Monday, November 14

This week’s stuffed peppers and cabbage slaw recipes gave everyone a chance to chop, dice, slice, and demonstrate their confidence and dexterity. 

In our class we decided to chop up the tops of peppers and add them to the ground turkey mixture instead of sending them to the compost. Each of our junior chefs took a turn at the stove sautéing the onions and peppers, adding the turkey and seasonings until the kitchen was aromatic. 

“You have to cook with onions,” said Cianni Green.  “They make everything taste and smell so good!”  Brazil Taylor had the last turn, adding the beans and cilantro to the skillet.  “Here come the Mexican jumping beans!” she joked. 

The cabbage slaw gave us the chance to talk about “whisking” and emulsifying” and a quick taste of the dressing confirmed that it was almost “creamy” as a result.  Our junior chefs sat down to write predictions for the day’s meal and how it would taste, trying to find new and creative ways to describe the stuffed peppers.

“This is when you need a dictionary and you don’t have it,” said Nailah Lipscomb.  “Well we know that the peppers looked cute and adorable!” said Brazil Taylor.  Once served the girls decided they were spicy, chewy, delici

ous and according to Brazil Taylor “you can taste cute.”

Friday, November 4

This month I'm asking you to consider helping a bus! That's right: a bus.

Buses are a critical component in UrbanPromise's ability to serve hundreds of youth each day!

Our AfterSchool Programs require buses to pick up our youth from neighborhood schools, drive them to our programs, and then bring every child home each 

Our schools use buses for field trips and for weekly trips to our community Kroc Center for physical education classes. 

We use them to take our teens on college visits throughout the year.

Our buses take kids places they might otherwise never go: swimming, camping, museums, the beach...Buses are essential to UrbanPromise’s ability to provide developmental and experiential opportunities for Camden youth.

UrbanPromise currently owns a fleet of 8 retired school buses to accommodate the 700 youth who participate in our programs. These vehicles are on the road 6 days a week. They need tune-ups, gas, new tires, brake pads, fluid changes, and basic upgrades.

Will you help me keep all 8 of our buses on the road this year?


Thank you in advance for considering this unusual request. Thanks for passionately caring about the safety of our children and helping to grow their life experiences.

Dr. Bruce Main

Friday, November 4

We have been busy.  The groups are coming along very well.

As we get to know the groups and the individual students, stories are bound to come out.  One of the students told a great story one of her first days in the shop: we were introducing the next topic of boatbuilding and Ha spoke up about her family. 

Ha has come to Camden from across the ocean.  Back home, she remembers her granddad bringing her to school by boat.  She and her family lived on one side of the river and the only local school was across, on the other side of the river.  So each day, if weather allowed, her granddad would take her and her sibling across the river to school.  As we kept talking, Ha told me that her granddad built the boat they used each day!  So great!!

So, weeks have passed and we have gotten to know Ha and her classmates more.  They are a great group with lots of energy and artistic ability.  We have seen some amazing pieces of art and it is coming through when it comes to boat building.  Ha is very detail-orientated and accurate.  So, it would seem, she has boat building in her blood.


Friday, November 4

There were a few wrinkled noses as we passed around the fish for a whiff at the start of class, but the promise of fish tacos had our five junior chefs optimistic.   “You know the fish tacos are going to be the best part!” predicted Cianni Green, 10.   The method of baking the fish instead of frying it gave us a chance to talk about making healthy choices as we divided the girls into two teams to tackle the recipes. The colorful vegetables gave everyone a chance to work on knife skills.

“I do not want salmonella!” said Nailah Lipscomb, 10, hurrying to the sink to wash her hands after helping bread the fish. Meanwhile the sweet potato crew got busy cutting the potatoes in even squares and deciding to move past just peeling the spots off the potatoes and peeling them completely.  The cabbage girls were slightly put off by calling the cabbage red.  “That is not red, it is purple!” said Sabechi Igweatu, but everyone agreed the orange of the potatoes and the purple of the cabbage made for a colorful dinner.    We took a few extra moments to warm the whole wheat tortillas in a pan, before each girl began filling them with fish and cabbage slaw.

