What can Camden neighborhood teach N.J., Sweeny?

NJ.com/Greg Adomaitis
Tuesday, December 1, 2015

CAMDEN-What can state Senate President Stephen Sweeney — and the rest of the New Jersey, for that matter — learn from Camden?

That comprehensive community care to those of all ages, such as what's offered within the Cooper Lanning "Promise Neighborhood" Sweeney visited Monday morning, creates meaningful development and restores distressed communities.

"This is why were here; to hear where we're coming up short," the senate president said of "New Jersey: Investing In You," the six-point economic investment initiative announced in October that targets transportation, education, college affordability, job creation, retirement security and "promise neighborhoods."

Monday's trip to the Center for Family Services (CFS), a nonprofit human service agency situated with a row of offices offering all types of aid, outreach and assistance to neighborhood residents, included CFS Chief Executive Officer Richard Stagliano, Chief Operation Officer Merilee Rutolo, Camden Mayor Dana Redd and state Assemblywoman Patricia Egan Jones.

"I've got to give you the tools to get the job done," the former iron worker told those assembled for the tour.

The Cooper Lanning promise neighborhood is aimed at benefiting the lives of both local children and adults and is boosted by a number of partnerships, from Rowan and Rutgers to the Campbell Soup Company.

Despite open lines of communication with federal entities working toward similar goals, "so often is that things stay in silos," Stagliano said of things running without hiccups.

So Sweeney and company saw the facilities that offer early-learning networks, college access programs, help with paying utility bills license restoration, family game night and more — all of which are free.

Carl Boyd, who teaches the 24/7 Dads program, was one of the first people to come aboard and work with CFS.

"Everybody is treated like a human being," said Boyd, adding that snuffing out the stigma attached to seeking out social services is a large chunk of the fight.

Veronica Franklin, who has been working with the service since November 2012 and greets every single person who enters the building along Benson Street, said she wanted to give back to the city where she grew up.

"I don't know how many doors have been shut in their face before they got here," Franklin said. "My job is to be compassionate about it."

Dwayne Ingram, senior program director of Camden Dreams, said the 45 young adults who have passed through his doors were given an opportunity to find footing after exiting the foster care system.

Asked after the tour about funding, Sweeney noted the earlier stumbling block of entities not communicating about available sources. According to the CFS website, the service is supported by federal, state and county funds along with private grants and individual and corporate donations.

The senate president said that in the long run, it's less costly to set up programs like this that set up participants for success.

"There's a great cost no matter how you look at it," he said. "You have to invest."

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