Children’s laughter, moving buses, bouncing basketballs, flying water balloons, raucous singing, dramatic Bible teachings….all beautiful sounds for those who love summer youth ministry.
This summer felt somewhat “normal” for UrbanPromise—with in-person summer camps, jobs for teens, swim trips, canoeing on the Cooper River and overnight camping. Youth were grateful. Parents were elated to have their children out of the house.
UrbanPromise schools also re-opened after Labor Day to in-person learning. Our team is vigilant about the ever-changing dynamics of this pandemic. Please continue to pray for our students and teachers. More than ever, our students NEED an UNINTERRUPTED school year.
As of September our After School programs, StreetLeader teen employment programs, Boat Building, Wellness and Trekker programs are all underway in their critical work—engaging our young people outside of the traditional classroom.
We thank you for sharing your generous spirit with us so UrbanPromise can continue to do the work we are so passionate about. We hope to see you this coming year. More than ever, we need to unite around our children.
Thank you for your generosity!
President & Founder
What does UrbanPromise do to quench the thirst of hundreds of children and teens during a hot and humid summer?
We call our friends at Pepsi and the deliver pallets of FREE WATER, Snapple and juices. Thank you Pepsi of Pennsauken for your help this summer.
Not only did Pepsi quench our thirst, their management hosted tours for our youth—sharing opportunities for employment and career options. Our young people learned about product distribution, technology and how companies can be great corporate citizens.
“I really enjoyed our field trip to Pepsi,” claimed one teen. “It was amazing to see everything that goes into bringing a product to the public...the research, marketing, science, and production. I'll never look at a Snapple the same way again.”
Pepsi is one of many local companies who assist UrbanPromise. We’re grateful for corporate leadership who want to partner with organizations, like ours, who are making a positive impact in the southern New Jersey area.
“In just five weeks, look what we did!” Voice lifting with excitement, she continued, “Can you imagine the difference we can make by keeping this program rolling for the entire year?”
Great question: What can we do if we keep this rolling? What’s the program….
Our full-time volunteer librarian, Sue Bartholomew, was sharing with me the success of UrbanPromise’s five-week intensive summer school program.
“Every student I assessed improved one reading level. It’s remarkable the difference that focused, individualized tutoring can make," Sue shared.
I was elated to hear this news, especially after reading the current, sobering McKinsey and Company report titled "The Lingering Effects of Unfinished Learning". After collecting educational data from across the country, researchers conclude that most American students find themselves three to four months behind in math and reading. In low-income communities, unfinished learning is even greater (six to seven months) and will only accentuate existing academic disparities. The report projects an increase in high school dropouts. Lower college admissions are inevitable.
That’s why I’m so impressed with Sue and her cadre of teachers and volunteers.
"Our students didn’t simply maintain—they made gains! Our volunteers have something that a paycheck can’t buy," Sue boasted, "Passion. Love. Dedication.”
This fall—more than ever in the 33-year history of UrbanPromise—a strategic academic focus is needed to help our children and teens reclaim their “unfinished learning.”
It won’t be easy. But our team is compelled and committed to make it happen. Seriously, we’re compelled. We’re committed.
Yet we need resources to execute our mission. Whether you partner with a student, help ensure our teens stay focused and equipped for college this year, help recruit, train and mobilize a volunteer, or make sure all of our children attending after school programs are receiving tutoring and wellness services - there is no doubt we need you in order to do this important work.
There is unfinished business—“unfinished learning” to be exact.
With your help, I am confident we can close the gap in these coming months.
Let’s do this!
Founder and President
P.S. We have an exciting opportunity! The Mary Anton Memorial Scholarship Fund has committed to matching dollar-for-dollar the first THREE new student partners - this is amazing!!! As a Partner you will be paired with one of our students in K-12th (your preference) and have the chance to get to know them over the course of the school year through correspondences and in-person events at our school.
P.P.S. Here’s the link to the McKinsey and Company Report: https://mck.co/3sK4Vbh
Summer of Impact: All Camp Day
It’s a glorious tradition birthed in desperation.