A’layvia Green set out to mix up the lime mayonnaise, zesting the lime as well as squeezing the juice to add extra flavor. “We are making Key West mayonnaise!” she announced to the class, launching a conversation on the merits of tartar sauce.

The finished plate did not disappoint, with our junior chefs using words like “tasty” and “crunchy” to describe the meal, but the potatoes according to our savvy chefs “were a little under-seasoned.”

Friday, October 28

What do you do when you have to nail a new rib into your boat  What happens when the sides of the boat bounce a little and the nail just doesn't go in?

Well, you find a solution!  You need a hand anvil!  As your one hand hits the nail head with a hammer, your other hand holds the hand anvil against the rib and the boat's side so that all is strong enough to not bounce at the impact of the hammer and nail.  Sound easy?  We hope not--because it's not easy.  This was the hard work being done on Thursday afternoon in the shop requiring coordination and consentration.

We started by steaming the cedar rib so that it would bend just right.  The steamer was at full boil and the cedar bent very well into shape around the hull of the boat (see the picture below).  Once it was bent, it was time to slip the rib into the boat.  All the prep work had been done over the past few weeks.  The rib slipped into its's spot perfectly.  At that point, the only thing left was to fasten the rib to the rest of boat, which is where the hand anvil came in.  The students tackled the project fully. 


Friday, October 28

Week two and our chefs burst into class and into a song and dance routine.  All that energy was taken to the garden, where they sniffed the variety of herbs that grow and selected fresh oregano to season the cauliflower and apple side dish in today’s recipe, agreeing that it smelled like pizza.  With clean hands and calm demeanors, we divided the class into two groups, one to prep and bake the chicken and one to prep and bake the vegetables.

“I’m getting my cooking on!” said Nailah Lipscomb, after she and Cianni Green abandoned using spoons to try and cover the chicken with marinade, and plunged their clean hands right into the bowl.  The chicken cooked through but did not get brown in the oven, so we finished it in a skillet on the stove. The vegetable chefs chopped apples, cauliflower and onions—with a few tears from Malaysia Green “It hurts so bad!” she said, fanning her eyes.  The vegetable crew all had a turn chopping the onions and gained skill and confidence with chopping.

While everything was cooking, the girls set the table, and made predictions about the day’s meal using their best adjectives and nibbling on a few extra pecans and apple pieces. “I think of ice cream when I taste pecans,” said Nailah Lipscomb.  “I think of butter,” said Brazil Taylor.

Again this week, the girls finished, set the table and enthusiastically sat down to their meal.  “It not only looks delicious, it tastes delicious,” said Cianni Green.  No one disagreed and our enthusiastic chefs became enthusiastic diners.

Monday, October 24

Our six junior chefs, a group of six young ladies in the 5th grade, came to class with open minds, ready hands and evident enthusiasm for cooking. “I am the official taste-tester in my house,” said Sobechi Igweatu, 10. “And the chopper.”  Before we started we paid a visit to the UrbanPromise garden, where instructor Jane Berkowitz taught the girls how to cut the fresh Swiss chard that was growing and would replace spinach in our recipe.  A few late grape tomatoes were plucked as well and our chefs were willing to give them a try.  Back inside with hands washed, we got down to business with a preview read through of the recipe and some talk about favorite foods; and learned our group of chefs had fairly sophisticated palates, rolling off dishes like Alfredo sauce and linguini with shrimp, and French macaroons as favorites.  “One thing you need to know about me and understand is that chocolate is my life,” said Cianni Green.

The girls got their assignments, some chopping vegetables and some cutting oranges but all of them following the directive ‘Mise en place’ –or everything in its place.  “Mise-en-what?’ said Nailah Lipscomb, “that sounds like a disease!”  Instructors Becky Bryan, Jane Berkowitz and Maureen Dodson worked closely with the girls on knife skills, filling small bowls with chopped peppers and onions, acutting board full of Swiss chard and another larger bowl with compost waste. Everyone had a turn whisking the eggs, sautéing the vegetables and scrambling the eggs. “I’m like a pro!” said Brazil Taylor, 10, moving the eggs around the pan with a spatula.  The table was set without complaint and we all lined up to fill pita pockets with eggs.  “Look at this,” said Cianni Green, holding up her plate with her stuffed pita.  “I can’t believe we made this!”

