Blog: 2013

Wednesday, February 20

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
                                                T.S. Eliot
“Behold, I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
                                        Luke 24:49 

I find myself asking, “Do I create situations that give others a sense of hope?  Do I plant seeds of hope so that people live with a sense of greater expectation, a greater sense of anticipation, a greater sense of eagerness and passion?  As a boss, do I bring hope to this workplace, so my employees wake up in the morning eager to start, because they know their work matters?  As a father, do I do things around the house that make it a place that inspires my children to dream?

One of the great themes of scripture is promise.  Throughout the Bible we see example after example of God granting promises to various people.  Noah is promised that God will never again destroy the earth.  Abraham is given the promise that his descendants will be numerous.  Moses is assured that the “promised land” will one day be claimed.  Promises are given by God as a means of providing hope.  A life rooted in hope allows God’s partners to persevere in the most difficult of circumstances. (The Promise Effect, pgs. 55, 56)

Reflect and Discuss

Think about the people in your life who need hope.  The sick, the addicted, the grieving.  Students, mothers, laborers.  What message of hope could you deliver to one of them?  And how will you deliver it?  By spoken word or written word?  With a hug, a song, or even a postcard?

Do this once, to one person, this week.  Then see if you can do it again for someone else.  Find the joy of being a “person of hope” in your world.    

Gracious God, thank you for the gift of promise—a gift that allows us to hope for a better world, a better life, and a better future.  Help us to hold onto your promises when we feel like letting go.  Grant us the courage to move forward in promise, knowing that you will fulfill the promises you have made to your people.

Tuesday, February 19

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Luke 4:18

I believe Christians are supposed to be “good news people”—people who create good news for those who need a little good news. We are ambassadors of hope. For a single mother trying to raise three children in the inner city, good news might mean a free summer camp for her children. Good news for a little girl in Malawi might mean one meal a day. Good news for a colleague might mean a listening ear. (The Promise Effect, p. 188)

Reflect & Discuss
How can you create “good news” for someone today? What might that look like? Take some time this week to brainstorm this. (It’s a great discussion question for family or friends.) See if you can come up with five or six specific ways to create good news for someone.  Then choose one, do it, and share your experience with us.

God of Good News, help us to be agents of good news in the world—to our friends, to our colleagues, to our neighbors.


Monday, February 18

“What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life.” 
Emil Brunner, theologian

That has been my experience. Young people with hope do not tend to join gangs, stay in school, or make decisions that benefit their futures. Older people are no different. Gangs are probably not a temptation for an 86-year-old suburban church attendee. But hope is the ingredient that gets people out of bed, encourages them to take their medicine, and gives them the courage to make needed changes. (The Promise Effect, p. 128)

Reflect & Discuss
Who do you know who needs hope? Think it through. Struggling students? Hospital patients? Shut-ins? Single moms? In your circle of friends, relatives, co-workers, and acquaintances, who is on the edge of despair?

Now, what word of hope can you bring? 

God, I ask that I might be filled with hope. I’m not sure how it happens, but I know the difference it makes in my life and in the lives of others. May the hope in my life encourage those who have lost their own.

Friday, February 15

A local public school landed a big government grant and opened up an after-school program near UrbanPromise's program in South Camden. The school program offered computers, video games, great snacks, and a state-of-the-art gymnasium. Over night, our camp director Tony Vega saw his participant numbers dwindle. "We went from 55 kids to 15."

Tony was perplexed. "I didn't know what to do," he lamented. "We don't have computers, our heater is broken most the time, our tables are broken, and there are no video games. I realized we were no match."

But then a strange thing started happening: The kids started returning one by one to UrbanPromise's program.

"Why'd you come back?" Tony asked one of them. The young girl paused, smiled, and said: "They got lots of stuff, but it's not like this place--we're family, Mr. Tony."

I've learned one thing over all my years in youth work: "Bling" attracts children, but love retains them. Money, computers, video games and brand new sports equipment entertain, but they do not love. Humans love. And love is what every human being--especially a child--desires.