Our staff needed a trophy for the morning’s “All Camp” Olympics—an inter-camp competition pitting UrbanPromise’s multiple summer camps against one another. After games were played, songs sung, and races raced the winning team needed to be recognized.
“Urban” legend recalls that an intern found a plastic milk crate, spray-painted it gold, filled it with candy and created the “Golden Crate”.
A trophy was created. A tradition was born. Thirty years later, children in Camden still want to win this coveted prize. Bragging rights for the year, candy for the team and the pride of being part of an enduring legacy.
So congratulations to this summer’s Golden Crate winner…Drum Roll….
Our Camp Peace program from South Camden under the leadership of director, Derrick Sondrini!
“Children were so happy to be out of their houses again,” shared StreetLeader Director, Tony Vega. “The social connection and daily schedule provided a hopeful environment after a long, difficult year.”
Not to diminish the accomplishment of winning the Golden Crate, but I also need to congratulate the ENTIRE UrbanPromise Summer team for delivering an incredible experience for our city’s young people.
Congratulations on planning and implementing a COVID-free (yes! No cases!), dynamic, safe, education-based, faith-enriching and fun summer experience for hundreds of children and teens.
As donors and partners, please know this work only exists because of your generosity and prayers. Our team is grateful—
Founder & President
PS. Please enjoy the short video from our All Camp Day: https://vimeo.com/587310300 You’ll sense the energy, excitement and fun UrbanPromise provides.
There was no place to park my car as I pulled up to UrbanPromise last Wednesday. Finally I landed a spot next to the dumpster at the end of Rudderow Street (hoping trash pickup was Thursday and not later that day).
I have no issues surrendering a convenient parking spot for a worthy cause. Today’s forfeit was well worth the extra block hike—in 90 degree heat—to my air-conditioned office.
You see, the upper parking lot at UrbanPromise is often sequestered by our program staff for special events. Three-on-three basketball tournaments, community fairs, and our Thanksgiving Turkey Bowl. Today: our annual Summer Camp Carnival.
This is no ordinary carnival. Our staff and volunteers take “home-made” and “low budget” to a whole new level. Every year I’m amazed at the creative uses of recycled cardboard boxes, discarded plywood, poster paint and junk from the remote corners of the campus storage closet.
Summer Camp Carnival may not rival the technology and special effects of Six Flags or Disney World, but if laughter and smiles are happiness indicators, this event beats the best of the theme parks.
“It’s just good old-fashion fun,” claims Camp Peace Site Director Derrick Sondrini. “Kids love the simplicity of it all. It’s like turning the clocks back to a more innocent time. Sure it’s a little corny. But the kids feel the love.”
And that’s a big part of our mission at UrbanPromise. We want to get back to the basics of what’s important for children—fun, safety, human connection, belonging, laughter and being in the presence of adults who care. We want to show kids that, with a little imagination and hard work, you can transform an empty park lot and a pile of junk into a festival.
And this is what you—our partners—helped create for 200 children, 50 teens, 20 medical student volunteers from Rowan University and our summer team of counselors and staff. You created a joy-filled memory in a year marred with isolation, despair and disconnecting. For that I’ll give up my parking space….every day.
Founder & President
PS. Check out the short video to see the Carnival in action: https://vimeo.com/578241926
I peeked through the door, looked down the hallway and witnessed a sight that fills me with joy.
Small tables. Two chairs at each. Occupied.
Each “make-shift” station held a student and an adult volunteer—hunched over a text book, focused on the material at hand, quietly dialoging—absorbed in the process of learning. I never tire of witnessing this kind of event.
It’s UrbanPromise Summer School 2021. Needed this year more than ever. Nothing fancy—just good old fashion, one-on-one, hard work.
“Some of our students lost significant academic ground this past year,” revealed Terry Bullock, our elementary school principal. “Our hope is to get them back on track. It’s patient work. It’s happening. Little victories each day.”
Getting students back to grade level is no easy task. There’s no computer chip to make up the loss, no fancy video series, no magic bullets. It’s a process of moving backwards before moving forward. It’s mobilizing enough caring adults to give our young people the kind of individualized attention needed to reclaim lost ground.