Friday, October 7

Week after week with the students in the boat shop, we are thinking about how to create and nurture minds that are curious.  It is not that we stop and write this down, but we do dream about how to get students to think further than they did when they came in the shop. 

Let's take looking at aline of a boat for example.  In boatbuilding, we ask, "Is it fair?"  Not in the sense of justice or beauty, but does the curved line look right?  Is your brain telling you that it looks good?  If your brain thinks it looks good,  then maybe it is fair.  The point is not necessarily an exact science, but did they think to come to that conclusion?  A simple yes or no answer is immediately followed by, "What tells you that?" which allows the student to share their observations and reasoning for the determination. 

Before students get to build boats and determine if lines are fair, we start with trips to interesting places like the Gazela, Philly's Tall Ship, and working with wood, seeing what we can make.

These adventures and hands-on experiences pique curiosity--we can see it in the students' eyes.  I invite you to take a look at these pictures and see the students' interest--look at their eyes.  These students are amazing.


Friday, September 23

Each September we have taken the Freshmen class of UrbanPromise Academy to visit the South Jersey Port Cooperation.  Its a great tour because we don't realize how much product comes into the Port of Camden everyday!

This was my 4th visit and the first sight to behold was a boat being unloaded.  The place was buzzing with action!!  We were able to stand out of the way and hear and see all the product come off the ship.  The cranes were moving the products off the ship and then tow motors picked it up from there, bringing it either to "its" place or to a waiting truck.  Today the cargo being unloaded was steel, in the form of giant "I" beams and rolls of steel.  The "I" beams could potentially be going to help build new buildings in Camden and the rolls of steel are used to make cans for our canned food.

For students from the city, this experience was filled with surprises--they never knew that all of this happens in their city.  It is good to see all these people working hard and together.  The students learned that the steel gets picked up here as scrap metal.  From here, it's taken to either Turkey or China to be melted down and made into the rolls or "I" beams we saw, and then sent back to Camden.  One student asked, "How far can a ship go on a tank of gas?"  What a great question!  (We are still waiting for an answer.)  Other students asked what would they have to do to get a job here at the Port.  The answer was to graduate and work hard on your studies.  This is such a great message for a freshman to hear.  And this group is starting off their high school life right.


Sunday, September 4

On any afternoon during the school year, you’ll find a small group of teens – each wearing a tool belt with a staple gun or sander in hand – gathered on the expansive, dusty first floor of an old Camden church. The next hours will be filled with talking, sweating, listening, learning, planning and building. The finished product? Self-confidence, personal growth and, oh yes, a beautiful boat.

 “What we do is primarily about building a relationship with the students. We just happen to do it while being distracted building boats,” says Jeff VanderKuip, 41. The energetic VanderKuip is program director of BoatWorks, an UrbanPromise program where small teams of middle and high school students – called “cohorts” – spend around 60 hours with adult volunteers building a boat, one hammer and nail at a time.

The program began in 2009 with five teens and a handful of volunteers, but has since expanded to include 50 students each year. That first group built three skiffs, named Faith, Promise and Grace. In the seven years since, BoatWorks participants have finished more than 40 watercraft, including canoes, kayaks, sailboats, skiffs and even a dragon boat. (They are now working on a second dragon boat, because, as VanderKuip points out, “Racing is much more fun when you have two boats.”)

The boat shop is housed in two stories of the former Church of Our Savior, a building with its own place in Camden’s history. The original parish hall was built in 1892 using stones from Greenland brought on the return voyage of Matthew Henson, the first African-American to explore the Arctic and a member of the first group to reach the North Pole. A statue of Henson and his dog stands out front, just off the street.

Inside, light pours in the large windows, filtering through sawdust to illuminate boats at various stages of completion. Some are propped on sawhorses; some hang from the ceiling. Oversized wooden letters spell out “City of Camden” across a ceiling beam.

