Blog: 2018

Thursday, June 14

…Just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way… When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, there’s plenty good room—plenty good room—for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well... like we are actually family.

—The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry


Bishop Michael B. Curry’s sermon during the royal wedding in May goes to the heart of the UrbanPromise vision and founding mission in Camden, NJ, 30 years ago.

Love was not the way for young people who were driven to gangs out of desperation, hustling for whatever money they could make. I remember some of them very well. I remember their hopelessness and fear that they would never be employable, that their zip code would dictate their future, and that life for them looked like dying or going to prison by age 20. 

I loved these kids. I wanted so badly to give them something different, something better, something hopeful. With limited resources and a few committed donors, we started the StreetLeader Program to provide hope and income for our teens, but also to anchor them in a way that would offer them a future. Some of them were too old or already lost to the streets by the time our job program launched in 1994. I regret not having more to offer them. 

Since then, and thanks to you, we’ve been able to hire thousands of teens. UrbanPromise has hired at least 80-110 teens each year for the past 24 years. Together with our teens, we’ve created a culture of love that transforms our young StreetLeaders and trains them to be leaders in our community.

On the same day as the royal wedding, another important ceremony was taking place, but much closer to home. Dominic Bowman, former UrbanPromise StreetLeader and also the first person in his family to go to college, walked across the stage and received his degree from Montclair State University. It was not an easy journey. His mother passed away halfway through his first year of college. He no longer had a home to return to on breaks.

But the UrbanPromise family was there for Dominic, including attending the funeral in full force. Sitting in the pews, watching his family file in, I was struck with the realization that I knew his brothers and cousins. Five of them were young men I met at the beginning of my journey with UrbanPromise, young men who had succumbed early on to the pull of streetlife in Camden.

 

“Dominic, how did you end up on such a different path than your brothers?” I asked after the service.

“My brothers brought me to UrbanPromise when I was 4,” he explained.  “There were summer camps and after-school programs, and I came every day. All those years, UrbanPromise was there for me. My family moved a lot, but UrbanPromise always stayed connected. They would pick me up and take me home every day. I had a StreetLeader who took me under his wing. Then I became a StreetLeader, because I wanted to give the same thing to other kids.” 

He continued, “UrbanPromise gave me the opportunity my mom desperately wanted for me, for us. I became her hope. So it was for her that I went to college. Thanks to my StreetLeader job and the scholarships from UrbanPromise, I was able to finish.”

This summer we will hire 102 teens to run summer camps with us. They will work hard, they will be challenged and learn to be on time and work with people who look different from them. They will make children laugh and give them a reason to come to camp every morning. They will earn a paycheck, go to tutoring, and be a Bible buddy. They will love and be loved.

Please sponsor a StreetLeader today. Thank you for making love “the way” at UrbanPromise. 

Jodina Hicks
Executive Director

P.S. Did you hear?!  We are excited to announce that Bishop Michael B. Curry will be the special guest speaker at our 30th Anniversey Celebration Banquet on October 23rd.  Tickets go on sale July 1st.  Sign up to be a StreetLeader Sponsor ($504 or more) and we will hold two complimentary tickets for you.  

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Tuesday, May 15

By: Amanda Bauman, Senior Manager Community Affairs

Volunteering is one of the most valuable things you can do for another human being, and it goes a long way. But as a Purpose-driven company, we have the opportunity – indeed, the responsibility — to give back on a larger scale.

It is truly #GivingthatMatters.

It starts with our employees, right in our backyard, where big things are happening in small organizations such as UrbanPromise.

Tony Vega, head of the UrbanPromise StreetLeader program in Camden, N.J., says, “it’s about belonging – to a family, to a supportive environment – and that belonging changed my life.”

Tony grew up in Camden like many youth in the city: on the wrong path, and searching for hope. That’s when he found UrbanPromise, a 30-year-old youth development organization, which works to equip children and young adults with critical skills necessary for academic achievement, life management, and leadership.

I’m proud that Campbell was UrbanPromise’s first corporate supporter. For two decades, we have provided more than $700,000 in cash and in-kind support for its summer camps, youth job training opportunities, alternative high school, and more.

The investment enables UrbanPromise to deliver a 100 percent high school graduation rate in a city where the average hovers at 60 percent. Of these graduates, 97 percent go to college, and many come back to volunteer with UrbanPromise. In fact, 30 percent of UrbanPromise staff are alumni of its youth development programs – Tony Vega among them.

Working with UrbanPromise for more than 10 years, I can attest to the feeling of family as soon as you step onto the campus. From the smiling faces to the bright artwork to the kids telling jokes, you can’t help but feel you belong to this amazing place.

I’ve enabled our employees to support UrbanPromise in many ways,  everything from renovating a kitchen to laying a concrete sidewalk to mentoring youth to, most recently, building the organization’s strategic plan.

Participating in a service week event is only the beginning.

Getting folks excited about helping UrbanPromise is easy – the faces of the hundreds of successful youth is more than enough.

