Blog: 2013

Friday, October 18

One week of service in Camden, N.J., inspired Souderton Area High School student Jillian Moyer to raise more than $7,000 for Urban Promise, an organization that supports youths in poor areas across the United States.

In the summer of 2012, Moyer went with her Souderton Mennonite Church youth group to Camden for one week, working with youths attending Urban Promise’s summer camps.

“It was like a regular day camp for kids,” Moyer said. “They have crafts and snacks, a morning daily devotional. We hung out with the kids while they went through their different stations.”

Spending time interacting with less fortunate children inspired and motivated Moyer to use her senior project as an opportunity to host a fundraiser for Urban Promise.

“The kids really touched me and opened my eyes to a different world,” she said. “I was inspired to see how much love and passion they have for life, even though they live in such poor conditions.”

Coming from a family of golfers, Moyer decided to hold a golf outing at Macoby Run in Green Lane to raise general funds for Urban Promise.

“I wanted to give back to the organization and keep that connection,” she said. “The point of a senior project is to put yourself outside of your comfort zone and grow up a little. I’d never organized a fundraiser.”

With the help of her uncle, who has experience organizing golf outings, Moyer began the fundraiser process over the summer. She solicited the help of family and friends, and members of her church.

“The people at my church are golfers, and they already know about Urban Promise,” she said. “I knew they would be most willing to help.”

Moyer also reached out to a variety of local businesses, who responded favorably because she was contacting them by herself and for a good cause.

“One of the businesses told me they liked that I was the one reaching out to them, not my mom or dad,” she said. “I got several businesses in the area to lend their support by donations and sending golfers to the outing.”

The event, hosted in the morning of July 22, had 28 golfers participate. The cost of the outing was $85 per golfer, with lunch provided.

“Some of the funds raised obviously had to cover the cost of using the golf course,” Moyer said. “I had a lot of donations come in from family, friends or members of my church that wanted to support me even if they weren’t going golfing. And some of the golfers that did go paid more than the $85.”

Moyer’s initial goal was to raise $3,000, an amount she more than doubled.

“There was a point about halfway through the fundraising process when I realized I had already met my goal, and still had so much more to do, so much time left to raise money,” she said.

Instead of slowing down or wrapping up the fundraising because she met her goal, Moyer continued her campaign and ultimately ended her project with $7,075 raised for Urban Promise.

Moyer was able to go to Urban Promise in Camden and deliver the check personally. Urban Promise indicated the money would be used for general maintenance of the programs it offers.

“I told them to use the money wherever they needed it,” Moyer said. “It’ll be used around their buildings, to buy school supplies and maintenance, things like that.”

The ambitious 17-year-old isn’t finished yet, either. She’s beginning to look for colleges for after graduation, but already has her eyes set on an Urban Promise internship.

“They have an internship program that’s eight-weeks long, like an extension of the one-week program I did in 2012,” she said. “I’d love to do that during one of my summers when I’m in college.”

By Erin Weaver, Montgomery News 

Monday, September 23

Jillian Moyer, 17, is a typical but busy high school senior; a varsity cheerleader, member of Souderton’s High’s orchestra and the Future Business Leaders of America.  But this summer, she took the time to plan and execute a most successful  senior service project—a requirement for all Pennsylvania high school students—that  paid off big for children in one of America’s most impoverished cities—Camden , NJ.  Jillian hosted a golf tournament at Macoby Run Golf Course in Marlborough, PA and raised more than $7000 for UrbanPromise, a nonprofit organization which supports children academically and spiritually and prepares them for leadership that will bring positive change to their communities.

“I started thinking of ways I could help, I didn’t want to raise a hundred dollars, I wanted to do something bigger that would really be beneficial,” she said.  Jillian knew first-hand about the mission of UrbanPromise and the needs of the children it serves..  Jillian came to Camden with her church (Souderton Mennonite Church) youth group in the summer of 2012 for a week long service trip. She was assigned to Camp Spirit at the UrbanPromise main campus working with middle school youth. “Just driving over the Ben Franklin Bridge—it was shocking,” she said of seeing Camden for the first time.  “I did not know what to expect,” she said, never having seen urban poverty up close.   “I am definitely not in a bubble anymore.”