That’s why school is happening in our hallways and classrooms this summer. Alphabets, time tables, pronouns and sentence structure—whatever is needed to get our students to the next mile marker—is being reviewed and mastered.
This is what UrbanPromise does best. We’re a mission driven community, willing to travel the extra mile, ensuring no child is left behind.
None of this happens without you—our partners. Once again, your generous support is allowing this important work to continue.
Founder & President
Would you take a summer job on a boat if you couldn't swim?
For most of us, the answer is no way. But at UrbanPromise we encourage kids to try new things, try hard things, try things we never imagined we could do.
When Carina applied for a StreetLeader job with our celebrated RiverGuides program, she knew she couldn’t swim. A friend had prodded her to apply so they could both spend the summer getting paid to guide tours down the Tidal Cooper River. Once she realized she would have to go through the rigorous training program and learn to properly paddle, steer the canoe and (gulp)...swim, she didn’t back down.
Days in the local swimming pool culminated in a jump into the deep end - has there ever been a better metaphor for facing life’s challenges? Carina jumped.
Surrounded by caring and supportive UrbanPromise staff, Carina emerged from the pool to applause, grinning ear to ear. A mere three days later she spent the day on the river, intentionally capsizing her canoe to practice rescue techniques. This summer, she will proudly wear a t-shirt that says CREW on the back. If you haven’t been given a tour of the river yet, you are missing out.
Carina won’t be the only kid trying something new this summer. 54 teens will be employed at UrbanPromise, in either our StreetLeader or RiverGuide Programs, and for many it will be their first job, first paycheck, first adult responsibility.
There will be many firsts for our young people this summer at UrbanPromise. Some will try a practice test for the SAT for the first time. Some will learn to ride a bike. Some will tour local corporations and get exposure to potential future careers. Some will open their first checking account. Some will try yoga. Some will walk over the Ben Franklin Bridge. Have you tried that yet?
To say we are excited to welcome back hundreds of kids to our summer camps is a wild understatement.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” shared Terry Bullock, our principal and a 12-year veteran of UrbanPromise’s CamdenForward School.
“At least a quarter of our students are 30 percent behind where they need to be,” she added. “Summer is going to be critical.”
It wasn’t the conversation I wanted to have at this time of year. Despite the challenges of the past year, we hoped to keep all our students on track to pass. Our teachers and staff have worked really hard over the last 14 months through a combination of remote, hybrid and in-person learning.
“It’s not just academics,” she lamented. “Some kids have really suffered emotionally. One student who typically has all As and Bs is now failing. Many of our students have struggled with depression and anxiety. The disruption of daily schedules and social interaction has been devastating.
What I love about Ms. Bullock and our teaching staff is that they never quit. Their number one priority is ensuring their students learn, pass their material, move to the next grade and are emotionally healthy.
“This summer we’ll be requiring summer school for a portion of elementary and high school students,” adds Ms. Bullock, with an air of optimistic determination. “It’s critical they don’t lose ground. We need to avoid the slide and catch up.”
The cost for us to provide summer school is $1,200 per student, a total of $48,000. The good news, we are able to use $21,000 through the CARES Act towards our summer school costs. But that only covers $525 per child for a 6-week summer school experience. Not nearly enough to cover the $1,200 needed for each student.
And you know, $675 for a 6-week academic summer program (with food) is a bargain.
It’s urgent we don’t lose these kids. That’s why I’m writing you. I know you will help!
- $112.50 will cover 1 week of summer school for a student
- $225 will cover 2 weeks of summer school for a student
- $675 will cover 6 weeks of summer school for a student
Of course, I’d be delighted if you sponsored multiple children.
As our team continues to deal with the post-pandemic aftermath, please keep them in your prayers.
In advance, I thank you—as do our staff, parents and students.
President & Founder
P.S. We’re delighted to continuing offering city-wide summer camps, job training for teens and expeditionary learning opportunities. These programs offer positive summer engagement and enrichment opportunities that are more necessary than ever after a challenging year of isolation for so many. We are thankful to be engaging more kids more regularly again.
