It’s easy to overlook the building as it blends into the city. The Camden Area of Health Education is not a huge towering building like the medical school or nearby universities. But even though it blends in, for some, this place is a beacon of hope.
The Camden Area of Health Education opened in 1987 when HIV/AIDS was an epidemic. The purpose at that time was to instill HIV/AIDS prevention due to seeing an alarming rate of infection in gay and bisexual men of color.
As the face of HIV/AIDS has changed, so has the purpose of AHEC. Today it is now a place where people can go to receive information on general health issues. AHEC still services the LGBTQ community today.
One of its most popular resources at AHEC is its Keeping It Safe (K.I.S) program for LGBTQ young men of color. The program started in 1991. Christian Hill attended the program as a teen in 2009 and is now the co-director.
“As a participant, it gave me a space to be comfortable with issues where other people were going through the same things,” said Hill.
He got his foot in the door when there was a job opening for peer educator and started working in 2012. Three years later he received a promotion. Jerome Pipes is his co-director.
The drop in center provides a safe and accepting space for young gay men of color to congregate and with other young men who can relate to them as well.
Programs like this are vital in Camden. Four years ago local Camden teen Waunye Wallace was murdered while walking with friends. Wallace was gay and it is believed that is why he was murdered. Friends of Wallace spoke about the difficulties of growing up gay and in Camden NJ. Not all experiences are like this, but for some this is the reality that they know.
The program not only offers these young men a safe place but educates them as well. In the past, K.I.S had workshops on practicing safe sex, condom usage, and HIV testing. The group also goes on field trips and has movie nights. Previous field trips include the gay pride parade and other drop-in centers.
For Hill, one thing that he is proud of is that the program has been running for long as it has.
“Some people did not want to take the chance, considered too much of a liability,” said Hill.
When it started people did not want to contribute, because they thought it was too risky and that it would cause controversy, due to being a resource for gay men.
Now thirty years later the doors are still open and people are still being helped.
The one lesson that Hill hopes these young men will learn is how to champion for themselves.
“I’m all about empowering the youth into becoming advocates for self,” said Hill.
A sunny, cool Wednesday afternoon drove employees of Camden City Hall and citizens of the city alike outside to enjoy their lunch hour. A slight breeze rolled through the trees, few cars buzzed by and the conversation all around was on the same topic– the 2016 Presidential Election.
As in any public place these days, one could walk around and listen to individual conversations and hear topics rapidly shift from daily work troubles to the election without much indication.
Camden City Hall is located in the middle of Downtown Camden. -Photo/R. Bulaga
On November 3, with the 2016 Presidential Election hurtling toward the finish line, many people fear the worst come Wednesday morning. Others are hopeful, but one thing remains the same across the board; this election will make history.
“I think history will remember this election as a handbook of what not to do,” said Camden City Hall Welfare office employee, Liz J. “Trump especially got in it for the fun of it and it just got away from him. No one can control him, his ego just gets the better of him. If he wins the presidency, we are heading toward trouble.”
Liz, 73, said that she remembers when elections were still something to be excited for, something that meant a good, new chapter in American history.
“I remember how excited I was to vote for [John F.] Kennedy in 1960,” she said. “My first election, can you believe it? A man with such grace and dignity. And now we have Trump. Shameful.”
Jones went on to say that she hopes, for the sake of the country, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton becomes the 45th President of the United States.
Others in the area think the reverse of Jones’ prediction, stating that Donald Trump is the safer choice for president.
“I just think he’s doing all of this bullsh*t for show, to get people to level with him,” said Randy Kelly, 32. “He’s being real. Not saying I agree with him at all, but he’s being real. I just can’t trust Hillary Rodham Clinton, I know her investigations come up with nothing, but she seems really venomous.”
Kelly, who voted for President Barack Obama in 2012, says he feels let down by the last four years and wants change.
“I’m not a republican and I’m not really a democrat either, more independent. But Trump is adaptable like me, and that’s why I think he’ll do a good job,” he said.
With many opinions laying in favor of both candidates, some people see a brighter future ahead in terms of the way American politics is orchestrated.
“This year, we saw a lot of mistakes, a lot of turmoil, a lot of talk on things that weren’t important,” said Camden City Hall security guard, Zachary W. “Going from here, we’ll see much more stringent operations. Now that we’ve had to deal with someone like Trump, I think we’ll be able to deal with anything.”
