UrbanPromise's 25th Anniversary Campaign
Being Promise in the City of Camden
The harsh conditions of Camden can take a heavy toll on child and adolescent development. Nearly 36% of UrbanPromise families live below the poverty line and 18% earn less than $10,000 each year. Within the city, only 45% of residents are employed, just 35% have a high school diploma or equivalent, and less than 6% have earned a bachelor's degree. What's more, Camden is rife with crime and violence. In fact, the city's youth are exposed to violence at a rate that is 230% higher than New Jersey municipalities with the same number of residents.
UrbanPromise was developed with the simple but powerful goal of empowering children and teens to overcome these obstacles and realize their potential. Each year, our organization provides nearly 600 youth with access to safe, high-quality schools, extended learning opportunities, summer camps, employment, and much more. We further connect our children and teens with caring adults who mentor and encourage to build self-confidence and learn essential life skills. Over the past 25 years, our approach has facilitated the success of thousands of Camden youth.
But we strive to do more. As part of our 25th Anniversary Be Promise Campaign, we plan to launch new initiatives and improve and expand current programs to better serve our youth.
Over the next few years, we intend to do the following:
Expand AfterSchool Programs, Summer Camps, & Teen Jobs
Nearly a year ago, Camden was voted the second most dangerous city in the United States and since then circumstances have not improved—they’ve grown worse. 2012 has already been one of the most violent years on record in the past decade.
The city’s increase in crime and violence means our children and teens are at risk of being harmed and becoming involved in the negative influences of the streets. As we have since 1988, UrbanPromise seeks to reach Camden youth during the hours when they are most vulnerable, 3:00-9:00 p.m. We currently serve 400 children through our neighborhood-based AfterSchool Programs and Summer Camps, and nearly 100 teens through our StreetLeader job-training program.
But over the next few years, we intend to reach even more. Our goal is to open at least two more neighborhood-based sites where children can engage in recreational and educational programming and teens can attain marketable job skills and learn to become leaders in their communities. By opening additional locations throughout the city, more youth will be kept safe and involved in our programs where they will learn, develop, and realize their potential.
Make Schools More Affordable
In 1997, UrbanPromise opened CamdenForward School (K-8) and UrbanPromise Academy (9-12) to provide Camden students with quality, Christian education in a nurturing, familial environment. Since then, as we have kept our commitment to the city’s youth, our schools have grown in both size and popularity. Currently, we serve 180 students and maintain an 80% retention rate.
However, in recent years, it has become more and more difficult for UrbanPromise families to send their children to our schools due to present tuition rates. Though low by private school standards—tuition hovers around $2,500/year—our current cost is too high for many of our families, some of whom live below the poverty line.
In order to continue educating our youth and better support our families, over the next few years UrbanPromise will shift our cost structure and implement both short- and long-term financial strategies.
Immediate assistance will be provided through our Emergency Family Fund, which offers monetary relief to families experiencing financial hardship. For the long-term, UrbanPromise has established the “Bruce Main Endowment”, which will allow the organization to shift to a sliding scale tuition model based on family income.
Increase College Scholarships
UrbanPromise’s programs are designed to support the academic growth and success of our youth. From an early age, our children are encouraged to focus on their studies and apply to college. Throughout high school, teens are prepped for college admissions tests, applications, and the world of financial aid. Our approach has seen tremendous results: Each year, around 93% of our graduates enroll in college.
Yet despite our efforts, it is an incredible challenge for our young adults and their families to finance a college education. Due to a lack of aid and inadequate income, many students who begin as freshmen at four-year institutions are forced to change schools and enroll in community colleges or vocational schools.
Inspired to fill the gap between students’ financial aid and family income, in 2011 one of our alumni established a scholarship fund to support the education of our graduates. Entitled “Ambassadors of Hope”, the fund has provided more than $50,000 in scholarship money to our graduates in the last year.
Yet as the number of college students grows, this scholarship figure must also increase. Over the next few years, UrbanPromise intends to grow this fund by 25% each year to help ease our students’ financial burdens and allow them to complete their education at four-year institutions.
Establish the UrbanPromise Wellness Center
Camden is well known for its pervasive poverty, crime, and violence. Equally distressing problems are the city’s high rates of malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. The majority of Camden’s children do not meet recommendations for nutrition and physical activity and their diets largely consist of fast food, sugary beverages, and salty snacks. What’s more, youth suffer from high rates of chronic disease, particularly asthma, which often results from the city’s poor air quality.
Research has shown that there is a direct relationship between one’s health and wellbeing and academic achievement and physical development. With this in mind, our organization has launched the UrbanPromise Wellness Center in conjunction with our efforts to increase the healthy eating and physical activity of our youth.
Wellness Center goals are to provide daily preventive and episodic care to youth, to connect youth and staff to area healthcare institutions and professionals, and to offer mental and emotional health support through grief and trauma counseling. The center is directed by Rebecca Bryan, MSN, CRNP, who has more than 20 years of healthcare experience, and is supported by the First Presbyterian Church of Haddonfield, NJ and several volunteer medical professionals.