Hammonton youth go inside the walls

Michael Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division, speaks to youth of Saint Mary of Mount Carmel, Hammonton on Friday, March 24. The students learned what it takes to be a special agent, or a member of the support staff, and toured the FBI headquarters.
Photo by Peter G. Sánchez

PHILADELPHIA — Twenty-six teens and adult chaperones from Saint Mary of Mount Carmel Church traveled from Hammonton to Philadelphia last month, touring the FBI’s headquarters here, speaking with its special agents and support staff, and learning about how its men and women keep the country safe.

The events on March 24 began with presentations from Greg Branch, one of the Philadelphia branch’s Special Agents, and a 1979 Camden Catholic High School graduate; and Michael Harpster, the division’s Special Agent in Charge, about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s work in stopping criminal acts such as terrorism, corruption, organized crime, cyber crime and civil rights violations.

As well, the agents and staff led the group around the FBI offices, into the interrogation room; the polygraph room, complete with lie detector; into the weapons vault; and to just outside the crime evidence locker.

The experience for the youth was an eye-opener, and privileged. Not many, sans agents, staff and criminals, get inside the walls at one of the nation’s most secure peacekeeping facilities.

“It was great to get insight into what they do on a daily basis,” said Kenny Cinkowski, a senior at Hammonton High School.

“I am going into the Marines at Parris Island (South Carolina) after graduation, but am looking into working here after my time there,” he said.

Kim Fahy, the parish’s youth minister, saying that her group was “grateful for the experience,” added that she was happy to learn from the FBI staff, what the best qualification for employment is.

Integrity and honesty are more important than your grades,” they told the crowd. “They helped the youth understand the importance of making a habit, of being a person of your word,” Fahy said.

The FBI’s Philadelphis division is one of 56 field divisions in the country, and has jurisdiction over half of Pennsylvania, and Gloucester, Salem, and Camden counties.