Jillian was impacted by the stories she heard from the children she worked with and was impressed by “…how much love and passion they had for life in spite of what they go through.” 

When it came time to plan a senior project, she knew she wanted to go big.  Coming from a family of golfers, she put the two together and the tournament she organized was a great success.  She raised more than twice her goal of $3000 for Urban Promise.  28 golfers participated in the tournament and many others supported the event through sponsorships. 

Jillian returned to UrbanPromise this summer with her parents, Todd and Jennifer to present a check and give her parents a tour of the campus. It was new student orientation at UrbanPromise Academy where Jillian presented the check to UPA principal, Demetrius Marlowe; Executive Director, Jodina Hicks; and the group of new students represented by Siani Burgess, 9th grader.

“The whole experience really opened my eyes to the world, “she said. Jillian plans to attend College next year and major in Chemistry and Criminal Justice.

Funds raised will help UrbanPromise in its mission to equip Camden’s children and young adults with the skills necessary for academic achievement, life management, spiritual growth, and Christian leadership. 

Tuesday, September 10

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One hundred years after being founded as a Sunday School to serve children in Camden, the Fairview Community Baptist Church faced the real possibility that it may have to close its doors forever. The eight remaining members prayed for a miracle, and when they got it, UrbanPromise received a great blessing.

The news came with the ring of a telephone and an offer too good to refuse. The opportunity to own this property gives UrbanPromise the chance to focus on the heart of our vision: to create safe, nurturing spaces amid harsh conditions where children can thrive.

I am so happy to share that UrbanPromise plans to purchase Fairview Community Baptist, part of the American Baptist Church, for $25,000. It will require about $15,000 in repairs before we can offer after-school and summer programs. The site, which includes a church and a parsonage, is in good condition but needs some plumbing and roofing work. With financial support and volunteers—and more prayers from the congregation (and you)—I believe it can be up and running this month, providing an after-school program and jobs for 50 young people.

Gil Medina, a former StreetLeader and now 31 and a union foreman, Gilberto lives two blocks away and plans to help: “I can’t wait for my (three) kids to have an UrbanPromise camp to go to, and you can be sure my wife and I will volunteer. It made such a difference in my life, and the children in Fairview need this. Right now, there’s nothing for them to do outside of school.”    

We already have a presence in six neighborhoods in Camden. Our  “camp” sites (after-school and summer) are the core of UrbanPromise’s model. We connect with over 500 children a year at these locations, starting when they are as young as 5 and keeping them engaged through college. We are “the place” to be after school and in the summer. By connecting at these sites, we introduce them to our schools, our Trekker program, and at age 14, our StreetLeaders program, where they can mentor the little ones. UrbanPromise has so many success stories—stories of college graduates, parents, and civic leaders who once were kids who connected with caring people in these camps and found the hope and faith to believe they could achieve their dreams. This work emanates from our camp sites.

What compromises our mission is a lack of consistent facilities. Over the last 10 years, we have had to move a site at least every 2 years. Owning an after-school site allows us stability. We, like the church on Common Street itself, can thrive for the next 100 years.

The American Baptist Churches of New Jersey is very pleased at the prospect of continuing their original mission and soon having children fill the church. “The church was founded to serve children; we are thrilled it will do so once again. ABCNJ looks forward to partnering with UrbanPromise in serving the youth of New Jersey going forward. ” Dr. Lee Spitzer, Senior Regional Pastor, told me recently. When Bruce Main visited, he was quiet for a minute, shut his eyes, smiled, and said, “Can’t you just see kids dancing and laughing in this space?”

The Community will also benefit. According to UrbanPromise Board member and Harvard University professor Kathy Edin, the very presence of a community center strengthens the social conditions of blighted neighborhoods. The after-school program and summer camps that will be held here will enhance the community, making it safer and stronger.

