Discovering the Power Within
Being a product of your environment is not always a bad thing. Jaleel Carson grew up in Camden, and as a young kid witnessed first-hand the daily distresses many people experience in underserved communities. He didn’t have a lot materially, but what has always been abundant in Jaleel was an innate kindness, humility, and appreciation for the smallest of things. These attributes would one day serve him well and place him on an ascending track to success that even money and privilege can’t buy.
Quiet and extremely introverted, Jaleel had it tough. Jeered by neighborhood kids for not having the latest clothes and for having a father who was unstable and fighting his own personal battles with addiction oppressed Jaleel’s spirit. His mother struggled to provide the basics for Jaleel and his sister which also caused anxiety. But despite their apparent insurmountable obstacles, Jaleel’s parents loved and supported him—and desperately hoped for a brighter future.
After years of moving around the city from place to place, contending with one hardship and circumstance after another, life got even tougher for Jaleel when his father passed away—just a few short months before his high school graduation. His biggest supporter was gone.
Unable to gain real traction in his life, Jaleel descended into isolation with only the feelings of loss, defeat, displacement, and fear as his reality.
It was time for Jaleel Carson to experience a “new normal”. He needed something powerful.
Jaleel’s connection with Center for Family Services’ PowerCorps Camden was that something.
PowerCorps Camden is an AmeriCorps program in partnership with the City of Camden, Office of the Mayor, in which Camden youth dedicate six months of full-time volunteer service to revitalize the City’s public spaces.
The power of PowerCorps Camden is that its spirit and influence exceeds facilities, work sites, and mandatory “in the field” service hours. The fuel that drives this extraordinary program is its people—the staff[JH1] , partners, and cohort members. In Jaleel’s case, it was a peer who saw a need in him and extended information about PowerCorps Camden. That extended hand…that genuine human interest in another was the opportunity Jaleel Carson needed to transform his life. He went through the application process and even pulled himself together for the in-person interview.
“I knew this was something I needed,” said Jaleel. “I got my hair cut for the interview and vowed to myself that I was going to put everything I had into this opportunity.” It was a Thursday morning in 2016 when the acceptance letter arrived to his residence. That was the Thursday Jaleel Carson was re-born.
Three cohorts, 2700 service hours, an OSHA Certificate, an “Outstanding Work Ethic” Award, and a “President’s Award” later, Jaleel Carson smiles more, is talkative, articulate, passionate, and laser-focused on his path to personal success. As a result of his participation in PowerCorps Camden, he has highly-marketable employment skills, a financial plan, and a car that he drives to his THREE jobs.
When asked why PowerCorps Camden is important, the 21 year-old’s response is epic. “At PowerCorps, we learn about green infrastructure and use power tools to do our work, but we also learn life skills—how to dress for success and communicate in a professional manner,” he said. “Power Corps changes people’s lives. It gives people like us second chances and shows us how to be leaders and walk into a room with confidence. It builds positive vibes in people and teaches us how to put ideas (along with our skills) into motion. PowerCorps gave me relationships—friends.”
Even though Jaleel has transitioned into the workforce and is now employed with great companies like Woodward & Curran, Pinnacle Building Services, and the Student Conservation Association, he’s dedicated to reaching back and helping those coming up behind (and perhaps because of) him. As he prepares to enroll in college to pursue degrees in Engineering and Communications, it’s nothing short of inspiring to see a young man from Camden truly represent his environment. Working diligently to achieve his goals and the dreams of his parents—experiencing happiness and inspiring others—is Jaleel Carson’s new normal.