What is love? Love is listening, caring, and encouraging. Love is hanging out, love is protecting, love is praying. We need to love and be loved. It is when we love and receive love that we are truly transformed.

One of my favorite quotes to ponder as we close this first week of Lent is from a novel called The Forty Rules of Love: "Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we have not loved enough."

So, in the words of Jesus, love one another.

Bruce Main

Thursday, February 14

“A woman came to Jesus with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. ‘Why this waste?’ they asked. 'This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.' Aware of this, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.’” Matthew 26:6-10

In one of the Gospels’ most dramatic scenes, a woman anoints Jesus’ feet with a jar of very expensive perfume. The disciples’ response is predictable. They’re indignant and angry with her “waste." Under the guise of stewardship and responsibility, the disciples put down this unnamed woman.

But Jesus sees the situation very differently. He defends her. Lifting her up as a model of Christian discipleship, he announces, “I tell you the truth, wherever this Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (The Promise Effect, p. 26)

Reflect & Discuss
Jesus cautions his disciples not to miss the heart behind the act. The woman loved “wastefully” and Jesus affirms this expression of faith. Are you more like this woman, showing the Lord extravagant love, or like the disciples who criticized her “wasteful” display? Do you ever hold back on actions of worship or discipleship because they’re “a bit too much”? Share your thoughts on our blog.

Lord, I want to love and serve you fully. So if that means crossing some lines, offending decorum, being imprudent, or going over the top, so be it. Give me the courage to love you with all I’ve got.

Wednesday, February 13

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and, Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Luke 10: 27

What I love about this command to love God and neighbor is the drama that precedes and follows this statement. A religious scholar is trying to debate with Jesus to argue about how a person can gain eternal life. To some this might seem surprising; but Jesus isn’t interested in abstract conversations about the next world. Jesus appeals to the religious scholar’s knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures and asks him to answer his own question, which he does correctly.

Does that settle it? Not so fast. Scholars seldom want to settle on an answer that is so clear and practical especially from an untrained, upstart, itinerant preacher. He asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Rather than sharing a propositional statement, Jesus tells the compelling story of the Good Samaritan. He paints a living picture of what it means to love one’s neighbor. And by using the Samaritan as a hero, Jesus reminds the listener that people who truly love neighbors are people who are willing to love across lines of race, ethnicity, and social class. (The Promise Effect, pg. 126)

Personal Reflection

We encourage you to open your door and look to the left, to the right and across the street and see how you can show your neighbor the love of Jesus. What small acts of love can you do for your neighbor? Share with us how you show love to your neighbor! Then, tell us ways you have taken the love of Jesus from your neighborhood to the greater community.


Teach me, Lord, to learn what it means to be other-centered.  Remind me that my neighbor is of utmost importance to you.

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Saturday, January 12

Courier Post
By George Mast

As small, wooden crosses were erected in a grass park outside Camden City Hall with alarming regularity last year, a similar memorial to the city’s homicide victims sprang up in wealthy Moorestown.

The township’s memorial was 10 miles and a world apart from the streets where Camden’s record number of homicide victims were cut down in 2012.

But Money magazine’s best place to live in 2005 is no stranger to the struggles of those living in one of the worst.

For decades, Moorestown’s churches, schools, civic organizations, business leaders and families have without much fanfare supported efforts to better the city, through both donations and countless volunteer hours.

“The common denominator is this belief in children,” said Jodina Hicks, executive director of UrbanPromise, where the single-largest base of contributors for the Camden nonprofit has long been centered in Moorestown.

Moorestown’s support of UrbanPromise, the faith-based ministry that offers sundry services to Camden youth, began with a few individuals more than 20 years ago. It has swelled to entrenched support from a half-dozen Moorestown churches, businesses and civic groups. Churches and private donors help pay the tuition for youngsters at UrbanPromise’s two schools.