I hope you will help us reopen the doors of this sacred space and welcome children of promise, giving them a safe space to have a snack, do their homework, strengthen their faith, and connect with their dreams. Providing a safe and nurturing environment is the critical mission for UrbanPromise;  providing it in a beautiful church that we call our own is truly a blessing. 

Please help us purchase and open our Fairview site in September by joining in our Fairview Campaign:

  • Leadership gift of $10,000 (we are hoping for one Leadership gift)
  • Legacy gift of $2,500 (we are hoping for 8 Legacy donors)
  • Vision gift of $250 (we are hoping for 40 Vision donors)
  • General donation of any amount is so appreciated!

DONATE NOW 

Thank you so much for your continued belief and support of our work,

Jodina Hicks           
Executive Director                                               
UrbanPromise

PS: Please also consider signing up to join us or bring a group on a work day in September and October. As soon as we purchase the property, we’ll be able to schedule our work dates! Please contact Marcus Bell, WorkGroup manager at (856) 382-1876 or mbell@urbanpromiseusa.org.

We will be in special need of skilled plumbers and roofers, so please pass the word to any who might be willing to donate their time. 

Friday, August 30

It’s hard to believe that only one week ago, CamdenForward School—home to 140 kindergarten to 8th grade students—looked like it had been hit by a natural disaster.

Seeing the truck full of books, pianos, computers, and blackboards that had to be hauled away due to rain and mold damage, and then walking through the empty classrooms, I didn’t know whether we’d be able to open the school in early September.

I rolled my eyes when my ever-optimistic colleague told me that it was probably part of God’s bigger plan. It’s the first time in recent years that I didn’t feel good about what we could offer our young people at UrbanPromise. We had some classrooms without books, the carpet ripped up, and paint scraped off the walls. This was not the first impression of school that we had hoped to give our kindergarteners.

The first call we made was the right one: Jim Dugan, co-owner of Safety Bus, is a youth pastor, a member of our long-standing partner Moorestown Presbyterian Church, and all about disaster relief efforts. Within 24 hours, Jim had recruited over 150 Moorestown athletes willing to give a day to help restore our school. Within 3 work days, the school had been repainted, and the floors are being repaired.

Several churches put out the call for help, and we now have library books sorted by grade. The Moorestown volunteers are setting up little libraries in the classrooms. Pastors and laypeople have dropped off checks daily to help underwrite the $30,000 we need to restore the school, half for water damage testing and mold abatement and half for supplies that were ruined.

Metro Carpet just donated 2,000 square feet of carpet. All Risk Property Damage Experts cut their fee significantly and brought a crew leader back from vacation to manage our job. Krispy Kreme gave doughnuts, and Mac the Iceman dropped off ice each morning. Coaches from Moorestown fixed our gutters, and a retired Camden policeman spent 12 hours a day, each day this week scraping floors. Wegmans gave food, and Safety Bus drivers donated their time and buses to drop off and pick up the student volunteers. Emily Brown, a junior at Moorestown, called out of work for the week so she could help Jim organize this effort.

I don’t know if our rain damage was part of God’s bigger plan, but I do know that God was hard at work this week. He was at work in a junior high school student who used her last week of the summer to help us; in a businessman who set aside his week to lead an effort to restore our school; and in churches and businesses that raised over $10,000 worth of supplies and money in just a couple of days.

And because so many people chipped in and did what they could, our children are going to walk into a new school today.

Thank you!!!!

Jodina Hicks
Executive Director

 

Friday, August 30

Hundreds of Moorestown High School students took a break from summer vacation this week to volunteer at UrbanPromise's flood-damaged CamdenForward School.

While most high school students are busy squeezing every last bit of R and R out of their summer vacation before it ends in 10 days, a group of about 300 Moorestown High School-ers spent the better part of the past week straining and sweating fixing up the flood-damaged CamdenForward School.

The school—a private, Christian elementary and middle school operated by UrbanPromise in Pennsauken—was badly damaged by flooding after a recent rainstorm. Faced with serious mold issues just days before it was scheduled to open, UrbanPromise turned to Moorestonian Jim Dugan, who has assisted the nonprofit with a number of projects in the past, for help.

