Blog: August 2014

Thursday, August 21

For the second year in a row, the TD Charitable Foundation, the charitable giving arm of TD Bank, provided a grant to UrbanPromise Ministries in Camden to train and employ teens in the StreetLeader program. The grant of $14,210 will pay for four jobs for 2014-2015.

Estefany Rodriguez is completing her first year as a StreetLeader. "This year has been amazing," the 11th grader noted, "like, the best year of my life."

After several weeks of working as a StreetLeader, Rodriguez was promoted to the position of assistant team leader. When asked why a program like this is important to teens in Camden, Rodriguez replied, "There are many stereotypes for teens in Camden: that they'll be dead by age 21, that they'll never graduate, that they'll be drug dealers. Many feel that's how it's supposed to be, but the StreetLeader program gives them a chance to be in a safe place, to be out of the street environment, and to see other options for their lives."

Since its inception in 1994, the StreetLeader program has engaged more than 1,400 teens, who mentor and offer educational support to younger children in Camden. Participants also receive support with college preparation. As a result, 100 percent of high school students in the StreetLeader program graduate and 93 percent go on to college, compared to those in Camden, where 62.3 percent over 25 have graduated from high school and only 7.2 percent attained a bachelor's degree.

Rodriguez plans to become a high school teacher in Camden. Other StreetLeader alumni committed to the city include a policewoman who patrols the area around UrbanPromise, an East Camden fireman, an UrbanPromise board member who owns her own business and several staff members.

Sunday, August 17

"So, what books do you like to read?”

The young man sitting next to me raised his fingers to his chin and furrowed his eyebrows like a philosopher of antiquity.

"Edger Allan Poe is one of my favorites," he shared thoughtfully. "Now Shakespeare is a close second...I mean, everybody loves Shakespeare, right?"

Right? Everybody loves Shakespeare.

Steven Cobb embodies the vision of the StreetLeader program: a new generation of leaders from Camden, rooted in Christian faith, who have the vision to make a difference in the world. As a third year English major at Rowan University, Steven wants to be a teacher someday. I'm confident he will be brilliant in that role.

“These kids are so vulnerable," adds Steven, forgetting that he was a "kid" just a few years ago. "They come to camp with heavy things on their heart and are just looking for someone to share it with; they come running to me. It's a real privilege."

Steven found the StreetLeader program through his sister Tori. Tori just graduated from Rowan University and is a 9-year veteran of UrbanPromise. This year, Tori served as a Field Supervisor of the StreetLeader Program. She wants to go to graduate school.

"My sister loves this program. I saw the way it changed her. I decided to join. Once I got involved I couldn't stop coming. I found role models in other StreetLeaders like Brahiem, Greg, and Jay Jay. Those guys inspired me!"

And that's the way the StreetLeader program works. Teens recruit their siblings and friends. New recruits discover older role models who embody the virtues of faith, courage, compassion, and vision. Newer members aspire to become like the veterans. Children in our camps look up to the StreetLeaders and dream of being one someday. A cycle of positive peer pressure is created, and our younger teens begin to recalibrate their goals and dreams, moving away from the destructive forces of the streets to focus on successful futures.

Steven is now inspiring a new generation of children in his community. He coached the winning basketball team at Camp Freedom. He taught and developed curriculum for recreation class. He even introduced a few of his kids to Shakespeare, because, after all, "everybody loves Shakespeare." 

Research studies show that summer jobs can have a significant impact on the lives of young people, especially young people who live in high-risk environments such as Camden. Positive outcomes include increased school performance and attendance, increased SAT/ACT scores, decreased violence, and decreased involvement in drugs. The StreetLeaders at UrbanPromise know this and more: they know what the job means to them personally. It means hope, a future, making a difference in their city right now.

A few months ago many of you sent a gift to help UrbanPromise hire 90 StreetLeaders this summer. Together we did it! Teens were hired into their first job(s) and attended workshops on leadership, healthy eating, grief, and resume writing. Our teens provided staffing for 9 day camps that provided 500 Camden children a fun, safe, and memorable summer. Five of them helped launch the new camp in Fairview. And a few of them piloted a new job arm for UrbanPromise, the Street2Leader Program. These teens, who’ve been in some trouble with the courts, were hired for public realm work, cleaning up parks and painting murals in Camden while also working on resolving their personal issues, developing a career plan, and focusing on positive next steps. Over this past month, they restored 2 murals and did park clean-up, culminating in a wonderful closing event at Dudley Grange Park. At an open mic/poetry event last Friday, local residents were amazed at the beautiful turn-around of the park once known to kids in East Camden as “Needle Park.”

Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for believing in young people like Steven and Tori. 

Bruce Main

President, UrbanPromise

P.S. Our StreetLeader Program isn’t just for the summer: it runs year round! StreetLeaders return in mid-September to help lead AfterSchool Programs across the city. Learn more about how you can continue to support the StreetLeader Program.

Wednesday, August 13

View Video

BROOKPORT -- The first homes rebuilt through the Massac and Pope County Recovery Committee will be dedicated this weekend. Their plan has been to construct and repair dozens of homes impacted by the November 17th tornado.

Three families are getting ready to move into their new homes, and they're hoping even more volunteers will keep that good work moving forward.

A journey of more than 900 miles started with a story.

"That it was a bad, bad tornado, and it destroyed a lot people's homes," said volunteer Dominique Tantorieas. 

Tantorieas is part a volunteer group traveled from Camden, New Jersey all the way Brookport to spend one week building houses. They raised money to pay for their trip and hope to make good progress over the next several days.

"Just to see at least this house, the owner of this house, smile when we show him that it's finished," said Tantorieas. 

The home is one of three that is nearly complete. Those houses will be part of the Massac and Pope County Recovery Committee dedication ceremony on Saturday.

"They didn't have much, and when the tornado left, they didn't have anything," said MPCRC Construction Supervisor Eddie Osburn. "Now, they've got a brand new house."

Caseworkers meet with tornado victims and let the committee know about their needs. That's when Osburn gets working on the plans. Since January, 10 houses have started to take shape.

"When we needed an electrician, the good Lord sent us an electrician," said Osburn. "When we needed a plumber, He sent us a plumber."

Volunteers have been a big part of the process and cut about half off the cost to build a home.

The goal is to construct more than 20 houses and repair another 30 before the project is done. It's a tall order that Osburn believes is worth all the time and labor.

"You can't imagine until you experience the feeling you get," said Osburn. "When you take somebody that hasn't got anything, and you give him a house."

The dedication on Saturday is at 1 p.m. They ceremony will start at a house on Short Street.

The committee is always looking for more volunteer. If you would like to pitch in, contact Mt. Sterling Cumberland Presbyterian Church Pastor David LeNeave at 618-564-2616.


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