‘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.

Sustainable Cherry Hill – EPA Quality Award winner

April 23, 2010

In President Barack Obama’s statement marking the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day in the United States he said, “As we continue to tackle our environmental challenges, it’s clear change won’t come from Washington alone. It will come from Americans across the country, who takes steps in their own homes and their own communities to make that change happen. “

Sustainable Cherry Hill’s founder and executive director, Lori Braunstein and six executive committee members were invited to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 2 offices in New York Friday, April 23, to be among several dozen organizations and individual advocates for our environment to accept the EPA’s highest honor, the Quality Award. Sustainable Cherry Hill (SCH) was nominated by New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez to receive this prestigious honor.

The ceremony atop the Weiss Federal Building in Lower Manhattan made each representative of SCH proud to represent the growing movement in Cherry Hill and surrounding communities aimed at raising community and region wide awareness to  make our environment cleaner and more sustainable for generations to come. 

EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck took a moment to quote naturalist John Muir, whose words were taken to heart as we marked Earth Day: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”

The guest speaker, Chief Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Nation, at the age of 79, spoke of his decades-long journey to understand the earth and the need to nurture nature every day.  He encouraged the gathering of environmental advocates to continue the collaboration and cooperation to protect and save our resources.  He said he fears the way things have been going, nature is at severe risk. “We’re in the spring of global warming,” Chief Lyons said. “We’re not prepared for what is coming.”

Chief Lyons said politics must be set aside and we must pick up the responsibility to preserve and protect our land, water and air. “We now place in your hands, the protection of all life,” the chief stated. “That’s our mandate.”

Chief Lyons words were inspiring. Also inspiring the accomplishments honored by the EPA of the many groups and individuals – from the 10-year old Northport, New York girl who raises money from a lemonade stand to plant trees in her community to the posthumous award to a citizen who spent decades protecting and preserving the coastal wetlands of Cape May.

Sustainable Cherry Hill is on a journey. We are collaborating and working more every day to raise awareness of how each one of us can make a difference in how we leave this planet for our children and our children’s children. We will do this one energy seminar at a time; one township green plan meeting at a time; one recycling event at a time; it is our mandate to work together to reduce our impact on our global resources through engaging and enlightening our family, friends and the community at large.

The EPA Quality award received April 23 makes note of our progress to date. We hope many more people will join us in the efforts ahead.


Do You Have Time to be Bored?

“I’m bored.” The two words parents perhaps loathe most. Whether the child is four or fourteen, those two words can send the most sensible of parents into an emotional frenzy. “When I was your age, I was out working.” “When I was fourteen, I didn’t have time to be bored.” Now, my son has rarely used those two words, but watching and reading about the so-called “flash mobs” invading  Philadelphia’s South Street and weeks ago at the Gallery and Macy’s downtown, I think back to my teenage years. There was no time to be bored. Ever.

We didn’t have cell phones, instant messaging and social networking, but we had telephones. My mother would scream at me to “Get off the phone.” I would spend hours on the telephone, if she let me. I had so many activities before and after school and worked from the time I was 14, I never had a chance to be bored. If I dared utter those words, my mom would find me something to do around the house pretty darn quick. I did plenty of chores as well. I remember scrubbing woodwork and ironing clothes.

I was never allowed to hang out at the mall. That was probably the closest thing to “flash mobs” from my day. A lot of kids would head to Roosevelt Mall and just walk around doing nothing but being seen. I don’t recall hearing any problems from those days of hanging out, but there seem to be so many more kids today. The social networking, cell phones and word of mouth is viral.

I happen to agree with what Police Commissioner Chuck Ramsey and Mayor Michael Nutter have said in their subsequent news conferences following the South Street incident. Parents must be responsible for their children. I can’t imagine NOT knowing where my son is. I can’t imagine him putting himself in a situation where mobs of kids are doing absolutely nothing but ranting, running and mobbing into shops and restaurants.