Soon after getting the call, Dugan, also known for his many mission trips to repair homes in West Virginia through the Appalachia Service Project (or ASP), hopped on his bicycle and peddled over to the Moorestown High School athletic fields to find recruits.

He pulled aside multiple coaches, who were readying their teams for fall sports, to draft students for the cleanup at the CamdenForward School.

To hear the students tell it, they didn’t need much convincing.

“When Jim called me, I could not resist it,” said junior Emily Brown. “I didn’t hesitate.”

Brown has gone on a number of ASP trips and said she “wanted to get that feeling back, of helping someone for the price of nothing.”

Several other students echoed Emily, including senior Ellie McGarvey, who said, “We come from a really fortunate town. People don’t understand that other people don’t have the same privileges we do.”

“It’s really rewarding,” said junior Natalie Soffronoff. “I almost feel like we get more out of it than the kids who go here … It’s the least we could do for how much we have.”

Dugan said roughly 300 students have volunteered their time at varying intervals throughout the week—ripping up carpet, repainting, sanding, moving furniture, etc.—and many of them have been there all week, including several who have jobs. The project should be finished by the end of the week, in time for the school to reopen Monday—just one week late.

“It just all kind of came together in one week,” said Dugan. “It’s just a wonderful example of humanity here … The athletes of Moorestown came down here on their last week of vacation to rebuild (the school), which I think is pretty damn awesome.”

Written by: Rob Scott, Moorestown Patch

Thursday, August 29

Helping hands

You can help us by purchasing an item from our EMERGENCY WISH LIST or by making a DONATION (please select "water damage" under the "program" option.)

CAMDEN — When the CamdenForward School suffered from flooding in July, Jodina Hicks knew it would take some time to repair the damage. But when asked whether her school could start classes on time, she had only this to say: “We have to.”

“We have to open on time,” said Hicks, who is the executive director of UrbanPromise, the ministry group that runs the private Christian school. “We're working with really vulnerable families and kids from Camden."

The task, however, was daunting. This summer's heavy rains caused flooding in the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school, wrecking classrooms and causing $30,000 worth of damage. Once the mold was cleaned up, the school had just a week to repaint the classrooms, scrape off glue where carpets had been ripped out, and get everything clean and ready for the students.

That is where the athletes of Moorestown High School came in.

Led by Jim Dugan, a Moorestown parent and owner of the company Safety Bus, students on the Quakers' sports teams came to help the school get back in order. They trained for the upcoming season in the morning, and then Dugan transported them to Camden to work on the building from 12:30 to 6 p.m.

Dugan is a parent and a donor to CamdenForward. Hicks said she knew he would be the right person to call, since he’s worked on many service projects in Louisiana and West Virginia. She called him at 7:30 last Friday morning, and “by 9 a.m., he already had 50 kids signed up to come. So it was the right call, that's for sure.”

Forty students came to help on Monday, 70 on Tuesday. By Wednesday, about 110 students and adults were moving furniture, painting walls and getting the classrooms back in shape.

“I started thinking about how I could get enough people down here to do this task in one week,” Dugan said, “so being acquainted through a lot of the youth in Moorestown through mission work and sports teams ... I decided (it would be) a great way to get the sports teams involved.”

He approached Neil Rosa, Moorestown High's athletic director, and asked if he could get the coaches to bring their teams over. Rosa quickly agreed.

"We scheduled teams for different days of the week to come down, and they've been here all week, working hard," Dugan said.

His friend Emily Brown, 16, who works at Wegmans, persuaded the grocery store to donate food for the volunteers, and to give her the week off so she could help organize the work.

Brown is a junior and the manager of the Quakers' field hockey team. She’s worked with Dugan on mission trips in Appalachia.

"It all came together really well. It's amazing how things came together in a couple of days," said Emily, who worked at the site from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. all week. "Everyone's uniting for this one week, and it's just cool to see it all happen."

