“We’re working with the children,” said Nancy Axelrod, Center for Environmental Transformation board member. When you walk the blocks surrounding Sacred Heart Church and school and Center for Environmental Transformation in Camden’s Waterfront South neighborhood, you wonder whether an impact is felt despite all the best efforts of Father Michael Doyle, church members and volunteers.
Our toilets flush and the waste goes ‘away’ – to Camden. Waterfront South is home to several thousand residents and the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, the trash-to-steam plant, and other industries that spew particulates and bring trucks and tractor trailers chugging through the neighborhood.
Nancy Axelrod and center president Mark Doorley led nine of us on a walking tour of a part of Waterfront South where the church, center and the non-profit housing company Heart of Camden have led programs to bring not just development and improvements, but hope in the lives of the men, women and children who have called Waterfront South home for generations.
You see the gardens where fresh fruits and vegetables grow through the summer and in the greenhouse across from Sacred Heart and the outdoor brick oven where children learn cooking skills. Colorful murals, brightly decorated facades on row homes and newly planted trees in a park are signs of progress. Rain gardens have been planted to help prevent flooding, though carelessly discarded plastic bottles and trash are caught in the wildflowers meant to absorb flooding rains. A vacant home being renovated by a non-profit group is on its second incarnation since evil factions broke into the home tearing out all of the improved wires and pipes.
While we walked along South Broadway, you could imagine decades ago, how people would walk on the avenue to shop, stop at the bank, walk to church. Now, on a Saturday morning, there are few people on the streets; nearly every block or so, a prostitute stakes out his or her spot. The Heart of Camden homes that have been renovated and purchased shine like diamonds, but there aren’t nearly enough of those homes to make up for the derelict buildings, not to mention the brownfields and Superfund sites preventing real progress.
Yet, a community theatre, an arts center, a cafe and center for writers along with a new gym where children can safely play, exercise and grow are signs of hope and change. As Nancy said, it’s the children who can be the future of Waterfront South. They will learn to have pride and hope in their neighborhood and work for social justice thanks to the many people who understand and work in this village.