Blog: 17 August 2014
"So, what books do you like to read?”
The young man sitting next to me raised his fingers to his chin and furrowed his eyebrows like a philosopher of antiquity.
"Edger Allan Poe is one of my favorites," he shared thoughtfully. "Now Shakespeare is a close second...I mean, everybody loves Shakespeare, right?"
Right? Everybody loves Shakespeare.
Steven Cobb embodies the vision of the StreetLeader program: a new generation of leaders from Camden, rooted in Christian faith, who have the vision to make a difference in the world. As a third year English major at Rowan University, Steven wants to be a teacher someday. I'm confident he will be brilliant in that role.
“These kids are so vulnerable," adds Steven, forgetting that he was a "kid" just a few years ago. "They come to camp with heavy things on their heart and are just looking for someone to share it with; they come running to me. It's a real privilege."
Steven found the StreetLeader program through his sister Tori. Tori just graduated from Rowan University and is a 9-year veteran of UrbanPromise. This year, Tori served as a Field Supervisor of the StreetLeader Program. She wants to go to graduate school.
"My sister loves this program. I saw the way it changed her. I decided to join. Once I got involved I couldn't stop coming. I found role models in other StreetLeaders like Brahiem, Greg, and Jay Jay. Those guys inspired me!"
And that's the way the StreetLeader program works. Teens recruit their siblings and friends. New recruits discover older role models who embody the virtues of faith, courage, compassion, and vision. Newer members aspire to become like the veterans. Children in our camps look up to the StreetLeaders and dream of being one someday. A cycle of positive peer pressure is created, and our younger teens begin to recalibrate their goals and dreams, moving away from the destructive forces of the streets to focus on successful futures.
Steven is now inspiring a new generation of children in his community. He coached the winning basketball team at Camp Freedom. He taught and developed curriculum for recreation class. He even introduced a few of his kids to Shakespeare, because, after all, "everybody loves Shakespeare."
Research studies show that summer jobs can have a significant impact on the lives of young people, especially young people who live in high-risk environments such as Camden. Positive outcomes include increased school performance and attendance, increased SAT/ACT scores, decreased violence, and decreased involvement in drugs. The StreetLeaders at UrbanPromise know this and more: they know what the job means to them personally. It means hope, a future, making a difference in their city right now.
A few months ago many of you sent a gift to help UrbanPromise hire 90 StreetLeaders this summer. Together we did it! Teens were hired into their first job(s) and attended workshops on leadership, healthy eating, grief, and resume writing. Our teens provided staffing for 9 day camps that provided 500 Camden children a fun, safe, and memorable summer. Five of them helped launch the new camp in Fairview. And a few of them piloted a new job arm for UrbanPromise, the Street2Leader Program. These teens, who’ve been in some trouble with the courts, were hired for public realm work, cleaning up parks and painting murals in Camden while also working on resolving their personal issues, developing a career plan, and focusing on positive next steps. Over this past month, they restored 2 murals and did park clean-up, culminating in a wonderful closing event at Dudley Grange Park. At an open mic/poetry event last Friday, local residents were amazed at the beautiful turn-around of the park once known to kids in East Camden as “Needle Park.”
Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for believing in young people like Steven and Tori.
P.S. Our StreetLeader Program isn’t just for the summer: it runs year round! StreetLeaders return in mid-September to help lead AfterSchool Programs across the city. Learn more about how you can continue to support the StreetLeader Program.