Moorestown youth complete UrbanPromise work projects in Camden and volunteer with summer programs. The township’s high school students currently help tutor in the city. The 100-member Rotary Club of Moorestown donates new coats to Camden kids and once bought new uniforms for a middle school basketball team in the city.

From 2008 to 2010, the rotary sponsored an after-school art program at the Sacred Heart Elementary School. Then a chair of a rotary service committee, Micki Ginsberg remembers the weekly classes as “magic.”

“What a wonderful way this was to expand the horizons of children. We felt like it was that idea of helping one student at a time. Even if they weren’t going to be artists, they learned beyond their borders.”

The connection between the two towns made national news in 2007, when ABC’s “20/20” compared comfortable Moorestown kids with poor youth who live minutes away in Camden. Anchor Diane Sawyer highlighted UrbanPromise, and the gap between two polar opposite towns narrowed.

But for Carol McWilliams and other Moorestown residents, the connection to Camden goes farther back than the Sawyer segment.

Two decades ago, UrbanPromise was a fledgling ministry trying to establish after-school programs for children. Hicks describes McWilliams, of Moorestown’s First Presbyterian Church, as an early “champion” who came into the city every day to help establish those programs.

“She got Moorestown to embrace UrbanPromise,” Hicks remembered. “For someone like Carol to be so believing and investing in the work ... was pretty amazing. She got her church to support every single new ministry or program that we have started up over the years.”

McWilliams, the church’s missions coordinator, said her work in Camden stems from a strong faith commitment and knowledge of the need that exists.

“While we realize there are needs all over the world, there are needs right within...miles of us.”

Perhaps nowhere has the tie between the two towns been more entrenched in recent years than around the kitchen table of a Moorestown accountant and his wife. It was there at 6 p.m. dinners that Doug and Candace Sell and their adult children decided to make a 16-year-old Camden teen part of their lives.

Late in 2010, Louis Santana was heading back to prison when the couple stepped in. Doug Sell had met the teen the summer before at an UrbanPromise program and he made a bold pitch to the juvenile court judge hearing Santana’s case: Instead of sending the teen to a juvenile prison for three years, put him in the Sells’ custody.

The judge consented and Santana has lived for the past two years with the Moorestown family.

“They didn’t just take him in,” Hicks said of the Sells. “He is their fifth child and that’s never been questioned.

“They just really love him.”

Doug is understated about the commitment, joking that Santana is “doing hard time with the Sells.” But for a teen who grew up providing for himself on the streets, a structured suburban family represented a world of change.

“Eating food at a dinner table at 6 p.m., I thought that was like a TV thing,” Santana said. “I never got to experience that until I started living with Doug.”

With his mother imprisoned at age 11, Santana’s early life was spent hanging around corners where at least a dozen of his friends have been killed over the years.

“I just thought I would continue the cycle,” Santana admitted. “Once I got in the cycle, I didn’t think it would ever stop. That’s all I saw. All I saw was crimes and murders. It became normal to me. Once that becomes normal, it becomes part of you.”

But the support of the Sells, which included intensive tutoring and Doug’s continual positive feedback, has changed that outlook to one of hope, Santana said.

“That showed me that there are a lot of people who care. There is someone out there who does have a heart,” he added.

“That’s what made me strive and keep on going.”

Santana completed his high school courses and will graduate from UrbanPromise this spring. In March, he plans to travel to the ministry’s Honduras site for an internship. When he’s not putting in hours at a tire shop in East Camden, he works with UrbanPromise programs in the city.

“I think he has done very well,” Doug said of Santana.

At an UrbanPromise after-school program in North Camden Thursday evening, Santana playfully chased a youngster down a playground slide. A hat emblazoned with block letters “CAMDEN” was perched atop his head as he and the program leader led the kids in a game of dodge ball.

Santana’s work in Camden has meant less time spent with the Sells. His court-mandated arrangement with the family will end when he turns 19 in July.

But Santana expects his connection to the Sells will never go away.

