Photo courtesy Father Jud Weiksnar, OFM
Sept. 14 was a day of celebration in the Cramer Hill section of Camden with local residents staging a triumphant march in the streets.
The Cramer Hill Victory Tour, made up of 40 individuals, visited six sites in the neighborhood where a local community organizing group has made a difference.
Participating were about 40 members of the Camden Churches Organized for People (CCOP)’s Cramer Hill Local Organizing Committee (LOC), and the St. Anthony of Padua Student Leaders’ Von Nieda Park Task Force, plus parishioners and neighbors.
The LOC has put pressure on city officials to demolish or rehabilitate abandoned houses in the city and fix broken structures that affect Camden’s residents. The first stop on the Victory Tour was the new State Street Bridge, connecting Cramer Hill and North Camden.
In November 2011, work began on the new bridge, with the old span being closed, which caused people to detour to get from one neighborhood to another during rush hour.
At a meeting of Camden Churches Organized for People, a group of 23 people formed the State Street Bridge Committee, led by St. Anthony’s parishioner Ramona Torres. The group contacted county and city officials and opened a Facebook page to which pictures of the progress, or lack thereof, were posted weekly.
Almost immediately after the group was formed, work resumed on the project. The chief engineer kept in contact with the group, and the new bridge opened as scheduled in early August, 2013.
The last stop on the tour was the former site of “Emily’s House,” two homes where, four years ago, a fire reduced the homes to debris, and subsequently became a neighborhood dumping ground.
Now the site is cleared and ready for redevelopment, thanks to the pressure put on the city by St. Anthony’s Emily’s House Local Organizing Committee.
After each site, those gathered would hear the history of the either demolished or rehabilitated site, and hear neighbor testimony. The crowd would then shout a celebratory “Si se puede!” (Yes we can!).
After the final stop at Emily’s House, the group gathered for a picnic.
“Where there was death, now there’s life,” said Kristen Zielinski Nalen, the director of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation for St. Anthony of Padua, who organized the day.
After the victory tour, the group remains hard at work planning their next successes, including the rehabilitation of 15 homes, and combatting park flooding. It is hoped that by May of next year, seven houses will be rehabilitated and ready for sale.