Yesterday, the Courier Post published an article written by Camden’s mayor, Dana Redd. In the article, it is obvious that her intent is to promote the city’s willingness to accept businesses into the city which may find it worth their while to take advantage of New Jersey’s Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) and relocate to Camden City. This makes sense, due to Camden’s perpetual budgetary shortfall. However, it is definitely clear to big businesses, according to the mayor’s regional announcement, that Camden’s doors will swing wide open with a velvet red carpet should a corporation wish to relocate it’s operations to the city. After all, the mayor “applauded” the $82 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. Imagine what $82 million could have done for Camden’s Public Schools…
It is a nice change though, hearing a welcoming atmosphere being brought to the city. Previously, and for decades, Camden County’s affordable housing responsibilities were sent to Camden without much input from Camden residents at all. The wealthy suburban municipalities did not want them in their towns. Also, nobody heard about the placement of the unit locations! It has been a classic case of “out of sight, out of mind” for suburban Camden County. That is why Camden struggles to generate a sufficient tax base in order to balance the operating budget. Camden does not struggle, as the mayor stated, just because of “disinvestment”. It struggles because the County has placed 76.8% of it’s poorest families into one Camden City.
Mayor Redd also failed to mention an important anchor institution while she mentioned a list of, “committed partners […] and anchor institutions”. She forgot to mention Rutgers-Camden and the 7,000 students and faculty that go along with the campus. Now, as a student, this omission is not just insulting because of the literal fact that Rutgers-Camden has been, and continues to be an anchor institution, located within a rock’s throw from City Hall. It’s more so insulting because it appears that the mayor does not realize the extraordinary amount of work that the university does for her city.
This argument can begin and end with Rutgers-Camden’s Office of Civic Engagement, even though several other offices and groups are determined to make a difference. The self-describing office provides many services and programs that engage students and faculty with Camden residents through after school programs, soup kitchens, day care centers, health care providers, teen-mentoring efforts, non-profit organizations, as well as religious and environmental entities, all determined to make a collective beneficial difference in Camden. In some cases, the work by the Civic Scholars has preceded the authoritative efforts by Camden’s mayor.
For example, Mayor Redd said that her administration will be working with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development in order to, “provide customized job-training courses in work ethics, job coaching and personal finance management”. Although more volume is needed, this effort has already been in effect for more than year now, with the charge being led by Amy Mallon and Katherine Nguyen. Their program, NOW HIRING!, is a collaborative effort between Rutgers-Camden’s Human Resource department and the Civic Scholars. NOW HIRING! prepares Camden residents for the interview process, edits résumés, and has earned several residents a much needed job.
Katherine is also regular volunteer at Project H.O.P.E, INC, where she supports an effort to better men and women’s health for those who are at risk or experiencing homelessness in the city.
Madison Rogers also participates in helping Camden residents prepare for the workforce. She has created and mastered a curriculum for her ESL program which is offered to the parents of Molina Elementary School. As an extension of the Ignite after-school program, Madison and her team have empowered several classes with the English language skills required to communicate in the American workplace. The next class begins July 7th in Armitage Hall.
The work of the Civic Scholars and the Office of Civic Engagement does not only serve Camden’s adult population. Russell Tichian has participated at Holy Name School’s after school program for three years now, helping children with their homework and mentoring them along the way. Brian Gregg has also participated in a similar effort, where he regularly mentors teenagers and actively participates in their school life. This type of work is the beginning to a strong and prosperous workforce, and Rutgers-Camden is making it happen.
Marcus Biddle has even been honored by his service site, The Neighborhood Center, with an award. Within the facility he has performed just about every service the multipurpose non-profit offers. He has also begun work with Dr. Stephen Danley to create a newspaper for Camden residents to report their own stories, rather than have outside media sources continue to cast a dark light on all aspects of the city.
Take Angelica Shaw as another example. She has directed and planned several programs all throughout the year for TeenSHARP. It is so important to know that every single one of the 40 active Civic Scholars perform these works as community service while also balancing their classes, and at least one paying job. Faculty of Rutgers-Camden are also regularly engaged with community service efforts while balancing their research and teaching responsibilities. Chris Countryman, the program director of the Civic Scholars, regularly volunteers with TeenSHARP and visits every one of the 20 Community Partners of Rutgers-Camden.
I guess the mayor became too distracted by the mega dollar signs that have been making headlines in the city lately. It seems odd, and actually worrisome, that Mayor Redd omitted Rutgers-Camden from her article, especially when considering her own roles with Rutgers-Camden. She graduated from Rutgers-Camden, and she sits on the Board of Directors as well as the joint Rutgers-Camden/Rowan University Board of Governors which individually holds eminent domain powers in Camden City. In fact, it was the Civic Scholars who were asked to help set up the Camden Night Garden festival, which the Mayor attended and helped to organize as a effort to “witness the rebirth”. Maybe it was just a slip of the mind, it happens, but considering everything that Rutgers-Camden offers to the city, we should try to not let such efforts be overlooked again. Plus, I haven’t even touched the research power the campus holds…