What used to be the convention center and a nursing home is now the Majestic Care Center . The center in Camden, NJ has gone through many names but its purpose is still the same: To help put those who suffer from an illness on the road to recovery. Poverty and health problems are some of the struggles Camden residents face every day. However, these residents have the opportunity of having health care centers such as Majestic Care Center in Camden that provides them with the resources to make their lives better.
Majestic Care Center is a sub- acute/long term care and rehabilitation facility located right across the street from Cooper Medical Hospital in Camden for people who seek to recover from an illness, accident, injury or surgery.
People who come seeking these services come from all over the place including Philadelphia. Chyna Clayton is director of Activities for Majestic Care Center.
“We get (patients) from all over the place. We get them from Cooper, Our Lady of Lourdes and Philadelphia,” Clayton said. “We have a lot of different challenges here.”
Majestic Care Center provides round-the-clock short and long term care for residents who require services that assisted living facilities can’t provide. Majestic Care Center is a 120 beds facility provides people with different needs such as dementia, depression and gunshots victims a place where they can get that piece of mind they need through their integrative approach which focuses on the wellness of the patients.
This approach treats and nurtures the patients’ minds, body and spirit in order for them to recover and leave the facility feeling and knowing they have better days ahead. Clayton has been working at Majestic Care Center for twenty-eight years now and says that she does not know if she will retire here. At Majestic Care Center Camden residents or other surrounding cities residents receive many different services such as seven-day a week therapy services as well as recreational programs, for example scheduled outings, live entertainments, beauty services, restaurant-style dining and spiritual care. These programs are part of their efforts to restore their patients’ independence and renew their spirits.
At Majestic Care Center people who seek short term rehabilitation, for example after a hospital stay due to a surgery such as a knee replacement or a stroke or other cardiac event these people might need rehabilitation and here they would be assisted with physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, post-surgical care and other services that are designed to help them transition back to what was their home before staying at a hospital.
Since these are short term rehabilitation, patients only stay at Majestic Care Center for about a month or so.
“A lot times these people won’t be here for a long time because it is short term on the third floor so they would be here probably like two weeks,” said Clayton.
Each program is designed to meet the patient’s unique needs and helping them reach their highest level of independence. As for people who need long term care, Majestic Care Center also offers these kinds of services. These services are more for people who have nowhere to go. In that case, here they are assisted by trained and licensed nurses in a homelike setting.
“Long term care they live here forever. Let’s say they are here past a month or two they are eligible to become long term care but they would be moved to the second floor and that’s where they would be for the rest of their lives,” said Clayton.
Clayton said that admissions to the Majestic Care Center can vary depending on the week, at times can have more than ten and in other cases they can just have two admissions.
At the end of the year the center staff has an annual review where the patients and their families discuss how they are doing. For instance, a patient might be in the last stage of dementia which means the patient is dying. They also discuss whether the family wants to put their loved one in “hospice” or comfort care.
“It’s a hard job because you are dealing with people pretty much but we just try to keep them busy”, Clayton said.
Every Thursday, medical student Ify Ike walks into the Ferry Avenue Library in Camden, NJ with her school books in one hand and a bag filled with bananas, grapes and kiwis in the other. She is the director of a student run organization called “Tutor Time” that promotes positivity, learning and diversity in the Camden area.
Started in 2013, Tutor Time is just one of the many programs Cooper Medical School at Rowan University offers as part of their “service-learning requirement.” The learning requirement allows med students the opportunity to work with Camden residents. The organization gives kids an opportunity to increase their knowledge and come together in a safe after-school environment.
Ike, 25 of Maplewood, NJ is a second year medical student. Her involvement with the tutoring program started one afternoon when she accidentally sat in on a meeting while studying in the library last year. Since then not only does she attend regularly, but she works behind the scenes to ensure kids can succeed after they leave.
One of the goals Ike hopes to reach is to get students into college from their own love of school.
“The goal I’m trying to have for the program is to set up a place for the kids to do their homework and also a safe spot for them to come so they’re not outside doing something crazy,” Ike said.
The children who attend Tutor Time come to the library from 3-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. There is no limit on how many times a week kids can go and while there they have the opportunity to get help with homework, study, play games, eat healthy snacks and read books.
According to the National Literacy Association 49 percent of Camden residents read below a second grade level. Since Ferry Avenue is the only available library in Camden, Tutor Time hopes to get more volunteers and tutors to keep increasing reading, good learning habits and diversity to its young members.
