Here’s my end of year confession: In 8th grade I wasn’t really interested in the things of God.
But Sunday School attendance was required in the Main household, so I would dutifully change into my Sunday best, jump in the Chevy Impala and get my “father-driven-Uber-shuttle” to the front steps of our Baptist church.
My 8th grade Sunday school class was comprised of a ragtag group of 10 boys from different parts of the city. Besides Kevin—the one kid who could recite all the right prayers, always won the Bible trivia, and always made us feel spiritually inferior—the rest of us were little rebels who did everything to make life miserable for our volunteer teachers.
That 8th grade year, seven (yes, seven!) of our Sunday School teachers resigned—a church record still holding strong today! Special elder and prayer meetings were held, all trying to solve the problem of the boys' 8th grade Sunday school class.
Then Al Klatt showed up—a twenty-six year old, retired, semi-pro hockey player. Al had learned of the notorious 8th grade class, but wasn’t deterred from a challenge. Six years in the rough and tumble minor hockey leagues was more than enough preparation for our little class of preadolescent rebels.
“Here’s the deal, “ began Al at our first meeting, “Sunday School lasts for an hour. We’ll play 50 minutes of floor hockey. But the last 10 minutes you’ll have to listen to me.”
By far, this was the best offer we’d ever been given. Fifty minutes of floor hockey in the church gym—and just 10 minutes of Bible study! Unanimously we consented—except, of course, Kevin. He thought it appalling to use “the Lord’s” time for such frivolous activities.
And Al lasted as our teacher. Through our high school years he guided us, kept us out of trouble and taught us about the things of faith. He cheered for us at our high school games, let us paint our Sunday School classroom with psychedelic colors and bought Kentucky Fried Chicken to accompany the Super Bowl Party he hosted at his apartment.
Forty years passed between visits with Al. A year ago we reconnected. He’s aged a bit and now battles early Parkinson’s disease. He shared how he had followed my career and was encouraged by what I had done with my life. I got to thank him for his influence on me.
Without a doubt, my life has been impacted by many people. But Al Klatt, intervening at a critical time, made a big impact and influenced my life’s vocation. I’ve never forgotten.
This is why I’m still so passionate about UrbanPromise. We find caring adults, who connect with kids, and ask them to shepherd, guide and love young people through their turbulent years. And it still works!
So as this year comes to a close, please think of those who impacted your life—and help the UrbanPromise team continue this vital work.
A wonderful 2020!
Founder & President
PS. Was there a person who made a difference in your life? I’d love to hear about it. Perhaps you can call and thank them!
PSS. Better still, consider giving a gift in their honor. That would be meaningful!
“Courage unparalleled, opened her utterly.”
-Denise Levertov, ‘Annunciation’
“When you told me about this reality,” shared my friend Colin, “I just had to do something.”
Two years ago I was invited to a speaking engagement in Toronto, Canada. The church put my wife and I up at a local hotel for a couple of nights. The first morning we noticed 20-30 children streaming off the elevators and shuttled into a back room. Curious, I followed the group, only to discover that the hotel was hosting about 100 refugee families from numerous African countries—some had been living in the hotel for over 6 months. Evidently the children were bored and didn’t have much to do.
I shared my observation with a dear friend from Toronto named Colin McArtney. Colin decided to act by mobilizing a handful of young Christian leaders to care for these forgotten kids.
“I’m now doing youth programs for refugees in various hotels around the city,” he continued. “We just hosted a series of Christmas parties for over 800 children. Look what you started!”
What Colin is doing was actually started long before me.....
At the heart of the Christmas story is a young woman—named Mary—who said "Yes" to God. In the words of poet Denise Levertov, Mary displayed “unparalleled courage” which allowed her to say yes to a journey of faith for which she did not know the ending.
Regardless of the uncertainty and potential pain, by saying "Yes" Mary ignited a chain of events which literally birthed God’s mysterious work into the world—that new, creative, beautiful and redemptive work found in the person of Jesus. It all started with a peasant girl opening her heart—utterly—to the spirit of God.
By saying yes to the promptings of God, my friends in Toronto are living the essence of Christmas—and they’re bringing hope and joy to dislocated refugee children trying to find their way in a new and foreign land.
My prayer, for us all, is to be those Christmas people who find the courage to “utterly” open ourselves to God’s spirit—becoming the hands, feet and heart of Christ to those who thirst for hope.
Founder & President
“It always took him about 30 minutes to get from the front door to his desk,” shared the receptionist with a smile. “He’d say good morning to everyone as he walked by—asking them about their son’s little league baseball game, their ailing mother-in-law, their recent vacation. He just cared for people.”
