peanut butter sandwiches.”  Maybe.  But people who make these comments are often the same folk who take nice vacations, enjoy a good bottle of wine, and send their kids to soccer camp.  Kids remember special nights.

aThe teens waltzed into the Restaurant Llama Del Bosque on the main street in Copan about 6pm.  Usually frequented by tourist, not by those who serve tourist, tonight it was rented by UrbanPromise.   The young woman dressed in the Sunday outfits, the young man sported slacks and Oxford Shirts.  Each teen was allowed to bring two guests—some brought parents, some a brother or sister, others their sweetheart.

The teens had been part of the UP Honduras StreetLeader Program—teens who are hired and trained to counselors, mentors, and coaches for younger children who attend the UrbanPromise day camps.  Tonight they were honored.  Tonight they were praised.  Tonight they were given their pay” check.   Tonight they ate rice, beans, chicken, beef and drank Coca Cola.
Erlin, a sixteen year old, brought his mother and baby brother.  Erlin is one of 6 boys.  His mother is a cleaner at one of the local schools.  I could tell he was proud—proud to accompany his mother to such a nice restaurant, proud to bring home a paycheck, and proud to have made a difference in his community.

“The children love me,” he beamed.  “When I’m leading games they flock around me and listen to me.  I’m like a big brother.”

But Erlin’s smile got a little bigger when he picked up an envelop with his summer paycheck.  Of course, it’s not about the money.  Kids like Erlin are drawn to UrbanPromise because it’s fun and it offers hope.  Yet sometimes hope needs to be able to buy an extra bag of rice, or another bottle of baby formula for your little brother.  Sometimes hope needs to be able to buy a mother a new dress, or a trip to the beauty salon.  Sometimes hope needs to be deposited in the bank for a rainy day.

Saturday, August 6

hon2My son Calvin—a 21 year old college senior—is finishing his service as an intern with UrbanPromise Honduras for the past 8 weeks. With 11 other college interns from across the US and Canada, Calvin has lived in Christian community, run day camps for children and teens, and has met some remarkable people who have taught him much about Honduran life and Myan culture. The work has been challenging, the living conditions far from ideal, but it’s the happiest I have ever seen him. As a dad I couldn’t be more encouraged.

This morning Calvin was leading the “Smooth and Creamy” skit at Camp Peace. Of course the kids in the crowd went nuts when he was smeared with Whip Cream. With each additional spoonful of cream in his hat, cream in the nose, and cream in the ears the kids screamed with delight. Just a silly skit. No moral to the story--an opportunity for kids to laugh and forget about the realities of life for a few brief minutes.

For years I have recruited and hosted college-age students to do short-term mission work during the summer. Sometimes people ask if it really makes a difference to bring a bunch of college students for a few brief months to underserved communities. I believe it does. I see children connect in meaningful ways with caring young adults. I see children—who are constructing guiding dreams for their lives—creating relationships with future doctors, engineers, school teachers, entrepreneurs, and film makers.

But besides the impact these college students have on the children of places like Copan, these students are transformed themselves. Living and working with other students who share similar values, commitments, and faith inspires growth, reflection and a reassessment of vocational choices. Being part of a community that begins each day with prayer, shares common meals, and then spends the day looking beyond their themselves—that’s healthy for any 21 year old.

My son will leave Honduras a better person. He will return to his college campus stronger in his faith, a bigger vision for his life, and with a new network of some really great friends. Nothing could make a parent happier.

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