Blog: 2012

Sunday, May 13

I couldn’t help but think of the inspirational and whimsical Dr. Seuss book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, when Terron came by my office the other day. Terron graduating from Eastern University, May 2012.Home from college for spring break, he stopped in to make sure I had his upcoming graduation from Eastern University on my calendar.  I wouldn’t miss it for anything.  Terron was one of my first students when I began UrbanTrekkers eight years ago. (UrbanTrekkers is a program at UrbanPromise that focuses on expeditionary, hands-on learning.) The two of us began to reminisce about the locations to which we had traveled during his years at our high school,UrbanPromise Academy.  We shared about the first ever UrbanTrekker spring break trip to Mt. Washington, NH—the challenging hikes, moose, and amazing vistas; our journey to Vancouver, BC and Terron’s first time on a plane; the Olympic Peninsula where we came so close to hitting a deer with our van; Florida’s Everglades and their ever-present alligators; our annual end-of-summer trips to Maine that included kayaking off Port Clyde; and that final week before high school graduation, the Senior Rite of Passage, in upstate New York. terron_3.jpg I’m often asked by friends and supporters what impact UrbanPromise has on the students with whom I work—city kids like Terron, who likely would never experience the travel adventures that have become an integral part of their high school.  What are UrbanPromise’s program outcomes? people ask.  It’s a fair question, yet not always easily quantified. Thinking of such questions, I asked Terron, “What did those experiences do for you?”  He reflected for a moment, and I could tell he was giving my inquiry serious thought.  He finally responded, “Mr. C, when I was getting ready to begin my studies at Eastern University, what I feared the most was not if I could succeed academically; the scary part for me was whether I’d feel like I belonged.”  Eastern is a private Christian university located in Main Line Philadelphia, PA. It’s a world away from Camden, NJ.  Terron was incredibly nervous as he imagined trying to fit in with the school's students and culture—both so removed from everything he knew. He went on to say, “Everyone knows your story when you say you’re from Camden; it's a story of drugs, violence, and poverty. You are the 5 o’clock news! But I had other stories, too. UrbanTrekkers gave me my stories.” Our conversation returned to his Senior Rite of Passage trip to the Adirondack Mountains and Saranac Lake.  During one afternoon, my friend Bob Harris and I left each senior student on a small island with just the bare essentials; the students were to spend 24 hours in quiet reflection.  There was a severe storm the night they spent alone in their tents on the beach.  Away from the students, Bob and I began to feel anxious as we realized the magnitude of the storm from our camp’s distant shore. Fortunately, it passed quickly and rain began to fall with less intensity.  We were able to get to the beach in a small boat to check on Terron and his classmates.  Terron‘s tent had lost the fly (rain cover) and had two inches of water in the bottom.  We helped him re-situate the tent, find and re-attach the fly, and told him we’d see him in the morning.  I’ll never forget his surprise when he realized we wouldn’t be rescuing him from the island that night.  But more importantly, something else he said stuck with me.  He told me not to worry about him, adding, “I know how to take care of myself. I’ve done it all my life.” Jim Cummings Director of Experiential Learning

Wednesday, May 9

Elite Team

I’ve got a confession to make—mea culpa!—I didn’t think Marissa could do it.

When the UrbanPromise Academy junior joined the high school’s Elite Cycling Team—which included a 12-week intensive training regimen—I had my doubts. Before you call me a cynic, though, let me add that I think the world of Marissa and have always enjoyed her sassy and spunky personality. I’ve known her since her middle school days at our CamdenForward School where she participated in an UrbanTrekker after-school program. Elite
Marissa is an outgoing, vivacious young woman—there’s no question about it. But the Elite Team’s early morning practices, three-month commitment, and 50-mile goal made me doubt she would make it to the end.

But she proved me wrong! With tears of joy in her eyes, surrounded by a cheering section of friends and family, Marissa crossed the finish line and exclaimed, “I did it!”

She accomplished what I never imagined: She completed the Pedal for Promise and our seemingly endless weeks of training, and she did it with a determination and drive that impressed all those who rode along with her. I joined in her celebration after crossing the finish line—a few minutes after she had already arrived.

With 300 riders, a fundraising total of $57,000—and counting!—for experiential learning programs, and a group of young people feeling an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment, the event was undoubtedly a success.

