‘Away’ is Somewhere – in Waterfront South

“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 CfETCamden_56Transformation 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 CfETCamden_15not 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 CfETCamden_20been 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 CfETCamden_30with 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.

Save The Camden Children’s Garden

Camden’s reputation for being among the most violent city’s in the nation overshadows the many good organizations and people who work tirelessly to improve the poor and often overlooked city.

ChildGarden LogoIn the gray of winter, leaders of the Camden Children’s Garden have been notified that they will have to vacate the site adjacent to the Adventure Aquarium by March 31st. The Garden’s web site indicates ChildGarden4the site was to reopen full-time March 30th. The fight is underway to save The Children’s Garden and the program that has helped provide more than 2-million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables for a city that has just one supermarket located a long bus-ride away for many residents.

Please read a message from a friend of mine – Mark Doorley – president of Camden’s Center for Environmental Transformation and give thought to the plight of The Camden Children’s Garden.

ChildGarden5This is an emergency call for action to support a sister non-profit in the city of Camden that is dedicated to environmental justice and food justice. Two weeks ago the Camden Children’s Garden (CCG) received a letter from the State of New Jersey asking that most of their six acre site be vacated by March 31st. Without even talking to the CCG’s staff, the State wants the organization to continue its work of supporting the many community gardens throughout the City. This will not be possible with what the State has in mind for the CCG. It will be reduced to a rather small greenhouse and some office space, losing its much larger greenhouse facility as well as the meeting spaces where workshops are conducted for Camden gardeners year round. Why does the State want to shut down this gem on the waterfront? To make way for a more “glitzy” destination spot, to join the Susquehanna Center and the Aquarium, making this a “destination” spot. This is an outgrowth of a tired economic development plan which claims that if you make “glitzy” destination places, you will attract more people to Camden and those people will spend money in Camden. The glaring flaw with this analysis is that the people come into Camden, closing their eyes til they get to their “glitzy” destination, and they spend their money at these destinations, and that money ends up, in the case of the Aquarium and the new development under discussion, in the pockets of an Alabama-based entertainment company.

The Camden Children’s Garden serves almost every school in Camden, through summer programs and support for school garden programs. Children from throughout the area visit the Camden Children’s Garden for their many activities. The 50,000 seedlings grown by the CCG have brought to harvest 2.1 million pounds of produce for the people of Camden. It is a place where the children of Camden, particularly, can learn about science and nutrition, in a safe and inviting place. In my opinion, this is the kind of “glitz” we want on our waterfront.

There is reason to believe that the State’s move will not stand up under judicial review. There are now over 6,000 people who have joined the Save the Camden Children’s Garden Facebook page, and legislators are working behind the scenes to resolve this problem.

How can we help?

1. Donate to a legal defense fund; information to make tax-deductible donations can be found at the following link: http://camdenchildrensgarden.wordpress.com/legal-fund/

2. Sign the petition to save the Children’s Garden, which can be found at the following link: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/558/352/791/save-the-camden-childrens-garden/

3. Come out on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 to support CCG. Attend a press conference at the Garden on Tuesday at 4 PM. It is very important that children who have visited and benefited from the CCG be present at this event. Following the press conference, we will be marching to City Hall to make a presentation and plea to save the Garden to City Council. At the press conference, there will be hot chocolate for children to enjoy! More information on this effort can be found at the following link: http://camdenchildrensgarden.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/press-release-state-eviction-statement-for-email-rev2-6-131.pdf.

4. Join the Facebook page of Save the Camden Children’s Garden and invite your friends to do the same.

Thank you.

Mark Doorley

President, Board of Trustees

The Center for Environmental Transformation

1729 Ferry Avenue, Camden, NJ 08104

(p) 609.605.3530

(e) president@cfet.org

 

 

Watching Camden Up Close

Driving into Camden from the South Jersey suburbs brings home the thought that Sacred Heart Church’s Father Michael Doyle has pressed for many years: there are a thousands miles between the suburbs and Camden. When I heard Center for Transformation staffer Andrea Feirich and board president Mark Doorley talk about how Camden became cut off from the region when the Ben Franklin Bridge, Admiral Wilson Boulevard and 676 were constructed, it didn’t mean as much to me until today. My husband, son and I drove to help at the weekly dinner at Joe’s Place. The nondescript building across from Sacred Heart Church at Broadway and Jasper is in the heart of Waterfront South.