That’s one of my favorite Joe Holman stories, an UrbanPromise friend and supporter who built a small regional Ford dealership into an international business (Holman Enterprises) with over 7000 employees. No matter how large the business grew, people were always a priority.
Mr Holman passed peacefully away this week at the age of 93. Up until a week ago, he went to the work every day! He seldom missed an UrbanPromise event.
This past summer I had the privilege of hearing his daughter Mindy—now CEO of the company—speak to a group of young UrbanPromise leaders. “I remember hearing a story about my father,” she reminisced. “His assistant told me that he always separated his outgoing mail into two piles. One pile got the company stamps. One pile got his personal stamps. He believed that using company stamps for personal mail was stealing. My dad had integrity. He believed in honesty.”
This week the UrbanPromise community is deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend. We are also saddened that our world has lost a kind, compassionate, humble leader who cared deeply about his community.
But despite the sadness, I am also grateful—grateful to have known a leader who, despite his prodigious success and influence, never lost his moral compass. And by doing the right thing the right way, decade after decade, he built a company culture that not only affirmed the worth and dignity of its people, but also enjoyed financial prosperity and respect amongst its peers.
In a world that increasingly celebrates leaders who willfully display egregious acts of hubris and sell their souls for short term gains, it’s a gift to be reminded that humility, kindness and decency are not antithetical to success—they’re actually the ingredients that create a world in which we all desire to live.
So thank you, Joe, for showing us the way. Rest In Peace.
Five months after delivering her first daughter, Michelle missed the bottom step while descending a staircase, tripped and broke her leg.
A few weeks later, to make things even more challenging for the new mother, she slipped again. This time Michelle broke her wrist.
“Navigating with crutches, a boot cast, a splint on my left arm and a baby in tow was a bit of a challenge,” she now chuckles. “Have you ever tried changing a diaper with one hand?”
I wish we enjoyed some kind of divine protection from sickness and calamity. We don’t. Michelle is grateful to have health insurance.
Michelle and her husband Andy are one of UrbanPromise’s “founding families.” Michelle initially came as an intern in her 20s, directed one of our afterschool programs and eventually taught as a first grade teacher in our elementary school. She met Andy at UrbanPromise.
After graduating from The College of William and Mary with a BS in Physics (and a MA in International Security from the University of Maryland), Andy joined the UP team and has served faithfully for over 20 years — he now oversees our schools.
UrbanPromise is blessed to have missionaries like the Joshua family — families that stay year after year, welcome wayward youth into their homes, and create a community of consistency.
“As a mother of 4 children,” Michelle reminded me recently, “decent health insurance gives me the peace of mind that our family will be okay in the event of emergency. It definitely allows our family to continue to serve with UrbanPromise.”
Last month UrbanPromise renewed its health insurance policy for the coming fiscal year. It’s one of my least favorite activities.
Our total bill — to cover all our staff and families — is approximately $373,000. A substantial part of our budget.
Despite our best efforts to shop for various plans and reduce costs, we still incurred a 12% increase from last year — roughly $40,000.
Here’s a plan so we can continue providing quality healthcare for our community:
We need one gift of $15,000
We need one gift of $10,000
We need one gift of $5,000
We need three gifts of $1,000
We need six gifts of $500
We need six gifts of $250
We need 25 gifts of $100
Keeping great people at UrbanPromise is my goal. Please consider helping me make up the increase, ensuring our staff continue to have quality healthcare.
Thanks in advance — families like the Joshua’s extend their gratitude.
PS. Please read a few of these inspirational testimonies from our staff. You’ll see why health insurance is so critical.
I just became eligible for healthcare through UrbanPromise this year -- and just six months after that, I needed major emergency surgery with no warning at all. The bill for that would have been astronomical; I can’t express how grateful I am to UrbanPromise for giving me the tools to handle what life throws at me.
Development Associate, 2 years
I think I’m the longest serving employee at UrbanPromise —besides Bruce. This is home to me. This place changed my life. As I continue to deal with the ailments of aging, I am grateful to have a job that cares for my health and well being.
DORIS "YA YA" QUINONES
Receptionist and “Resident Grandmother,” 23 years
I never had health insurance growing up in Camden and I got a lot of medical bills due to some health issues. So I’m now grateful for affordable co-pays and insurance that covers my doctor visits. There are people raised in the city who want to serve like me. It’s just not feasible because they can’t find organizations that provide benefits like UrbanPromise.