While Tutor Time is a great opportunity to get kids in Camden more involved with school, it also helps promotes diversity with the help of learning games and reading about different cultures from around the world. The children interact with medical students of all different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Lindsay Ryan, 27 of Lino Lakes, MN is a former high school teacher and in her second year with Tutor Time. She enjoys making education fun for the students who spend their afternoons at the library.
Ryan sees the organization as a good way to show kids first hand that success does not discriminate against race, gender, religion or where you are from.
“They see black medical students and I think that’s great because it shows them something they can achieve. It also exposes them to other people with different cultural backgrounds,” Ryan said.
The children of Tutor Time are not the only ones learning something each day -the volunteers also take something away each time they set foot in the library.
Cooper Medical School requires its students to perform 40 hours of community service, which they call a “learning service requirement”.
Cheryl Hou, 30 of Marlboro, NJ is in her first year with Tutor Time and learns just as much from the students as they do from her. The requirement from Cooper is more than volunteering, it allows medical students to work in different and unique settings they may never experience.
“They provide you with the opportunity to not only serve the community, but learn as well. That’s why it’s called ‘Service Learning’ because we go out into the community and get the chance to connect to other people away from the classroom,” Hou said.
Imagine walking into a doctor’s office to request medication to cope with the death of a student killed by a stray bullet.
That is just a glimpse into the work life of Principal Andrea Surratt and the rest of her staff at Camden Community Charter School. Back in August, CCCS second grade student, Gabby Carter, was shot in head while riding her bike and died two days later in the hospital.
“I’ve dealt with three of my students dying from stray bullets since I’ve been working in the Camden City School District. But when Gabby died, I had to make an appointment with my doctor to give me something.”
Camden Community Charter School, located across the street from the North Gate Apartment Buildings I & II in North Camden, faces many challenges with students who live in the city.
Third year kindergarten teacher, Lisa Desjardins, offered sight about teaching in Camden.
“Our students are underprivileged. Some of them have a tough home life. With that, comes a lot of emotional problems,” said Desjardins. “We also deal with the fact that they come to us behind in grade level. I teach kindergarten and very few of my students come in knowing the alphabet or how to count. Many of them cannot identify the letters in their name or even write it.”
According to Surratt, the inner city students are also at a disadvantage because parents are sometimes absent in their children’s lives.
“We have parents who have been murdered, different kids might live with their grandparents or aunt. What do you do when you don’t have that parental support?”
Fourth grade CCCS teacher, Amy Gorski, explains how difficult it is to work in one of the poorest and most dangerous areas in country.
“Working with kids from Camden can be draining. There are tons of emotional baggage,” said Gorski. “Knowing that we provide some of these kids with the only food and kindness they will receive throughout the day kind of blows your mind. Kids come in without the basic training you’d expect a child to have.”
Gorski said many parents are young and lacking in any type of parenting skills. It’s a rough city and these kids have seen things that suburban students couldn’t even dream of.
Gorski still speaks to former students from Camden who are now in their 20s and in college. One is studying to be a teacher, another is working in a funeral home, a third a DJ and a young mother trying to get by.
“I am just happy they made it through and still remember me,” said Gorski. “They touched my life just as much as I touched theirs. They don’t all make it, that is the hardest part, but the ones that do, it brings me real joy. This is the hardest job I’ve ever done.”
The teacher salaries at CCCS are a couple thousand dollars less than first year public school teacher salary. Teachers in charter schools do not have a union either.
Desjardins explained that public schools typically only have a few days of training before the first day of school. On the other hand, CCCS typically has at least 2 weeks of professional development before the school year starts. Therefore, charter school staff is quite prepared for when the students come. CCCS also has staff meetings each week where public schools typically only have one each month.
“My biggest challenge this year is getting my students up to par. I want them ready to be successful in life. They have little support at home. Some kids in 4th grade are reading on a 2nd grade level. We have to get them there, to give them the biggest advantage we can, just to level the playing field,” said Gorski.
Drug use is at an all-time high in New Jersey, with physicians and drug counselors working hard to lower those numbers, especially in Camden.
Nearly a year ago, Cooper University Hospital, in Camden, N.J. opened a department for addiction medicine to help the community. Dr. Kaitlan Baston, was hired last year to kick-start Cooper’s very own department for addiction medicine, which is new not only to them, but South Jersey.
“It has been exciting, because they had not had an addiction specialist since I got hired,” said Dr. Baston. “So we’ve been building the program from the ground up.”