Recently, Campbell’s corporate leadership team, including CEO Denise Morrison, spent the afternoon at UrbanPromise, sharing career advice with teens and having strategic discussions with staff on branding, values, and their social enterprise.

When they identify additional needs, Campbell employees continue to help. Case in point: While tutoring UrbanPromise high schoolers on the SAT, another colleague struck up a conversation with staff about their branding needs.

Guess what?

He’s now spearheading a branding committee – something the organization could not have resourced on its own.

Each year, I introduce our employees to our remarkable network of non-profit partners spanning 28 locations where we have operations. The fact I can continually enable those partnerships is why I know I have the best job around. And during our annual week of service, I’ll get to see that happen again and again, in support of more than 60 organizations across the U.S.

It just happens to be my favorite week of the year.

Follow the action through #givingthatmatters on Instagram and Twitter.

Thursday, April 26

“I’m so impressed with the work you do in Camden!”

This is the single most common comment I hear from supporters, volunteers, corporate sponsors, event guests, and, recently, a local senator! As a matter of fact, UrbanPromise was formally recognized in 2017 as NPO of the Year by the Non Profit Development Center of Southern New Jersey, for outstanding contribution to and impact on the community. We are extremely proud of this award because it acknowledges the high quality programs we offer, and the talented staff we employ who are devoted to lifting up the children of Camden every day. I hope it encourages you to know that the organization you so generously support every year is being honored for excellence, and I hope you share in our pride!

We are grateful to God for this season of awards and recognition. The work we do here in Camden is hard and there are many challenges and setbacks. Today, we invite you to share in our victories as we look towards our 30-year celebration this fall. Thank you for making our work possible!

Thursday, April 26

Whatever is true...whatever is lovely...dwell on these things.
Philippians 4:8

I recently watched a TEDx talk by retired National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones entitled "Celebrate What's Right With the World!" 

As a brilliant career photographer, Jones talks about "putting on a lens of celebration"—a lens that intentionally looks for beauty, for goodness, and for the things that are wonderful in the world.  Breathtaking photos punctuate his presentation. I'd recommend you listen. Dewitt has got me thinking about being more intentional in choosing and securing this "lens of celebration" that he maintains will fill my soul and help me live more gratefully.

With this on my mind, I was thrilled to read a letter this week from a former UrbanPromise Academy student named Jessica. Her life was transformed by our high school Trekker program.  

"Trekkers taught me to find beauty in every situation," she eloquently wrote, "even unfavorable ones."Jessica gushed about paddling a canoe in the Pine Barrens, climbing Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, and kayaking in Maine.

"Being able to walk around the Pine Barrens and smell the scent of the trees and hear noises other than car horns and trains was amazing." For a city kid like Jessica, exposure to nature is a really big deal. It changed her view of the world. It changed her self-perception. It fed her soul.

"When you step away from what's familiar to you, you gain clarity," she philosophized. "I learned to stop and absorb all the good things God has put around me."

It has been 10 years since Jessica graduated from our high school, but her experiences hiking trails, identifying birds, and pitching tents still guide her decisions, shape her faith, and bring meaning to her life. After high school, Jessica graduated from Bloomfield College with a BA in Psychology. She now works for Bancroft NeuroRehab which serves individuals with various developmental and intellectual delays. She hopes to go back for a Masters of Psychology one day and work with young people in Camden.

Jessica is living proof of the work we do at UrbanPromise. Our staff gives Camden's youth more than just an education. We provide skills and experiences that build faith, character, and a deeper understanding of God's purpose for their lives—we help them find that lens of celebration.

The apostle Paul makes a promise to the church in Philippi.  Paul assures that if the community of saints is intentional about focusing on truth, beauty, and honorable and praiseworthy things, the "God of peace will be with you." 

That's a promise we want for every kid at UrbanPromise.  Please keep our UrbanTrekkers trekking by sponsoring an upcoming trip.
May peace be with you.

Dr. Bruce Main
President

PS.  We made a decision 10 years ago that if we wanted to be successful in preparing our students for college and life after UrbanPromise we needed to do school differently – the classroom would be without walls.  “Thinking Outside” would become the tag line. Whether paddling a canoe you built with your math teacher on the tidal Cooper River that flows through your city as you learn about the ecology and history of the Delaware River Watershed or hiking the nation’s capitol, visiting Arlington National Cemetery and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum - we would call it school.  These experiences are all privately funded - help us to continue to transform the lives of kids by sponsoring our unique and powerful Trekker program.

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Monday, April 16

Fellowship House and UrbanPromise Ministries are excited to announce that these two long-standing, mission-driven organizations, have come to an agreement in principle, that UrbanPromise will continue the Christian mission of Fellowship House in South Camden.  As part of this agreement, Fellowship House's facilities will be transferred to UrbanPromise, and UrbanPromise will continue to serve the children and families of the neighborhood in much the same way as Fellowship House has done these past 52 years.  We are hopeful to complete the transition by mid-May 2018 and look forward to announcing more details and events at that time  Please stay tuned for more information coming soon about Camp Peace at Fellowship House in the summer 2018 – it’s right around the corner!  