AfterSchool Program Director, 10 years
Did you know that only two groups of potential military employees get invited to the Pentagon for their job interviews?
Your guess? That's right: nuclear engineers and chaplains! Yes, those are the only two....
So when our very own CamdenForward School History and Bible teacher, Joe Delvalle, was called to Washington last month, he knew he'd made the final cut to serve as a Chaplain in the US Navy.
Joe, or as the children affectionately call him, "Mr. D," got started at UrbanPromise as a child growing up in the Cramer Hill section of the city. "I was a camper at Camp Hope," he reminisces, "those were fun times and formative for my faith and life."
Life took Joe into the military where he travelled extensively. After his service, Joe came back to UrbanPromise and continued to serve in the Reserves on weekends.
"My first deployment as a chaplain will be with the US Coast guard," he revealed. "I'll have responsibility for about 5,000 men and women who serve in this division." When asked what he'll be doing specifically as a chaplain: "I keep my finger on the pulse of unit morale. I'll do church services, a lot of counseling and spiritual direction."
The students and staff at UrbanPromise could not be prouder. "I'm sorry to be losing an amazing teacher," shared our principal Terry Bullock (also a veteran), "but I'm so proud that he was chosen to serve our country in this way. It's a honor."
We wish you the very best, Mr. D! Thanks for your 4 years of service at UrbanPromise. We pray for God's blessing upon your service with the Navy.
President & Founder
Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts....
"Every year we get this charming donation for the Christmas store," shared Sio, our talented children's ministry director. "Two matching outfits for girls. I mean they're quality. High end, boutique store quality. Really adorable."
The Christmas store is an important tradition at UrbanPromise. Rather than handing out gifts to families--an action than can often be disempowering and humiliating--our leaders create a store where parent can come and choose quality gifts for their children.
"The matching outfits are usually scooped up by a mother or father who has two daughters," continued Sio. "It's always a popular item for our families."
Sio was intrigued by uniqueness of the gift. After all, why would someone go through the trouble of donating matching outfits every year? There had to be a story. So, after a little research, Sio discovered that the mystery gift was always packaged and mailed from Charlotte, NC.
"So last year when I visited Charlotte my curiosity got the best of me," chimed Sio, "I went to visit the person who sends the matching jumpsuits."
To Sio's surprise, an elderly couple were behind the gift--"a wonderful, sweet couple" who love our work and mission. Sio questioned the woman about the reason behind the gift.
"I always wanted granddaughters," confided the women. "We just never got them. So it brings me such joy to envision a couple of sisters dressed in those matching outfits." Beautiful. That's a story.
The way people respond to the circumstances of their lives intrigues me deeply. For some, not having grandchildren might lead to resentment or bitterness. For others, this absence or void becomes a motivating force leading to acts of generosity, thoughtfulness and beauty. Same situation--just a completely different response. Our friends from Charlotte filled their void with kindness to strangers.
In the Christmas story the Magi come to the Christ-child bearing gifts. Gifts were the only appropriate response for what they were experiencing. Words were not enough.
And that's why many of us will give gifts this Christmas. Gifts are powerful. They are our attempt to materialize the deepest intentions and feelings of our hearts for others. May we give thoughtfully, reflectively and imaginatively.
Founder & President
- What is the most meaningful gift you have given? Why was it so meaningful?
- When did you receive a meaningful gift? What did the gift tell you about your relationship with the person?
- Reflect on a gift God has given to you this week.
"Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God."
A beautifully wrapped box leaned against my office door. Whoever left it there had taken great care to neatly fold the paper, ensuring exact creases. A complimentary silver bow juxtaposed the black paper, pronouncing a level of quality. This was a grade up from the Dollar Store.
What struck me was the weight of the gift box as I hoisted to my hip. Rocks? Paper weights? Lead pellets? It was heavy.
I opened the card first, tearing a small hole and sliding my index finger along the top. As I pulled the card from its holster, a neatly folded piece of paper feel to the floor.
I picked it up and read:
"Principles of Embalming--final grade, A-minus." I looked again, double checking the document. "Funeral Service Pathology--final grade, A." Evidently I was viewing a transcript. No ordinary transcript. A transcript for being a Funeral Director.
"Dear Bruce," began the note. "UrbanPromise made a difference for me, once again, so I could finish the spring semester. Your gift didn't just encourage me to finish the semester, but it reminded me that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Love Chivon."
God use people--you and me--to remind others that they have potential, worth and favor.