VanderKuip says the reaction of students entering the shop for the first time is typically one of wide-eyed amazement, followed rapidly by skepticism.

“You get the wide eyes,” he says.

“Often, the students are new to me, and I’m new to them so they tend to be a little standoffish at first. You don’t get a lot of loud expressions or excitement. You hear phrases like, ‘Well, I’mnot going to use it.’ I ignore that, because I know by the time we’re done I’m going to be so proud, and they’re going to be so proud of what they’ve built, they’re going to be excited to use everything here.”

Each cohort, which consists of between five and eight students, visits the boat shop for approximately two hours one day a week to work on their boat. VanderKuip says after the first few weeks, the skepticism fades and the kids are just eager to move from one step to the next.

“They get into it. They come in and they’re ready to go, geared up and focused on trying to accomplish the task of the day,” VanderKuip says. “They’re here for one afternoon a week for 30 weeks, and by the time those 30 weeks are up they’ve begun and finished an entire boat.”

VanderKuip teaches the students how to handle power tools; they do all the cutting, adhering and sanding themselves. While he is strict about safety and awareness when it comes to power tools, he also takes a relatively free-range approach to the type of hands-on learning he oversees in the boat shop.

“I’ll give them something and say, ‘Here, you’re going to use this tool,’” he says. “I look at them almost like, ‘Yeah, you’ve got it.’ I want them to feel the responsibility that I’ve just handed them this tool and then walked away. They look at me like I’m crazy, but I learned that way too. You’re probably going to mess up multiple times, but it’s important to have the freedom to mess up. There’s always some level of possibility to make changes and fix things as we go along.”

“I think a student’s mind is malleable,” he continues. “The fancy term for it is ‘experiential learning.’ What we’re doing here is all about that. The more you get to touch, feel, make, do and think through, the more you’re going to get out of this experience.”

While most of the building happens during the school year, this summer BoatWorks employed five students as River Guides. In addition to refurbishing and maintaining the fleet of more than two dozen boats, the teens underwent training on the history and ecology of the Cooper River. All summer long, they led two-hour paddling trips, piloting clients down the river and acting as tour guides.

VanderKuip says the River Guide position is an opportunity for the young people to learn the fundamentals of employment before they enter the workforce or head to college.

“It’s a legitimate job, and they’re being paid a wage,” he says. “A huge portion of it is customer service, interacting with people, carrying yourself with professionalism. Those are all things that are vital to learn.”

One of this summer’s River Guides is Derjanai Thomas, who is 19 and heads to University of Maryland this fall. Thomas grew up in Camden and joined BoatWorks during her freshman year in high school. She remembers the skepticism she felt during her first days in the boat shop, but now says she feels totally at home.

“My freshman year I was nervous, like, ‘Is this thing going to float?’” she says. “But this is the kind of thing where you shouldn’t say no until you try it.”

VanderKuip realizes that for some students who come through the boat shop, his steady presence is significant. For some, he is more than just a teacher. VanderKuip takes care to treat his students like adults; mutual respect is a large part of what he works to achieve with each group.

“In some ways, I know I’m a father figure,” he says. “I don’t ever assume I’m like a father to them, but I’ve learned a few things in 41 years, and I have the opportunity to teach these young people about some of those things I’ve learned about life and hard work. I think the students understand I love them.”

Thomas uses some of the same words when she’s asked to describe what she’s learned from working with VanderKuip.

“He is like a father figure,” she says. “You know how some people beat around the bush with you? He’s real straightforward. If you mess up, he tells you, but he also shows you how to fix it. It’s all in a caring way.”

The BoatWorks program, VanderKuip says, has as much impact on the lives of its adult volunteers as on the young people it serves. And that, he says, is kind of the point.

“They’re teaching me Camden isn’t as crazy as people think it is,” he says. “The truth is Camden has a whole lot of beautiful people living in it. We spend a lot of time shoulder to shoulder, talking about life. It’s this beautiful thing that happens about life, all while we’re building a boat.”

By Kate Morgan, SJ Magazine




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