Tuesday, March 13

Usually I look forward to writing about the exciting things happening on our campus in Camden, and sharing stories about the incredible kids we serve here. But I take no pleasure in what I have to share with you today.

As you know, on Valentine’s Day, a lone gunman breached the security of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and ruthlessly killed 17 children and teachers, injuring 14 more.

Like you, I barely can comprehend that this is not only possible but that more than 31 school shootings have occurred in the United Stated in the last 10 years. So many in fact, that this generation of precious children are increasingly referred to as “Generation Massacre” or “Generation Columbine.” The mind reels at the very notion.

So here at UrbanPromise, it’s time to think about the unthinkable.

We need to retrofit and upgrade our buildings to make sure our children are safe and protected every day. Many local public schools in South Jersey have each spent over half a million dollars building vestibules and installing automatically locking doors and cameras.

We don’t have that kind of budget here, but it does not diminish our responsibility to keep our children safe.

I need your help to add some important security features to our buildings.

Because our children already face enough traumatic issues - feeling unprotected at UrbanPromise should not be one of them.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Dr. Bruce Main
President

P.S. On March 14th, our students will stand in solidarity with high school students across the country during the walkout and will also join a local march on the 24th as we encourage them to contribute their young voices to a national conversation. Two of our students, whose families have been impacted by gun violence have been invited to speak.  We are proud of them and we support them.


Ways you can help make our campus more secure!

  • Fire extinguishers (20 needed), $47
  • Blinds for classroom and sanctuary windows, library and installation (26 needed), $75
  • Upgrade door monitoring system for the high school, $1,000 
  • Door monitor, $9,000
  • Youth Wellness Sponsor (or $75/month) - $900
  • Staff and volunteer safety training - $12,000
  • A gift of any amount!

GIVE NOW


School safety takes many forms these days.  At UrbanPromise, we are going to leave the politics to the politicians and make use of the best tools we can afford. At this time, we don’t have the funds to build elaborate bulletproof vestibules and retrofit all of our buildings with autolock doors, but we can take advantage of the following tools to protect our children:

  • Fire extinguishers: the local police department has taught us that a fire extinguisher can be a powerful and effective deterrent to immobilize a threat or stop an attacker.
  • Window blinds: blinds on exterior windows and interior blackout shades make it difficult for an intruder to see how many possible victims are inside a room in the hopes that they will keep moving.
  • Door monitor with camera and buzz-in feature: if you have visited our campus, you know that you can’t enter our elementary school without being caught on camera at the front door and buzzed in by our staff. We need to upgrade our high school building with the same system.
  • Training: our staff and volunteers need to be trained with the most up-to-date lockdown procedures and techniques for handling an intruder. We already conduct regular fire and lockdown drills, but more instruction is needed as we adjust to the continued escalation in the current climate.
  • Finally, we want you to know that our most powerful defense against a threat to our children is our incredible staff. With a ratio of about one staff person for each five children, we have a created an atmosphere at UrbanPromise that is caring and vigillent. Operating in Camden, we are already accustomed to keeping a watchful eye on our young people. Every teacher and every staff person, from our directors to our beloved janitor, Duane, knows that the safety of our children is our first priority. I hope you will join us in protecting our kids.

If you'd prefer to mail your donation please send it to: UrbanPromise P.O. Box 1479 Camden, NJ 08105. For more information about making a donation, please contact Toni Farmer, Director of Development at (856) 630-9998 or tfarmer@urbanpromiseusa.org.

Monday, January 22

 

Pam Foxx opened her office door Monday morning and was shocked to discover water pouring from the ceiling and chunks of saturated sheet rock littering her desk.

As our long-time HR Director, Pam's first concern was the personnel files. "I just prayed they weren't damaged," she confided. "That would have been a disaster."

Sadly, UrbanPromise did not escape last week's "Bomb Cyclone" and subfreezing temperatures unscathed.

With a broken furnace in the CamdenForward School, our pipes were vulnerable to the savage cold. They burst. Water gushed overnight, flooding offices and our sixth grade classroom.

The estimate to replace the furnace: $20,000.

One problem: I don't have the finances to fund the project. I didn't budget for this emergency.

That's why I'm reaching out to you today. I know you're concerned that our children and staff have a warm, safe place in which they can learn and work.

Here's how we can get the furnace replaced by the end of the week:

  • 1 giver at $5,000
  • 2 givers at $2,500
  • 5 givers at $1,000 
  • 10 givers at $500 
  • 10 givers at $250
  • 25 givers at $100

Thanks for considering this urgent request! If everyone gives something, I will be able to make that call to the HVAC company today. 

In advance, I thank you for your gift. 

Bruce Main
President & Founder

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