For a moment I pondered. Then remembered her SOS email. It came one cold morning six months earlier. Chivon, a young woman who grew up at UrbanPromise, had run out money and needed $300 to stay enrolled in her Funeral Services degree. I was able to call a friend and get the money. Apparently it made the difference. Not only did she finish the degree (and not only will I get embalmed at a discount!), but it reminded her of God's faithfulness and gave her the confidence to believe that her life could be extraordinary.
Extraordinary lives don't just happen by accident. They are often the result of choices. Some strategic. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time, prepared and ready to take advantage of the fleeting opportunity that drops in our lap. But sometimes it's having a friend, a counselor, a family member, a pastor, even a stranger intervene at a critical moment who reminds you that you have found favor with God. God uses people--you and me--to remind others that they have potential, worth and favor.
"So why mortician school?" I innocently asked.
"When my grandmother died I didn't have money to pay to get her hair done," she reminisced. "So I asked the funeral parlor to let me make up her hair and prepare her for burial. It was a meaningful and healing experience for me. I've decided I now want to minister to grieving people during this period of their lives."
Advent is truly a season of sharing hope and light. It was no accident that inside Chivon's heavy gift box were three large candles. I am humbled to be part of a ministry that sends ambassadors of hope, like Chivon, into the world.
Founder & President
- Reflect on a time when someone has intervened in your life during a critical moment. What did you learn from that experience?
- What opportunities do you have to bring hope to someone who needs encouragement to persevere this week?
I'm going to send you what God has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with the power from on high. – Luke 24:49
"Where did the name UrbanPromise come from?" That's a question I'm asked all the time. It's a great story.
Years ago a group of missionaries gathered in a musty church basement in East Camden. Our task was to find a name for our growing ministry. Before us: a blank chalk board and caffeinated minds full of ideas.
Over the next few hours we spontaneously wrote names and phrases on the board--an old fashioned brainstorming session! By the end of the session there were 100's of words scribbled. But nothing was clicking. We were stuck.
"I just read this article," shared Gina, one of our pioneers. "It was based on Luke 24:49. The writer talked about staying in the city and waiting for God's promise of power from on high." She continued to share how the disciples, with just a promise, were directed back to the city–an urban community. "There were no guarantees," she revealed. "Just a promise!"
Then it clicked. Out of the hundred's of words on the dusty black board, two jumped out--"urban" and "promise".
Everyone in the room unanimously agreed. "Urban" reminded us of our daily commitment to the city. "Promise" reminded us of God's faithfulness to provide and guide our efforts.
As you are well aware, our world is full of broken promises--the impact on children is acutely profound. Parents break promises. Politicians break promises. Educators break promises. Religious leaders break promises. Broken promises can lead to broken lives. The world desperately needs places where promises are kept.
That's what we try to do at UrbanPromise. For 30 years you have helped us keep our promise to the children of Camden. Every gift, every prayer, every volunteered hour helps fulfill our promise keeping mission.
The name UrbanPromise continues to grow in meaning and recognition. For our children, families, staff, volunteers and donors UrbanPromise is a place of hope, opportunity and love--year after year. It's a place where people experience the faithfulness of God embodied in a community of people. That's power. That's a promise.
President & Founder
- Reflect on a time where a promise has been made to you and kept? A time a promise was broken? How did each impact your faith?
- Have you ever made a promise that required more of you than you could have anticipated? What did you learn about yourself in the process?
- What is your promise to your community this advent season?
Do you know that UrbanPromise serves 7,900 nutritious meals each month to our children?
That’s a lot of food: 7,900 breakfasts, lunches and dinners served every 30 days… then repeated again the next month… and again – all year! That’s a lot of preparation and clean-up.
7,900 times a month a child’s stomach is filled to relieve nagging hunger and receive the nutrients and calories needed to develop healthy bodies and minds, and retain the ability to focus on their classroom work.
It staggers my imagination to think that “food scarcity” is still a very real problem for children growing up in our world’s wealt
hiest country. Yet it’s a daily reality that UrbanPromise addresses.
Recently this issue of food scarcity became very personal to one of my colleagues.
After a speaking engagement at a local business, 15-year-old Saniyah whispered to her: “Can I take home the whole box?”
Whole box? Whole box of what? It turned out Saniyah wanted to take home the box of 40 soft pretzels leftover from the event.
Driving back to Camden our concerned UrbanPromise staff learned the deeper story: Saniyah doesn’t live with her parents. Saniyah lives with relatives. She lives in a home where the food supply is unreliable and inconsistent. To avoid hunger, Saniyah thinks ahead – a box of free soft pretzels would help her and her family out for the week.
