Students bring hope to Camden

Students from the College spent their spring break helping the Camden community. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Polhemus)

By Amy Keitel
Staff Writer

Over spring break, a group of students from the College worked to help the youth of one of the nation’s most depressed cities, Camden, N.J.

Ten students from the College spent the week of March 8 helping the children of Camden through UrbanPromise, an organization that provides many academic, recreational and spiritual programs for inner-city children. The trip was sponsored by campus organizations The Canterbury House, Coalition for Change and Cure for Camden.

“This trip opened our eyes to a place that is so different than where most of us live,” said Ashley Polhemus, freshman biomedical engineering major. “There is such a cycle of poverty there.”

The volunteers participated in various activities throughout the week, such as tearing up a floor and tearing down a ceiling in a basement that will be used for one of UrbanPromise’s after-school programs. They also washed school buses, gardened, helped tutor the children and organized school supplies. They helped in the after-school program, and while they were there, the children participated in their own Olympics. The students took part in games of capture the flag, relay races and also played their own version of curling with frozen turkeys in place of stones.

“It’s astounding that they can be as high-spirited as they were,” Polhemus said.

The student volunteers stayed in a retreat house on the UrbanPromise campus, which is located in the middle of Camden. The cost for the week was $175, which paid for their accommodations, but most of the money went to help fund the many programs offered by UrbanPromise.

In addition to after school programs, UrbanPromise has two schools, CamdenForward School, an elementary and middle school, and UrbanPromise Academy, the program’s high school. Other extracurricular activities include summer camps and fine arts programs, teen job training, as well as UrbanTrekkers, a program that takes the children out of the urban areas in which they live to explore nature.

Cure for Camden has only been an organization on this campus since last spring, after a group of students who were in professor of history and department chair Celia Chazelle’s freshman seminar, “Social Justice, History and Practice,” took up interest in helping New Jersey’s poorest city. The class focused on urban poverty and the students took trips to Camden, volunteering with Heart of Camden a non-profit organization similar to UrbanPromise.

“We had become educated on the city’s struggles and by going into the area and meeting the residents, the abject poverty we read about and discussed in class became real to us,” said Stephanie Kraver, sophomore English major and president of Cure for Camden.

The club plans to continue making trips to Camden on weekends through the end of the semester, as well as in coming semesters. They also hope to get involved in some advocacy work by helping the children voice their concerns to the state government about the city’s conditions.

“Camden is severely impoverished. The government has neglected the area and pervasive state corruption has created a situation of entrenched poverty,” Kraver said. “Any real and lasting change will take time and ultimately require government assistance.”