According to Dr. Baston, there’s anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 N.J, residents suffering from opioid disorders. Not all of those people reside in Camden, but there’s a large enough amount of people in not only Camden, but the South Jersey area that needs help.
“We work to stabilize patients in the hospital,” said Dr. Baston. “We can help transition them to treatment.”
Since the department for addiction medicine at Cooper is fairly new, they only see about 100 patients and have a waiting list with anywhere between 40-80 people on it at any given time. They have plans to expand, which are easier said than done since they would need a lot more funding for not only space for the patients but doctors to assist them.
“There’s definitely a need for treatment centers,” said Dr. Baston. “There’s many, many more patients who want help than can actually reach treatment.”
Dr. Kaitlan Baston, photo courtesy of Cooper University Hosptial
ER enterance, Cooper Hospital, N.J. Photo by: Sarah Camp
Row homes in Camden, N.J. Photo by: Sarah Camp
Cooper Hospital, Camden, N.J. Photo by: Sarah Camp
The department of addiction medicine is made to better serve the people of Camden, as it is an outpatient based service. Having services that don’t require staying in a facility for weeks or months on end, makes the process of recovery much more normal for patients. They use medication to keep patients sober, working in the same sense as if they were diabetic, In order to remain healthy, they need to keep up with medication.
“We’ve had a lot of successful patients,” said Dr. Baston. “We have a lot of patients in recovery and doing really well because they’re taking their medication every day.”
A majority of the patients they see are mothers who are either pregnant or postpartum. The department offers one-on-one therapy and even family therapy. All of the patients they see are there because they want to be, not because they were forced to see them.
“It’s been really exciting to get up and running and accomplish so much in such a short amount of time,” said Dr. Baston. “We’re continuing to grow.”
With such success in just 10 months, the program can only get better. The issues Camden faces with crime and poverty may not be fixed through this program, but it will help with lowering the deaths due to drug use per year. Doctors like Dr. Baston are working hard to help medicate the population currently struggling with addiction. The unique approach can quite possibly be a better one than the old ways of twelve-step programs.
“Cooper is putting a lot of energy into helping the addiction population,” said Dr. Baston.
Crystal Thomas, the Administrative Assistant at Anna Sample House, said the largest family that has ever came to stay was a mother along with her 10 children. There is a park area for the women’s shelter, they are able to watch their kids play basketball or play on the slides.
The shelter is referral based, in order to stay there the homeless women must have a referral from social services. The shelter has a per diem rate of $58 per night. There are different funders, such as Board of Social Services, Camden County Board of Social Services, Gloucester County Board of Social Services, and Atlantic County Board of Social Services sending women that need shelter to Anna Sample House.
“We do life skills inventories, we have case managers on site,” said Thomas. “So, they all have case managers that they can talk to if they are having a problem at all times.”
The shelter also has a program for mentally disabled woman, called Safe Haven is for the are on medication and are in a program for three to five days in the week. Some have extreme behaviors as well as integrated. These women also stay in a separate floor from the other programs. There is a total of three floors, each program has its own floor due to the very different situations that the women are in.
Pauline Rob, 56, is from Blackwood, NJ. She has been living in Anna Sample House Woman’s Shelter for eight months.
“I’ve had crises for suicide, so they put you in a dual diagnosis thing,” said Rob. “Which I just needed for the depression because its drug and alcohol related, but that’s was my choice of suicide was my medication.”
Transitional Living program is different from Safe Heaven its’s a bit homier; they are allowed to cook their own food on stoves, and they are the only program that can cook, the others unfortunately cannot. One of the reasons this program is allowed to cook is because it’s a family based program and many of the women enjoy cooking for their children.
Alaina Roberts is a seven month pregnant woman from New Jersey, she is 23-years-old and has been staying at the woman’s shelter for six months now; Today was actually her last day at the shelter (Oct.21).
“They ask us to be here for six months before even starting to look for housing, so my six months was a journey,” said Roberts. “I have a case worker and she guides me through the day, like today she will help me move my stuff; she tells me you got to do what you got to do.”
In order to stay at Anna Sample House Women’s Shelter there are many rules and regulations that the families must follow.
“We encourage them to attend all of the workshops, like money smart, parenting classes. They cannot smoke in the facility and we also have a medication policy,” said Thomas. “We also have curfews for all ages.”