We are thrilled to share this amazing video with you! The Philadelphia Orchestra partnered with UrbanPromise for their ongoing series "Our City, Your Orchestra." You will get to hear from Bruce Main, Founder; Siomara Wedderburn, Director of Wellness; Albert Vega, Director of Children and Youth Ministry; and Yasiria Santiago, UrbanPromise Alumni. Plus, our incredible International Fellows (Lucy Nkwinika, Dorothy Kamoto, Lester Chiuta Nkhoma, Klah Doteh and others) join musicians David Kim, Daniel Han, Anna Marie Ahn Petersen, and Yumi Kendall for a performance of spirited music, including the traditional African songs “Matamando” and “Everybody Testifies You Are Good.”
“Let the little children come to me...” - Matthew 19:14
So I was intrigued when Reverend Hedgis walked into my office—wearing her clerical collar—to share her desire to volunteer. I’d known Sarah tangentially through friends. This was our first official meeting.
After the normal introductory musings, I asked her about her faith journey—and how she decided to become a priest. I was curious.
“We were raised Methodist,” she began.
“That’s odd,” I chuckled. “How did you end up an Episcopalian?”
“We grew up in North Carolina and attended a very large church,” she continued. “Generations of my family were members. We even had a pew with a plaque on it.”
One day her father announced that he had taken a job in a little town 5 hours away from the city. Population 400. The local Methodist Church had only 20 members—on a good Sunday. Overnight Sarah went from a community that knew and loved her—a place where she was an insider—to a place where nobody knew her.
“I heard my first sermon when I was nine,” she reminisced. “At our new church there was no youth program, no Sunday school. We just sat through the whole service. I claimed the front pew.”
During the service Sarah took notes on the back of the church bulletin. While most children draw and play tic-tac-toe—as I did during my childhood—Sarah really listened.
“I remember thinking it was so cool to see someone stand in a pulpit, talk about God and have people listen.”
So Sarah jotted notes every week: “Pretty boring sermon today.” “I didn’t know the Bible said that....” “Doesn’t that contradict what Pastor said last week?” “This is really confusing?” “Swallowed by a whale, really?” After service Sarah discarded her comments on the pew.
What Sarah did not realize is the pastor’s wife collected her notes, accumulating a small pile. One day she delivered the pile to her husband.
“Sarah,” beckoned Pastor McNeil Sunday after service. “Can we talk for a moment?”
“Now Pastor McNeil was a towering figure,” recollected Sarah. “He really seemed like a giant. I couldn’t imagine why he’d want to speak to me.”
For the next hour Pastor McNeil flipped through the stack of old bulletins and Sarah’s comments. Intently he listened, even asked more questions and took notes himself.
“Would you be interested in critiquing my sermons after church each Sunday?” he asked as they concluded their initial conversation. "Your feedback is helpful to me.”
And so for the next few years Sarah scribbled notes and shared them with Pastor McNeil. If he missed the point, she told him. If the message really connected, she affirmed him. If she had questions or doubts, she confided.
“There were a lot of voices in my community claiming that women had no place as pastors,” reminisced Sarah. “I could have easily listened to those voices. Had I listened, I would have never studied religion. Never become a priest.”
And so Sarah’s calling and vocation is birthed by an alternative voice: a pastor who took the questions and comments of a nine-year-old girl seriously. In an era of megachurches, social media, and pastors who keep their professional distance from those they lead—time to take the unfiltered truth of a child seriously seems...rare.
In his listening this pastor did what pastors are actually supposed to do: help people identify their God-given passions and gifts. Help people find their voice. By simply listening and validating Sarah’s questions, he awakened a thirst to dig deeper into those questions. It’s made her an amazing preacher and teacher today. It’s helped her become a priest who listens and discerns God’s path for others' lives.
I believe that the meaning of certain words are best understood with the context of human action. We often call those actions stories. A word like “mercy” can be debated, parsed and defined. But when we see merciful behavior displayed by attentiveness to a child’s scribbles and opinions, there’s something to notice.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy,” writes James.
I think James may have been describing Pastor McNeil.