Jim Cummings
Director of Experiential Learning

Friday, May 4

AlexSince March, a group of UrbanPromise Academy high school students have spent each Sunday biking through New Jersey to train for Pedal for Promise. For some, this is their first time on a bicycle—or at least, the first time they’ve traveled any long distance on a bike. UrbanPromise Academy freshman, Alex Deleon, has truly embraced the riding experience—even if his legs are pretty sore Monday morning as he climbs the Academy stairs. Recently, Alex shared that finishing the 50 miles will be an incredible accomplishment for him. “I’ve only ever ridden to the corner store and back home, Mr. C,” he said. “Fifty miles is going to be hard!" It will be hard, but it will also be an unforgettable experience and achievement that Alex will treasure for the rest of his life. Students like Alex need your support and encouragement to make it to the finish line.

Tuesday, April 17

Philadelphia Inquirier
By Kevin Riordan

Haddonfield artist Natalie Italiano is painting a documentary.

Her "100 Portraits of American Teenagers" is a kinetic collection of close-ups - on canvas and online - of local high school students.

"I plan to do a gallery show and a book as well," says Italiano, 57, whose subjects also write about themselves. Their musings, and digital images of her portraits, can be seen at

I met Italiano at Repenning Fine Arts in Audubon, a school and studio that has supported the project since she started it in September 2010. Alongside four other painters seeking to perfect their technique, the artist will create a portrait of Natasha Santiago.

A senior at the Pennsauken campus of the Camden County Vocational Schools, Santiago is among 20 Camden youths participating in the project through an arrangement with Urban Promise ministries in the city. All but three of the other portrait subjects are from suburban high schools in South Jersey.

"I'm a little nervous," Santiago, 17, says before taking a seat in a flood of light. "But I think it will be pretty cool."

She's right: It's fascinating to watch her face take shape on five canvases simultaneously.

The personable, thoroughly professional Italiano sets the pace and an easygoing, though serious, tone befitting a teacher at Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia, an art school founded by the noted Bucks County realist Nelson Shanks.

Using the alla prima ("first") technique, she quickly renders the infrastructure, then the architecture, of her striking subject's facial features.

Likewise, the brushes of fellow South Jersey artists Carol Kirkwood, Linda Dennin, Donna Metzler, and Adelaide D'Antonio rarely stop moving. Pausing only to step back or squint, they skillfully add dabs of contrasting oil pigments, finding depths, burnishing highlights.

As strummy music plays on the painters murmur among themselves, and the vibe in the studio becomes almost hypnotic.

As four hours pass, Italiano and her colleagues look deeper at and into the young woman who sits motionless in front of them, transferring their discoveries to canvas in ever tinier, more exacting strokes.

It's work, what these artists do.

And the model, who gets paid $40, is working, too.

Santiago remains poised and focused for each 20-minute stretch. I don't notice a single fidget or shift of position. But at every six-minute break, she leaps out of her chair like the teenager she is.

"It's tiring," Santiago says, although you wouldn't know it from the glow on her face.

"It's like having someone write a song about you," says Jim Repenning, who, with his wife and fellow artist, Kristin, runs the studio and school on Kings Highway. "You're watching people create their image of you."

And getting it right.

"It's me!" Santiago exclaims.

The project was inspired by a Rose Frantzen show Italiano saw several years at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

As her own two children were leaving the nest, she got the idea of "doing portraiture, which is often reserved for the elite."

Italiano's earliest subjects included friends of her children. At the Acme market in Haddonfield, she discovered four young people willing to model. She found others in classes at Repenning or Incamminati.

As she has come to know them all, Italiano says she has been struck by their "warmth and seriousness" - qualities surely at odds with the image of teens as heedless textaholics.

She also gives the models a questionnaire, asking them to talk about issues, plans, and what matters most to them.

"Despite certain cultural or economic differences," Italiano says, "they all seem to have a really positive view on life."

In other words, they have hope.

And when I look at the portraits of Natasha, Christian, and Caroline, or of the other glorious young faces among the "100 Portraits of American Teenagers," I have hope, too.

Tuesday, March 20

Earlier this month, UrbanPromise's middle school was transformed into an upscale Italian restaurant our buses and vans became limousines and town cars; and our students dressed up in sport coats, ties, dresses, and heels—their outfits rivaling even the most beautiful red carpet gown or tux.

Although this was a school night, the youth of UrbanPromise were headed out for a night on the town. Their excitement filled the air, and was as palpable as the aroma of their pasta dinner which wafted throughout the UrbanPromise sanctuary.

“We’re going to real Broadway play,” said Tamia excitedly.  “It’s my first time!”

theaterTamia was among more than 100 of our youth who attended a nearly sold-out performance of the comedic play Cyrano at Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre on an evening in early March.

Through the generosity of the Arden Theatre—and UrbanPromise donors like you—our children and teens were treated to the premiere showing of Cyrano free-of-charge. They laughed and cheered as the lead, Cyrano de Bergerac—a large-nosed poet and dueling master—attempted to woo the beautiful Roxanne with his poetry.