Once we turned left onto Broadway leaving Rutgers-Camden, Cooper Hospital and Campbell’s Soup in our rearview mirror, it was if we’d stepped into a war zone. There’d be a few decent homes or businesses on Broadway or a side street, then vacant sites or more likely, boarded up homes, business and buildings that probably won’t see attention for years. We passed what looked like a group of volunteers serving a meal right outside in a vacant lot. Once we parked and got to the St. Vincent de Paul Society building, we knocked on the locked door. Once Burt let us in, we were welcomed by Sheryl and John along with the other volunteers who have given of their time, their hearts and souls to the community. This was our first time, so we were glad to do whatever was needed to serve dinner and dessert to about 60 people from the community.

Precisely at 4 p.m. when the doors opened, the people appeared. Their faces showed a road map of hard life. Women and men came. Their clothes worn and torn. There were a few little girls with their young mother. One man had a very pleasant conversation with himself the entire time he was having dinner. But he looked me in the eyes and asked for his pie for dessert; then he went back to his seat to enjoy his dessert and continue his conversation. Except for one angry man, each person was so grateful for every bite they were offered. Many had two plates of food and two (or three desserts). It didn’t matter. Our hosts supplied the lovely meal. We were glad to serve and share a little of ourselves with others who have so little.

When we were leaving today, dinner was still going on at Joe’s Place. I was getting in the car when a man walking through the vacant field next to the building yelled, “It’s not over is it?” I realized he was a regular at Joe’s Place and yelled back, “No, of course not; there’s plenty left.” The big smile on his face led me to think this might be his only good meal of the day and maybe for the week. He was carrying a plastic grocery bag. I know he was going to be taking some leftovers with him.

We drove just 50 yards from our parking spot. Looking down the side street to my right was a drug deal happening before my eyes. The person in the driver’s seat gave the man standing outside the car the money; the two shook hands. The deal was sealed. There is so much work to do in Camden. So many lives that need tending to. But in reality, it must start with the youngest of the people in Camden. There’s a way out. The many good people doing wonderful things on a daily basis in Camden can make it happen for these children. The thing is, my hope is that the children see the light with the right guidance, then they will show others like them the way out. For now, we can all do just a little more – a day at a time. Inside Joe’s Place, everyone is good and safe and has a full belly.

1000 miles Betwen Camden and the Suburbs

Let’s continue to pay it forward. More than 30 people gathered to learn about stepping up their service to the people of Camden. They came from Voorhees, Mount Laurel, Haddon Township and Ambler, PA. They all want to help bridge the divide of what Father Michael Doyle has said is the “1000 miles” between the suburbs and Camden.

The joint effort between The Center for Transformation (Mark Doorley and Andrea Feirich), Sacred Heart Church and Sustainable Cherry Hill (Lori Braunstein) began with the January 21 “Poet of Poverty” screening in Cherry Hill featuring Father Michael Doyle. More than 230 people attended that event introducing many to the fact that every flush and nearly every scrap of trash ends up in Camden. The follow-up event February 13 gave participants an up-close look at the Center for Transformation’s, well, transformation that is underway in the former convent building as well as a look at the church sanctuary. Across the street, they heard from two teenagers in the greenhouse who explained projects including, production of rain barrels built by the young, urban farmers, the beginnings of an aquaponics project to raise tilapia, and plans for  a fruit tree orchard nearby off 4th Street. The eco-tour also showed how the Waterfront South

Center for Transformation renovations in the former convent

neighborhood remains in the shadow of the county sewage treatment plant, but how efforts are continuing to raise up the neighbors and citizens to improve their lives as well as their homes, gardens and parks.  They heard about renovations of the building for the new theatre and nearby houses.

The outcome of the gathering is expected to bring into the fold, more hands, hearts and minds supporting the many programs and projects stemming from Sacred Heart and the Center for Transformation and helping to close that “1000 miles” between the suburbs and Camden.