Her face was covered in white paint that her teammates had playfully splashed on her. Music by Katy Perry and Beyonce played on someone’s speakers, creating a fun atmosphere for the teens to work in.

Brendon Parker, 14, an incoming freshman, said everyone on his soccer team wanted to help out after their coach told them about the project.

“I felt bad for them and I wanted to give back, because I know how unfortunate it was, and how fortunate my town is," he said.

Because so many other schools also suffered from flooding, there was a long wait before CamdenForward could get a contractor. They finished removing the mold only a week ago. The school lost computers, blackboards and even a piano because of the flooding.

“Having these Moorestown high school students coming to our rescue is just a godsend," Hicks said.

The most serious losses were the workbooks and library books. UrbanPromise is still reaching out to donors to replenish basic supplies such as books, rugs, white boards and computers.

Hicks postponed the opening of the school by one week, to Tuesday, but she won't delay it any longer.

“We pushed back one week, but even that was really difficult to do,” she said.

UrbanPromise Ministries runs programs all summer so that young people always have something to keep them off the streets, Hicks said. Even the week’s gap could pose a financial hardship for parents who cannot afford baby sitters.

Melvin Ways, a retired Camden police officer, also helped with the cleanup efforts. He’s been friends with Dugan ever since they worked together during Hurricane Katrina.

"I love the turnout,” Ways said. “It's been this way all week actually. The kids have been coming from Moorestown to help, and I love the inspiration. … To see these kids and see how enthused they are, it really does something good for your heart.”

By Sharon Lurye, Burlington County Times

Tuesday, August 27

You can help us by purchasing an item from our EMERGENCY WISH LIST or by making a DONATION (please select "water damage" under the "program" option.)

PENNSAUKEN — In their last week of summer vacation, hundreds of Moorestown High School students volunteered their time Monday to clean up flood damage at a private school on the outskirts of Camden.

The CamdenForward School, run by the non-profit UrbanPromise in Camden, sustained flood damage to several classrooms during heavy bouts of rainfall over the past two months.

School was supposed to begin Monday, but Jodina Hicks, executive director of UrbanPromise, said the opening has been postponed until next week.

Plastic bags full of saturated books and curriculum materials lined the school’s hallways Monday. CamdenForward also lost computers, white boards and overhead projectors.

Most of the items deemed unusable were thrown away. Hicks said they amounted to more than $15,000 worth of books, equipment and materials.

The water damage also caused mold in some parts of the school.

The remedy for that, completed five days ago, cost the cash-strapped Christian school another $15,000.

“Then we found our insurance would not cover the damage,” Hicks said. “We had nowhere else to turn. We had to ask for help.”

Her first call Friday morning was to Jim Dugan, a volunteer for UrbanPromise who has led efforts to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Dugan, who runs mission trips for a youth group at a Moorestown church, got right to work.

“During my bike ride, I went over to the high school and talked to the coaches I knew and we had a plan to bring 40 to 70 kids here a day to help,” Dugan said.

Volunteers started as early as 7 a.m. and worked until 6 p.m.

“Faith without works is dead,” Dugan said, quoting the Bible.

Emily Brown, a junior at Moorestown High, worked alongside Dugan this summer during the Appalachia Service Project mission trip.

“I’m here to help any way I can,” Brown insisted. The 16-year-old works at Wegmans and asked her managers to donate food and water for the workers.

Austin Peck, a 17-year-old senior at Moorestown, was in one of the damaged rooms ripping up carpet and then scraping the glue left on the floor.

“We are working together to get as much done in the time we have,” Peck said as he wiped the sweat from his face.

Melvin Ways, a retired Camden City police officer, spends much of his time now doing volunteer work.

“It is just my nature ever since I was a kid,” said Ways, a 25-year veteran of the force and city native. “I want to give back.”

Along with those helping inside the building, local churches have donated funds to help replace curriculum materials.

Pastor Steve Winkler of The Protestant Community Church of Medford Lakes dropped off a check for $1,800 Monday. School officials said they expected another $1,000 check from the congregation later in the day.