Ultimately, his sonnets were ineffective with Roxanne; but they certainly entertained our students: “Mr. Cyrano was pretty witty,” said Karim. “And I loved the sword fights.” His classmates reiterated these sentiments.

When the show ended, a tired bunch of students boarded the buses and vans once again, their dress-shoed feet dragging behind them.

But despite the late night, they arrived to school the next day still smiling and enthusiastic about the previous evening. They described it as an “unforgettable” event.

The experiences of students like Karim and Tamia are possible only through the gifts of our generous supporters. Thank you for providing them with such memories.

Bruce Main

P.S. Click here if you interested in supporting innovative programming for our youth in Camden.

Monday, March 5

UrbanPromise Academy is a learning community that inspires experiential and expeditionary learning.  The students of UrbanPromise Academy are conducting a survey to find out how Camden City residents feel about the city.  If you are a Camden resident we ask that you click on the link below and complete the survey that follows.

Click here to answer our Camden resident survey.

UrbanPromise "learning community" students taking water samples.

UrbanPromise "learning community" students taking water samples.

We will analyze the survey answers and report back to the community what we’ve learned. Our  hope is to learn where and how other Camden youth and community leaders can not only become advocates  for needed to change, but also be stewards for improving some of the environmental and social conditions of or city.

Your answers are confidential, and your survey will not be identified with your name.

If you have any questions or want to learn more about this study, you can call 856-382-1873 and ask for Demetrius Marlowe, Principal of UPA.

Thank you in advance for supporting our effort.

Click here to answer our Camden resident survey.

Monday, February 20

Camden pupils make, test dog sled

Courier Post – February 20, 2012
Written by Joe Cooney, Courier-Post Staff

Dog Sledding

— There was no snow, but a group of students from Camden were still able to say, “Mush,” when they participated in the Pennridge Dog Sled Challenge here this weekend.

And they got to use a sled they built themselves.

“We built the sled two years ago at the Shipyard and Maritime Museum in South Camden,” said Steve Tuttle, who used to work for the city’s Urban Promise Missionary.

“We wanted to do something that would honor the great African American explorer Matthew Henson, who located the North Pole along with Admiral Robert Perry.

“So as an after-school program, we had students participate in the building of a sled just like the one Henson used.”

Tuttle said he and other Urban Promise workers went to New York City to look at a real sled Henson had built so they could take photographs and measurements.

“This kind of sled was designed by Henson and primarily used to transport goods and equipment,” Tuttle said of the 10-foot long sled.

“Henson learned the Inuit language and learned how to work with sled dogs. They would transport cargo and equipment and build stations along the way (to the Pole), so when they came back they could pick up the supplies they needed.”

“It was really fun to learn how to build (the sled),” said student Orianna Walker, a member of Urban Promise. “We had to take wood and put it into really hot, boiling water. And then we would bend it so it would keep the curve.”

The dog sled is sponsored by the Sellersville Kiwanis Club. Kiwanis member and 20-year dog sledding veteran Chuck Weiss describes the Dog Sled Challenge as “a party for sled dog people.”

Instead of a full-fledged race, mushers engage in a variety of spectator-friendly competitions throughout the day.

The Camden sled made its debut Saturday behind sled dogs, with Walker enjoying a ride behind the team.

“The best part was making it,” she said. “But seeing it being pulled by the dogs and riding on it was also very cool. It went really fast.”

“It was awesome and so much fun to see the kids here and see the sled move with the dogs,” said Tuttle.

“We wished we could have been here a couple years when we had all that snow, but we just couldn’t do it.”

Friday, February 17

We are proud to announce that UrbanPromise Academy freshman Faith Kroma won a place on the National Moot Court Team of Rutgers Law School's Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project. Congratulations, Faith and all at UrbanPromise Academy!

Faith was one of six finalists in a very competitive moot court argument on Tuesday on the Rutgers Law campus. Students from Brimm Medical Arts, Camden Catholic, and Camden High also competed.

Faith will travel to Washington, DC from March 30-April 1 to compete against students from all over the country.

Looks like we have a lawyer in our future!

Thursday, February 2

NJ Nets star Kris Humphries spent the day with kids from UrbanPromise.  Humphries traveled down to Camden to take a tour of the city and UrbanPromise campus.  After playing a little basketball at UrbanPromise's gym in East Camden, Humphries and the kids boarded a school bus and headed off to NYC.  Once in NYC the kids met with dentists from Smile Design Manhattan for free dental work. Thank you Kris!

Kris on the school bus with UrbanPromise students

What happens when Tyree falls asleep on a bus with Kris HumphriesThis is what happens when Tyree fails alseep on the school bus with Kris Humphries.


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