There are many volunteers such as Cathedral Kitchen who cater to the shelter. The women at the shelter can eat at any time, but have to provide their own lunch. Cam Care have done a couple of baby drives for the shelter, because the shelter is filled with a total of 39 children. Many churches volunteer to come to the shelter for bible study and prayers. Marie Claire also volunteers to help the shelter; they come in and fix these ladies’ hair, nails, and makeup in order to show them how they should look while going out to job interviews.
Roberts, the pregnant woman in the women’s shelter said “Its tough, but if you’re really determined you will do it. A lot of people come and leave within a day and they don’t want to be here, you see many people come and go. I have a lot of things from here, I’m leaving today with a whole bunch of stuff, they gave me almost three bags of baby stuff. When I came here I only had one suitcase, literally I have like 10 bags leaving today.”
While some students may be nervous about commuting to college in Camden, recent crime statistics on Rowan University’s Camden campus suggests that students have nothing to fear.
“Believe it or not, we don’t see crime on campus very often,” said Michael Funk, who has been the Chief of Security at Rowan University’s Camden campus for nearly nine years. “Criminal incidents are very, very rare and far between.”
The Camden campus consists of the Camden Academic Building and the Cooper Medical School. The academic building, located in the remodeled First Camden National Bank & Trust building, sits at the corner of Broadway and Cooper in the city’s University District. The medical school is three blocks away at Broadway and Mickle Boulevard The area is patrolled by Rowan Security, which consists of 25 officers that work in round-the-clock shifts.
Crime has rarely been an issue for Rowan Security. The last reported crime at the academic building was in 2015 for stalking, while the most recent incident at the medical school was a burglary of a motor vehicle in 2014. Last year, both buildings combined for one reported crime.
Compared to Rowan’s three other campuses, the Camden campus experienced the least amount of crime between 2013-15. According to the University’s annual Clery report, the Glassboro main campus saw the most crime with 1,881 offenses, the majority of which were drug or alcohol related. The Stratford School of Osteopathic Medicine had the second most with six offenses while the South Jersey Technology Park and Camden campus each had two.
One of the main reasons for the Camden campus’ low crime totals is its low student population. While the Glassboro campus has 4,483 residential students and thousands of daily commuters, Funk estimates that there are only 100-300 people in both campus buildings at a given time.
Although the student population is expected to expand after renovations to the academic building are completed, Camden’s student body is a fraction of the main campus. With less people on campus, there is less crime.
In addition, Camden Public Safety doesn’t have to deal with residential students. With no on-campus housing or apartments, security rarely deals with drug or alcohol related offenses that often occur on residential campuses.
“Unlike officers in Glassboro, we aren’t responding to calls or incidents in the dorms,” said Funk. “We don’t deal with the inherent problems that come with having residential students. That definitely makes our job a little easier.”
Funk’s number one priority is to ensure that students and faculty feel safe on campus. Campus Security, which is stationed in front of the building’s main entrance, strives to make themselves visible and available to the student body.
“I’ve never felt unsafe on campus,” said Tiffany Jenkins, a freshman health, exercise and science major. “It’s a very friendly campus. As soon as you walk in, you get greeted by security guards at the door and if you have any questions, they are always willing to help.”
Cold Weene Saintilnord, a freshman ESL student, also had positive things to say about her experience on campus.
“My first impressions were that the campus was very beautiful and everyone was so nice,” said Saintilnord. “I was a little nervous about my classes, but I never felt nervous about my safety.”
Funk noted that he has rarely received complaints or concerns from students or faculty. However, when security does receive concerns, they are often able to make simple accommodations.
Security escorts have been public safety’s most popular request. During the night, students often ask officers to walk them to their vehicles or the train station. The number of requests varies weekly, but Funk and his officers have never turned down a security escort and have been more than willing to help.
“It’s not unusual for us to receive an escort request at 3 a.m.,” said Funk. “All you have to do is ask. The officers are never going to say no. Some students may be nervous about walking to a vehicle, but it’s an easy accommodation that we can make.”
Funk described the area as having a “nine-to-five population.” Once businesses and schools let out, pedestrian traffic decreases significantly and the area surrounding campus begins to empty out.
“There’s been nights where I could literally shoot a cannon down Broadway and not hit anything at one in the morning,” said Funk.
“The immediate location around the campus is pretty safe. I rarely hear any reports from there, but if you go a little further into some of the residential areas, things will be a little rougher.”