“They definitely are a second family,” he said.

Friday, January 11


Day by day
I come to UrbanPromise
And I ask myself
Why to do I keep coming back
Well I come back because…
Ya’ll helped me to realize a lot.

Before I came to UrbanPromise
I didn'’t think
I could do anything
My self-esteem was low
I didn'’t think
I was anyone because I was always bullied

I was always call the ugly, slow girl
People always told me
I wasn'’t going to achieve anything
I’ve been stomped in the dirt too much
And look where it got me

Then when I met new friends
And other people
UrbanPromise became my
Second family because… I called everyone
My brothers and sisters

One thing I know
No matter how crazy or weird
I acted ya’ll never judged me
You always encouraged me to
Do good and achieve my goals

And to tell ya’ll the truth
UrbanPromise helped me to have faith
And to believe because I didn’t have that
But UrbanPromise saved my life
I could have been one lost child

After I started taking control of my
And when I looked in the mirror
I said I am something
I am beautiful
I can do it
So all the people
I have hating and stomping all over me
No more
So if you don’t like me
Brush it off and get over it
I am a different person now
And I am in love with the new me
And no one
Is going to mess that up

By: Brianna Shephard

Thursday, January 10


UrbanPromise Academy’s Robotics Team earned top honors at the First Robotics Competition at the NJ Liberty Science Center on January 5th, 2013. First Tech Challenge Robotics teams throughout the state of New Jersey compete and are recognized for their achievements in robot design, creativity, innovation, team performance, outreach and enthusiasm. Giving awards for outstanding achievement builds self-esteem in students and is a great way to encourage them to continue pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

Team UPA outperformed all competitors to receive the “Motivate” award as they exemplified outstanding spirit and enthusiasm.  They demonstrated spirit through the Domo Inferno mascot and team enthusiasm. In addition, they made a collective effort to make First Robotics known throughout their school and community.

However, the judges were not done with recognizing the performance of the team as they determined that Team UPA was worthy of second place for the “Think” award. This award judges the team’s journey as recorded in the Engineering Notebook.  The notebook must demonstrate a clear understanding of the engineering design process through pictures and CAD drawings that detail the stages of the robot’s design. The notebook must be well organized and illustrate collaboration and co-ownership by the team members.

Team UPA currently ranks 20th in the state of NJ. UPA was represented by Alexandra Gonzalez-Notebook Captain, Domo mascot (12), Joseph Palma- Team Captain (12), Rajuan Hailey-Assembly Engineer (10), Joshua Joseph- Programming Captain (10), Danielle Bemberry- Team Organization (9), and Dr. Cortney Bolden- Coach (UPA Comprehensive Science Teacher, Safe Passage CTC), Saki Wilcox (Safe Passage CTC), and Samuel Marlowe (Logistics Support).Special thanks to our partners, Safe Passage CTC and sponsors, Lockheed Martin and Dan Higgins Flooring.

Thursday, January 3

CamdenForward School’s book club—affectionately titled “Auntie’s Book Club”—has started off with a bang! This year’s club, led by our executive director, “Auntie” Jodina Hicks, began on November 30. Running strong for over a year now, the club has progressed from seven students to the entire school (over 100 students).

Because book club is so large, students are assigned to a small group—or “team”—led by an UrbanPromise staff member or volunteer. Each participant is encouraged to read at least one book a week and introduce it to the team. Team members then decide which student will discuss his or her book with Jodina on stage after their small group discussions. Book favorites include the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, Robin’s Country by Monica Furlong, and The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.

The most recent club, held on December 14, saw some exciting new features, including the “Young Author’s Group,” comprised of students interested in writing their own stories and sharing them with the school. Perhaps the most interesting addition to Auntie’s Book Club is the participation of Amos and Jackson, two golden retrievers who belong to UrbanPromise’s creative director, Shannon Oberg. The two have joined a small group of struggling readers who are reading aloud to the dogs in order to gain confidence and improve their reading ability.

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