CAMDEN - Anthony Tyson is no stranger to hard work.
"I always have two or three job going at once," the North Camden resident said. But those jobs - mostly in retail or fast food - weren't enough for the father of three children under the age of 7.
After suffering ligament damage to his arm in a car accident when he was 15, Tyson had a hard time keeping up in school. "I couldn't do much, so I just stopped going," he said. Now 24, he tried to enroll in different programs designed to help high school dropouts, but most emphasized jobs over education, he said.
Camden Corps Plus, launched in July, was the exception.
Thursday, Tyson and his Camden Corps Plus peers were able to learn about long-term careers, as the State Department of Labor and Workforce Development brought its talent Network to the Center For Family Services on Broadway. Acting Labor Commissioner Aaron Fichtner was joined by Mayor Dana Redd in touting the program for 16 - to 24-year-old city residents who have been "disconnected" from schools and jobs.
Representatives from fields including advanced manufacturing, technology, financial services, retail, hospitality and tourism, health care, life sciences, and transporation, logistics and distribution gathered in a classroom space to answer questions and help Camden Corps Plus participants learn what they'd need to build a career in the respective fields, targeted by the agency as the most in-demand in New Jersey.
For 18-year-old Kevhon Thomas, years bouncing from Camden to Woodbury to Connecticut and from one school to another left him scattered and distracted. "I was never a bad kid," the Cramer Hill resident said. "I just had a rough life."
The individual attention of Camden Corps Plus, which includes assistance with high school equivalency, career sampling, mentoring, internships, and more, helped center him, he said. "There's not as many kids here, so there's not as many distractions," he said. "It's easier to focus on myself and on my education."
He graduated from the program in October and is angling toward a career working with cars, a longtime passion.
There are 84 people enrolled in the program which is administered by Center For Family Services through a federal grant, said CFS Chief Operating Officer Merilee Rutolo.
CFS Program Director Darron Harley said his "humble beginnings, to say the least," in North Philadelphia have helped him relate to the young men and women in Camden Corps Plus. The close attention and what he called "hard nurturing" are meant to address the myraid challenged participants face, including poverty, homelessness, child care, criminal backgrounds, and lack of transportation.
Asked what makes the program different from others, Harley smiled. "Not to sound corny, but...love. We find the positives in what they're good at and kind of call them on it. Are they always late? We find out why, and if it's because they're dropping off their kid at child care, we tell them: 'okay, you're a good nurturer,' and we work with that."
For Tyson the attention mattered. "I wouldn't be here without the staff here,"he said, calling Camden Corps Plus a "big family".
As one of the "elders", he's offered advice and guidance to younger corps members. It's something he takes seriously, he said.
This program gave me hope. Now some of them will ask me for advice and I try to give it to them. I don't sugarcoat it...I tell them, it will be hard. It won't be easy. But if you work, you can do it.
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