Commissioner Ramsey is right: if your child says he or she doesn’t have anything to do, it’s YOUR job to find them something to do.Parents have to stop throwing up their arms and give kids some tough love. No threats – only action when the kids wander off without telling you what’s going on. For parents with small kids, this is YOUR teachable moment. Reign in your kids now, and they’ll never be bored. Teach them activities and volunteerism. Be an example – volunteer yourself and take the kids with you. They’ll never be bored.

http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local-beat/Mayor-Takes-Anti-Flash-Mob-Message-to-the-Street-89353867.html

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.

It’s like brushing your teeth

It’s tough enough to keep a commitment to go to the gym a few days a week. To commit to keep a journal, online or otherwise, every day, is nearly impossible. While my career has changed in the past year, I get to do so many new and different things, that there are days I simply run out of hours. I could sit at my desk for hours and get a multitude of things done. The next thing I know, it’s 2:30 and I haven’t had lunch.

Tuesday, I heard a report that you shouldn’t sit at your desk more than 45 minutes or face the problems of being overweight along with other health issues. That apparently applies even if you regularly exercise. The rule of thumb, the report says, is get up every 45 minutes and get that blood going.Not much moss grew under my feet Tuesday. I was out of the house at 9 a.m.; driving to a client meeting and stopping on the way to pick up a gift for some friends; took some photos for the client; the meeting in Ocean County at 11 a.m. lasted until 12:15; I made a few stops on the way home; downed a quick salad for lunch; got ready for the first day of teaching business communications at Rutgers-Camden; left the house at 3:45 to stop to drop off the gift for the friends; got to class just before start time at 4:30; taught until 5:50 p.m.; answered some students’ questions; talked with the next teacher in the room; motored back to Cherry Hill to pick up my son from his bowling match; got home; stir-fried dinner I had prepped the day before; grabbed my Sustainable Cherry Hill notes and got to an executive committee meeting a couple of minutes after 7 p.m.; the meeting lasted until 9 p.m.; collapsed at home by 9:30 p.m.

It wasn’t a record, but I certainly wore a lot of hats yesterday, leaving me with hat-hair. Wonder why I didn’t get to write a blog post?

Today, I caught up. I’m getting some great media exposure for Sustainable Cherry Hill and efforts to link the suburbs with Camden and the Center for Transformation. Cross your fingers that you’ll be seeing the story on TV – soon. Don’t want to jinx it.

100,000 and counting in Haiti

The death toll in Haiti will likely top 100,000. That’s like wiping out all of Cherry Hill and Haddonfield in one fell swoop. The photos and video this morning of the president’s house were remarkable. It’s hard to imagine the White House being similarly devastated. It could have happened September 11, but that would have been man-made.

Just the other day I was thinking about how San Francisco recovered after the October 1989 6.8 earthquake. The Marina district was devastated. The 101 freeway collapsed on itself crushing motorists. Remember Al Michaels switching from World Series play-by-play to disaster coverage? That earthquake struck just before the digital age. Cell phones weren’t big and computers were just starting to become mainstream. Even in Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world, cell phones, texts and emails to the outside world were possible so many families could find out how their loved ones fared in this disaster.

Being in the news business for so long, as I saw word of the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti Tuesday night, I knew the disaster would be widespread. A hospital collapsed, bodies are in the streets, the bone-crushing injuries others are suffering – it’s heartbreaking. Now, the tent cities will rise from the rubble. People are already camping out awaiting help from around the world.

The faces of the survivors will be filled with shock and grief for days to come. People who have tried and failed to get word from their loved ones in Haiti will get devastating news in the coming days. Some lucky people will find out their loved ones did survive, but have lost everything, or worse, are tragically injured.

For most of us, we do what we can: we donate blood, write a check to the Red Cross or other relief organization. Still others who are specially trained, will be heading to Haiti to help the stricken people in any way they can. So remember the victims, the survivors and those relief workers as well as the search and rescue workers who have so much to do for months to come.

One thing we know: people are resilient. We find a way to start again. No matter how horrible the crisis, we dig deep and look to find what it takes to move forward. Bless the children, their families and all those stricken tonight.