“The support we have gotten from the public is overwhelming,” said CamdenForward Principal Denise Baker.

“Without them I don’t know what we would have done.”

Written by: Phil Dunn, Courier Post 

Sunday, August 4

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I recently interviewed one of our impressive camp counselors.

“Why did you come back to Camden for your third summer in a row?” I asked.

I was amazed at the energy and dedication of this young collegian. Danielle, a political science major at Azusa Pacific University in California, has served as an UrbanPromise intern for the past three years—a remarkable commitment. Her dream is to go to law school and have a career as a child advocate.

Each year Danielle covers her own transportation costs to make her coast-to-coast trek. More importantly, she “tithes” her time as a gift to UrbanPromise and the children of our city.

“It’s the kids,” she responded without hesitation. “They need consistency and continuity in their lives.”

Danielle paused momentarily, furrowed her brow in reflection.

“The more time I spend here, the more I realize that these kids have exceptional talents and gifts. They just need some adults to help them identify their God given individuality; then learn how to positively express it. That takes time. That takes trust.”

As Danielle has kept her promise to return each summer, the children have come to trust her. And trust is critical for effective youth ministry. Trust allows Danielle and the other counselors to speak into the lives of our young people.

Not every UrbanPromise intern returns for three consecutive summers. Danielle is a superstar. But she’s not unique. This summer 40 college-aged missionaries are working at least 60-hour weeks—loving children and teens in the name of Jesus. These bright, passionate, committed leaders are running day camps, coaching athletic teams, teaching Bible classes, tutoring, and mentoring. Each day they reach over 600 Camden youth. In return for their volunteer services, UrbanPromise provides interns with room, board, and weekend trips. It’s the least we can do to show our appreciation.

But we need a little help to feed these amazing saints. Peanut butter, milk, spaghetti, fresh fruit, vegetables, and even meat (once in a while) are all on our interns’ grocery list.

I’d appreciate any support you can give to help me check off the items on the attached document. We need to keep these young people healthy and serving so they can continue to impact hundreds of lives each day.

Blessings!  

Bruce Main
President

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Thursday, August 1

CAMDEN - Tomatoes, broccoli, and peppers are flourishing this summer in the garden outside the UrbanPromise Wellness Center. But the most important crop may be peace of mind. "When you spend time in the garden, you're not thinking of anything else," says Rebecca Bryan, director of wellness programs at the faith-based nonprofit in East Camden. As she and I speak, eager fifth graders are harvesting and taste-testing the bounty from a lush patch of ground along Federal Street, where traffic spills from Route 130 and the city's cacophony rarely pauses. Peaceful it isn't.

But gardening, yoga classes, nutrition programs, and mindfulness exercises at the center - a joint venture of UrbanPromise and Haddonfield's First Presbyterian Church - aim to heal the effects of childhood trauma. Which a poor city like Camden produces in abundance. "Children who grow up here experience a great deal of stress, much more so than, say, kids in suburbia," says Bryan, a nurse-practitioner who lives in Haddonfield. She started work at UrbanPromise in September. "Households are primarily single mothers. Poverty is a huge issue. Violence is an issue - it's not uncommon for youths to have heard gunshots - and there's a lot of exposure to domestic violence.

"Often kids are in a home where someone is drinking or using drugs. Or they have a parent who ends up in jail," Bryan says. "There's just a huge amount of stress." The long-term physiological and developmental effects on individuals, as well as the public health impact on communities stemming from childhood trauma, were persuasively documented in the Adverse Childhood Experiences study. First conducted in 1998, the study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the managed-care consortium Kaiser Permanente is continuing. Meanwhile, developments in brain imaging and other medical technologies have bolstered the study's findings that childhood trauma can increase the likelihood of physical, mental, and social ills (obesity, substance abuse, poor academic performance) later on.

