May 2014: President’s Message

Greetings from Camden!

This note from the President of the board of CFET usually goes out in mid-May, but there’s been lots happening, but here is monthly note.

For 8 weeks earlier this year CFET had the honor of hosting a group of AmeriCorps NCCC members who worked with us, with the NJ Tree Foundation and the Neighborhood Center.  I asked one of them, Marilyn Ponce, to write up some thoughts on their experience in Camden.  Here they are!  Thanks, Marilyn, and thanks to the entire team for an extraordinary effort.

Camden: Seeds of Change, Community and Coming Together

For eight weeks our AmeriCorps NCCC team, Moose 4, worked with the Center for Environmental Transformation (CFET) to aid in the environmental redevelopment of Camden.
When we first learned about our first project in Camden, our team was unsure what to expect and what we had researched about the city didn’t ease our minds: a high crime rate, declining school education system and it’s classification as a food desert. Our first day in Camden was memorable. I remember noticing the large amount of trash that seemed to overwhelm the streets and the uneven pavement road ridden with potholes. As our 15 passenger van ricocheted towards CFET, we couldn’t help but think: Is there hope for Camden and where did we fit in the picture?
The next day our picture of Camden started to change when we met our awesome and incredibly passionate sponsors – Ari Rosenberg, Jessica Franzini and Michael D’Italia. For the first time since arriving our team felt the wheels of change turning in Camden and we were excited to become a part of that movement. We were enlightened by the concept of community gardens – anyone in the neighborhood could take a fruit from a tree in the garden and eat it. Although Camden didn’t have access to fresh fruits and produce, Ari and our sponsors were working to make that dream a reality.
Those next few weeks with Ari we worked in the greenhouse planting seedlings and took careful measures to label and catalog them correctly. Our team learned about different varieties of plants, many that we had never heard of before and what made them unique. Ari taught us how to prepare garden beds by turning them, and to spread a good helping of mulch and manure to make the soil richer. By the end of our time we could decipher a weed from a seedling, understand how to properly pot a plant and mulch.
More than that we felt a strong sense of community in Camden as Ari held events that involved neighbors in Waterfront South. We attended a potato-planting event in which everyone brought a potluck dish to share with everyone. Our team was also fortunate enough to meet the Mayor of Camden, Dana Redd, and volunteer alongside her to promote the amazing work our sponsors were doing. People in the community were actively engaged and fully dedicated to spreading waves of positive change in Camden. Our work was constantly appreciated and valued by the residents, a gesture that always lifted our spirits and motivated us to continue working hard.
Change is not immediate, but CFET has spread the ripples of revitalization across Camden. As a member of the group that was a part of that movement, I can say there is a bright future for Camden. Although there is a lot of work to be done, there is a wonderful community at Waterfront South that is striving to see that vision become a reality. Thank you Ari for allowing us to be a part of that change and for sharing the wealth of knowledge you have inherited from your experiences.