IN THE NEWS: Moorestown athletes step forward to help Camden school - Burlington County Times

Helping hands

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CAMDEN — When the CamdenForward School suffered from flooding in July, Jodina Hicks knew it would take some time to repair the damage. But when asked whether her school could start classes on time, she had only this to say: “We have to.”

“We have to open on time,” said Hicks, who is the executive director of UrbanPromise, the ministry group that runs the private Christian school. “We're working with really vulnerable families and kids from Camden."

The task, however, was daunting. This summer's heavy rains caused flooding in the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school, wrecking classrooms and causing $30,000 worth of damage. Once the mold was cleaned up, the school had just a week to repaint the classrooms, scrape off glue where carpets had been ripped out, and get everything clean and ready for the students.

That is where the athletes of Moorestown High School came in.

Led by Jim Dugan, a Moorestown parent and owner of the company Safety Bus, students on the Quakers' sports teams came to help the school get back in order. They trained for the upcoming season in the morning, and then Dugan transported them to Camden to work on the building from 12:30 to 6 p.m.

Dugan is a parent and a donor to CamdenForward. Hicks said she knew he would be the right person to call, since he’s worked on many service projects in Louisiana and West Virginia. She called him at 7:30 last Friday morning, and “by 9 a.m., he already had 50 kids signed up to come. So it was the right call, that's for sure.”

Forty students came to help on Monday, 70 on Tuesday. By Wednesday, about 110 students and adults were moving furniture, painting walls and getting the classrooms back in shape.

“I started thinking about how I could get enough people down here to do this task in one week,” Dugan said, “so being acquainted through a lot of the youth in Moorestown through mission work and sports teams ... I decided (it would be) a great way to get the sports teams involved.”

He approached Neil Rosa, Moorestown High's athletic director, and asked if he could get the coaches to bring their teams over. Rosa quickly agreed.

"We scheduled teams for different days of the week to come down, and they've been here all week, working hard," Dugan said.

His friend Emily Brown, 16, who works at Wegmans, persuaded the grocery store to donate food for the volunteers, and to give her the week off so she could help organize the work.

Brown is a junior and the manager of the Quakers' field hockey team. She’s worked with Dugan on mission trips in Appalachia.

"It all came together really well. It's amazing how things came together in a couple of days," said Emily, who worked at the site from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. all week. "Everyone's uniting for this one week, and it's just cool to see it all happen."

Her face was covered in white paint that her teammates had playfully splashed on her. Music by Katy Perry and Beyonce played on someone’s speakers, creating a fun atmosphere for the teens to work in.

Brendon Parker, 14, an incoming freshman, said everyone on his soccer team wanted to help out after their coach told them about the project.

“I felt bad for them and I wanted to give back, because I know how unfortunate it was, and how fortunate my town is," he said.

Because so many other schools also suffered from flooding, there was a long wait before CamdenForward could get a contractor. They finished removing the mold only a week ago. The school lost computers, blackboards and even a piano because of the flooding.

“Having these Moorestown high school students coming to our rescue is just a godsend," Hicks said.

The most serious losses were the workbooks and library books. UrbanPromise is still reaching out to donors to replenish basic supplies such as books, rugs, white boards and computers.

Hicks postponed the opening of the school by one week, to Tuesday, but she won't delay it any longer.

“We pushed back one week, but even that was really difficult to do,” she said.

UrbanPromise Ministries runs programs all summer so that young people always have something to keep them off the streets, Hicks said. Even the week’s gap could pose a financial hardship for parents who cannot afford baby sitters.

Melvin Ways, a retired Camden police officer, also helped with the cleanup efforts. He’s been friends with Dugan ever since they worked together during Hurricane Katrina.

"I love the turnout,” Ways said. “It's been this way all week actually. The kids have been coming from Moorestown to help, and I love the inspiration. … To see these kids and see how enthused they are, it really does something good for your heart.”

By Sharon Lurye, Burlington County Times