And as recognition of this reality grows - 100 professionals and community leaders attended a grassroots "Camden Trauma Summit" in May - "we're starting to come up with interventions that can make a difference," Bryan notes. What's called for, she says, is "a fundamental paradigm shift" among professionals who deal with troubled kids. "Instead of saying, 'What's wrong with you?' we need to ask, 'What happened to you?' " Bryan is mentoring Briana Shephard, a soft-spoken 16-year-old who will soon be a senior at UrbanPromise Academy. The high school is one of several educational, development, and employment programs through which UrbanPromise serves about 640 Camden youths annually. Shephard, whose father has been incarcerated, had difficulties in public school. Now she pours her heart out to Bryan, and in the poetry she regularly writes.

"I've heard gunshots and everything" in the city's neighborhoods, she says, her voice matter-of-fact. "I don't really feel safe walking by myself." But Shephard feels quite safe at UrbanPromise, where she has begun to thrive. I ask Bryan about critics who say wellness and mindfulness (both of which I heartily endorse) are no match for older concepts - like bootstrapping one's way up from unfortunate circumstances. "I would like to take a person who thinks that the answer is to get a job . . . and put them in North Camden. Just for a week," she says. "Then let me ask them how they feel."

Written by: Kevin Riordan, Inquirer Columnist

Saturday, June 29

The Times of Trenton
Written by: Jenna Pizzi/The Times of Trenton 

TRENTON — With the morning sun glimmering on the rippled Delaware River, paddlers loaded into long, slim outrigger canoes set off on a two day, 50-mile journey.

The paddlers, in distinctive blue and yellow canoes, are not justmaking the trip for the physical fitness and scenic views. They are raising awareness and money for Urban Promise summer camp programs in Trenton, Camden and Wilmington, Del.

Urban Promise is a nonprofit that started in Camden 25 years ago, providing after school and summer programs for inner-city kids. Children receive help with their studies and managing their lives. The program also emphasizes Christian spiritual development and leadership.

Carl Clark was a participant in the Camden program as he was growing up and, as an adult, started the Trenton branch in 2010. Yesterday, at 7 a.m., he helped to prepare the canoes for the trek south from the Duck Island starting point. Twenty-five children and adults are on this trip.

“I really didn’t have any role models who were adults that I could really look up to,” Clark, 32, said, remembering how he was at age 6 when he met Urban Promise founder Bruce Main. The program helped him to acquire character and wisdom, he said. “That’s necessary for the development of a young person,” Clark said.

He decided to bring the program to Trenton, leaving behind a career as a banker, because he wanted to provide the same hope to children and teens that he had when he was growing up. Clark first came to Trenton when he attended The College of New Jersey on a full scholarship in nearby Ewing.
“We do just about everything under the sun for development of young kids and teenagers,” he said.

Clark said the summer camp programs are led by teenagers in the community who are called “street leaders.” The high-school aged street leaders go through a class where they learn leadership and life skills such as interviewing and resume building, then they have to interview for the job as counselor for the summer camp. The teens are then paid by Urban Promise to be counselors for the younger children, usually ages 6 to 12, who are enrolled in the free camp.

“Some of the children they don’t feel so much hope,” said Marselly Almanzar, an intern with Urban Promise Trenton. “I’ve seen how this can help them achieve so much more.”

Clark said the camp will run at two churches in Trenton this year from July 9 to Aug. 10. The program is sustained mostly by donations, said Phyllis Jones, the board president for Urban Promise Trenton.

Main came up with the idea for the “Paddle for Promise” fundraiser while brainstorming ways for the three regional Urban Promise groups to collaborate.

“We have this whole emphasis on getting kids out doors,” Main said. “Let’s do something on the river.”

He said he called up some friends from the Philadelphia Dragon Boat Association and the Philadelphia Police Dragon Boat Team who provided the canoes and some manpower to guide the novice Urban Promise employees along the way.

The group arrived in Camden yesterday afternoon and will row from Camden to Wilmington today. Volunteers from all three locations are using the trip to raise funds for the summer camps. The group from Trenton is looking to raise $2,500.

“We can expand,” he said. “The only thing that can hold us back is finances.”

Clark said his goal is to have an Urban Promise site in each of the city’s four wards and another central site so that he can reach about 500 students in Trenton.

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