By Peter G. Sánchez
This past summer, Camden teens were their own bosses, achieving not only monetary rewards but also leadership skills, as participants in a summer enrichment program organized out of St. Josephine Bakhita Parish in Camden.
The eight teens, following the mission statement of the nonprofit Soul of Camden, Inc., raised “capital to employ ourselves” so that “tomorrow, we’ll be entrepreneurs raising capital to employ our village.”
The Soul of Camden, Inc. was founded in 2006 at St. Bartholomew Church, now part of St. Josephine Bakhita Parish in Camden.
The organization, started by Father Gerard Marable, pastor of St. Josephine Bakhita in Camden, includes an after-school program, soup kitchen, and the summer enrichment program. Its mission is to “feed the mind, feed the body, feed the soul of Camden.”
Using the REBELS (Religious, Educated, Business, Exercising Leaders Succeed) Leadership system, the students organized a golf outing and raised thousands of dollars this past summer.
They began in the fall by researching where most of New Jersey’s golfers lived. Next came figuring out a site, ultimately the Pennsauken Country Club and a local spa; designing a flyer; setting up a mail merge system for distribution; getting hole sponsors; and reaching out to the community at large.
Almost $5,000 was raised on June 30 at the golf outing. Next came the Princeton-Blairstown Leadership overnight camp in July, where students canoed, camped and participated in teamwork exercises to build fellowship and trust.
Two weeks of interning at the Whatley Griffin Law Firm in Mount Holly followed.
During their internship, the students tracked their positive conduct in the areas of religion, education, business, and exercise. The more leadership points they earned, the more they paid themselves.
To earn points, the teens attended Mass (good for a religion point); read and discussed the book “Reallionaire” by Farrah Gray (education); inventoried legal files (business); and roller-skated (exercising). The students paid themselves an average of $130 per week, in minimum wage and leadership points.
The eight youth also created life plans, prepared resumes, and met with professionals in their desired fields of employment. One student mentored with a local psychologist, while another found employment at a barber shop.
A day for the teens was also spent at the McGuire/Fort Dix/Lakehurst military base, meeting recent U.S. Air Force graduates and attending briefings.
The youth “are so driven,” said Col. Nancy E. Whatley Griffin, retired U.S. Air Force Reserve, who created the REBELS leadership system, and employed the students at her law firm.
“These youth want to own property in Camden, want to take leadership in Camden and want to revitalize Camden,” she said.
“They have a life plan; they have hopes and dreams, and know how to achieve them.
Father Marable, who began the Soul of Camden as a safe haven for Camden’s youth, sees the importance in empowering these students to make their dreams a reality.
“One of the main issues in Camden is that there are no jobs,” he said. “With this program, we’re trying to set a model and engage young people, encourage them in their career goals, and nurture their aspirations.”
For more information about the Soul of Camden, contact Father Marable at 856-365-0513.