Blog: 11 December 2016
Shots rang out. Eight total.
People screamed; panic ensued. The basketball court emptied. The swings were still. Mothers disappeared with strollers behind parked cars for protection.
“Get to the bus,” screamed Albert Vega, “Everybody to the bus, now!”
Without hesitation, our children responded to the voice of their after-school director and sprinted towards the UrbanPromise bus for safety.
“Everybody okay?” called Albert in an effort to calm the kids who had crawled under the bus seats. “Anyone hit? Anyone hurt?”
By now most of the kids were sobbing, some hysterical. Even growing up in a city plagued with violence doesn’t prepare you for a drive-by shooting.
As Albert continued to move around the bus, assuring the children of their safety, he noticed 9-year-old Tabitha. She wasn’t crying. She wasn’t panicked. She just walked behind him whispering in the ears of her peers, “Everything’s gonna be okay.”
“Tabitha, I’m curious,” asked Albert a few hours later. He was dropping the last of the kids to their homes. “Why were you calm when all the other kids were so upset?”
Tabitha paused momentarily, looked at her favorite counselor, and then spoke with the innocence of a child: “I wasn’t afraid, Mr. Albert, because I was with you. With you, I’m never afraid.”
A few seconds—an eternity—of silence passed. Albert savored the sacred moment, realizing that his role was more than just a camp counselor. In the midst of a chaotic community moment, his presence, consistency, commitment, and compassion gave a 9-year-old girl a sense of security and safety.
It’s hard for me to hear stories like this, especially during the Christmas season.
Why must innocent, beautiful children endure such terror? Why must Albert—a father, husband, loyal colleague, amazing mentor—risk his life and mental health every day he works for UrbanPromise? No easy answers.
One answer is to just quit. Throw up our arms, surrender, shut down our programs, concede the challenges are too great, and walk away.
But then we remember Tabitha and the children who need comforting—who will stand with them? Who will fight for their security, dignity, and safety? Who will offer them peace in the midst of the chaos?
We’ve come too far to give up! Christ calls us to stay.
That’s why I’m asking you this Christmas to help UrbanPromise continue to be a haven for our children, to provide them with a day, a week, or a month of PEACE! I need your help to underwrite the cost of providing neighborhood-based after-school programs throughout the city of Camden. Our programs are staffed with incredible urban missionaries like Albert. We provide healthy snacks, help with homework, and dinner most nights before taking our youth home. We partner with families to provide safe, fun, educational, and loving spaces full of God’s peace for hundreds of children.
It’s an amazing thing to be able to do, to buy a child PEACE.
Dr. Bruce Main
Chef Shawn Harris wants to tell you about the “Love “ cookie—a secret family recipe that has shaped his culinary signature and reputation, and features ample quantities of white chocolate, dark chocolate, oatmeal and….love.
“Love,” laughed Chef, “better known as butter!”
Love cookies are almost always on hand in the kitchen at UrbanPromise where Chef Shawn oversees UrbanChefs Catering, a new social enterprise for UrbanPromise. “We want to operate programs that generate employment for our youth and have a self-sustaining business model," said Matthew Speh, who has been Director of Social Enterprise at UP for about one year, and oversees UrbanChefs and the soon- to-launch UrbanPromise Thrift Store. "Both," said Speh “will build professional skills, help our students with college and help them build a resume.”
Chef Shawn agrees—he teaches more than just cooking. Through UrbanChefs, Chef will train five young people every six months. Along with cooking instruction, he teaches the value of professionalism, timeliness, courtesy and a welcoming smile. “I set an example,” he said, grinning. “My mom constantly told me to smile.”
His mom—and grandmother—also taught Chef the foundations of cooking. He laughs that he was the only man in his family that couldn’t fix a car, but could fix you dinner. After a year of college football-and injuries, Chef came home, unsure of what to do. His mother urged him to pursue his passion for cooking. At culinary school at Atlantic County College, he found his passion. “I loved it! It was everything I wanted to do!” As a young chef, he found work in Chicago (“that windy thing, that’s for real”) before moving to warmer Atlanta where he worked at a luxury hotel, for Planet Hollywood and in catering before returning to South Jersey. Chef Shawn lives in Cherry Hill now and is raising two daughters. He came to UrbanPromise from working at the Culinary Institute at Respond, Inc. in Camden—so he knows the territory of working with young people, catering and Camden very well.
The school cafeteria at UrbanPromise transitions to his classroom after lunches are served. UrbanChefs has a focused clientele, targeting school and church events in and around Camden. To date, UrbanChefs has catered all UrbanPromise events, including board meetings and volunteer days. Additionally, UrbanChefs has catered ten external events since July, everything from a barbeque lunch for 150 at the Kipp Charter School to a featured spot at a “Taste of Nazarene” Church fundraiser. The calendar is filling up with jobs, as the reputation grows. “We want to build the catering business to be self-sustaining.” Chef Shawn, his students and the Love cookie are off to a good start.