How does UrbanPromise keep serving 7900 meals each month? Not easily. We need help.
$66,780 is what is needed to ensure that no UrbanPromise child goes to bed hungry in 2019.
Holiday meals are great (and we will be serving some amazing Christmas dinners in the next few weeks), but after the holidays our young people still need to eat. Here’s how we can raise the needed funds:
$70, One month of meals for one child.
$140, One month of meals for two children.
$280, One month of meals for four children.
$560, One month of meals for on
e teen and 7 children.
$1120, One month of meals for 2 teens and 14 children.
$6678, One month of meals for all UrbanPromise children
Let’s give our children the gift of nutritious food this holiday season and make sure that a Philadelphia soft pretzel is a treat… not a meal.
President & Founder
PS. $50,000 Matching Gift Alert: An UrbanPromise friend believes children need food, but also realizes that UrbanPromise needs operating funds. For every dollar raised for food this holiday season, a dollar will be donated to UrbanPromise for general operations – up to $50,000! An incredible offer!
The StreetLeaders in our student leadership-work program are both the providers and the recipients of dinner many nights. As part of our life skills training, our teens learn food management and nutrition and actively cook dinner many nights a week for the children in the afterschool program. They also get to eat a dinner they prepared themselves. How many teens do you know who not only know how to cook a healthy dinner, but do so for dozens of kids a night? Incredible!
Briana was beyond happy the day her father was released from prison. He had parented the best he could while serving time--encouraging her to do well in school, to stay away from boys and promising her that he would soon be there for her in person. When he was finally released, he kept his promise. Briana enjoyed a magical summer connecting with her father and making up for the time they had lost.
Two months later, he was shot and killed. How does a child process that kind of grief?
Children at UrbanPromise don’t have to face grief, depression or anxiety alone. Six years ago we started the Wellness Center to help children cope with the trauma of living in a community known for poverty, violence and scarcity. Trauma creates dark spaces that are scary and uncomfortable for children.
Today, this robust program is meeting the needs of children who have faced the loss of a loved one, homelessness, abuse or the damage caused by addiction. We provide them with the means to make sense of a complicated and sometimes scary world so they can focus on their academics and after-school activities - or just remember how to be a kid.
Siomara Wedderburn, our Wellness Director, shares there is always hope: “Although many of our children have experienced trauma, they are resilient human beings. We are intent on creating safe spaces for them to grow, learn and play. When life gets hard for them we provide compassion, empathy and love. We walk alongside of them and equip them with tools to succeed.”
Wellness at UrbanPromise includes “quiet rooms” in our schools where kids can retreat during an intense moment of anxiety and practice breathing exercises or write in a journal. Student in grades 6-12 create personal safety plans that help them prevent meltdowns or, in the midst of one, find paths back to calm behavior. Younger children are introduced to a “frustration thermometer” to help manage emotions and stay calm in stressful moments.
Libby Whitman, our full-time therapist, is always on hand to work with all of our children one-on-one. It was Libby who held and comforted Briana after her father died. When Briana expressed a fear that she would forget her dad, Libby helped her create a “memory bracelet” where each bead represented a moment from the summer they spent together. A black bead to represent the black shirts he wore; a yellow bead to represent his birthday month; a brown bead to represent a breakfast they shared when he let her try a sip of his coffee.
“Grief is a messy and long process. In counseling we take small steps together,” explains Libby. Briana is showing signs of strength- she is a trustworthy friend to whom her friends flock for empathetic listening and support. Just as her dad encouraged her, she is inspiring her peers and often asks to pray for her friends in counseling.
Siomara and Libby are training our entire staff to be trauma informed and together we are creating a campus that is physically and emotionally safe.
Help us continue to bring healing to our youth.
Director of Development
P.S. In 2017-18, the Wellness counseling team offered 1,027 counseling sessions to over 95 students in our schools and met 100% of referrals for counseling by parents, students, and staff. Help us continue to do this important work this year!
P.P.S. Please consider partnering with our Wellness Center to bring healing to our community in one of the following ways:
- $50 – MP3 players, stress balls, journals and other materials for quiet rooms
- $130 – Three one-on-one counseling sessions for one child
- $280 – Trauma training for one staff member
- $520 – Three months of nutritional cooking classes for the 5th grade class
- $900 – Sponsor one child for wellness services
- $4,500 – Become a Wellness Partner - join a small group of devoted donors who underwrite the annual expense of the Wellness Center