One aspect that makes Camden so commuter friendly is the University’s shuttle system. Rowan’s Glassboro campus offers a free hourly shuttle that will transport commuters to-and-from the academic building. If requested, university officers are willing to wait with a student for the shuttle to arrive.
“I like to say that the officers here at the academic building and the medical school have a good report with the student body,” said Funk. “It’s very rare that we hear something negative and if we do, we’re always willing to listen and help.”
Despite a moderate October, winter is coming, eventually. When it does, snow will undoubtedly come with it.
Snow in Camden presents challenges, just like any city. Cities have small, narrow streets and a lot of them.
The Department of Public Works in the city of Camden is responsible for all of the city owned roads, which equates to about 400 miles of road. Anthony Falconiero is the Assistant Director of Public Works at the department. He has been employed by the Department of Public Works for 35 years.
“Camden has the same challenges as most all other urban areas,” said Falconiero. “A lot of the older streets are small, and weren’t designed for automobile travel, let alone clearing of snow with large trucks and plows.”
The most frustrating streets according to Falconiero are the residential streets. These streets usually have parked cars on the side, which makes it even harder to maneuver and also presents a new challenge. The snow gets plowed into the parked cars and then residents come outside and clear their cars off, often throwing the snow back into the road.
“Many times it looks as if we never went down the street. Since the urban areas have little off street parking, cars are parked along the streets. Plowing in of vehicles is inevitable, and, unfortunately, people throwing the snow back into the street is also inevitable, and, I might add, illegal,” said Falconiero.
Joe Smith is a resident of Camden and has been for the last 29 years. He works as a security guard in the city. Smith lives in the downtown section of Camden.
“They’re the last ones to get cleared,” said Smith, referring to the side streets in the downtown sections of the city.
Neighborhoods like Parkside and Fairview are not usually prioritized according to Smith. He said that the main streets, streets like Broadway, Haddon avenue, Market street and Federal street, are cleared, but it can take a while for the side streets to be cleared as well.
The Department of Public Works building is an old, all brick building. It looks like it could have been an old schoolhouse. It has one big, blue sign on the front of the building that reads, “City of Camden Dept. of Public Works.”
“We have enough equipment, as long as it keeps running, to handle a normal storm,” said Falconiero. “Being an emergency operation, we are able to ‘do what we have to do’ so to speak, and worry about the funding later. Of course, it’s not carte blanche, we try to manage it.” What they really need, according to Falconiero, is people, not money.
“We really could use more people. Especially people with commercial driver licenses,” said Falconiero. He explains that during emergency storms, people get worn out easily. The department only has enough people to alternate 12 hour shifts. This means that crews are working 12 hours every 24 hours.
“We really should be able to work in a third crew, so that each shift of personnel would only have to come in every 12 hours out of every 36, instead of 12 out of every 24,” said Falconiero.
In preparation of winter, the department received a timely upgrade earlier this year when they got about 20 new vehicles. About 12 of the new vehicles are capable of snow removal, according to Falconiero. The equipment that the department uses ranges from the new vehicles to some equipment that is more than 30 years old.
This winter is forecasted to be stronger than last year. AccuWeather predicts frequent storms for the Northeast this winter. The Department of Public Works is ready.
The only remaining library in Camden, NJ is helping people get tech-savvy.
The Riletta L. Cream Ferry Avenue Branch is one of eight branches in the Camden County Library System. The library offers many ways for library users to get a better technological experience.
One way to accomplish that is to offer classes for people to come and learn about computers and applications in the system. The Camden library offers classes in email for Beginners, Microsoft Word, Creating Resumes Using Templates, and Internet Searching and Camden County Library System databases. Jerome Szpila, the branch manager, is happy with the turnout of these classes, which are taught by workers at the branch.
“These seem to meet the needs of our customers,” Szpila said via email.
According to Szpila, other programs are offered throughout the year, which are lead by experts and college professors. The topics have included Google Drive, Preventing Identity Theft, and Setting up your Own YouTube Channel. Szpila says those classes satisfy consumers needs.
Another way people can access the library and its bevy of resources is through E-content. Szpila informed that there are five services through the Camden County Library System that allow access to the electronic books and resources. Hoopla offers many areas including music, videos, television, and audio books. Overdrive holds e-books and audio books. Zinio is the database to over 80 magazines. Freading has over 50,000 e-books. Lastly, Artistworks administers video lessons on music, art, and vocal that users can go through at their own pace.
“E-books have had a significant impact on library use,” Szpila said. “Use of E-content materials has increased by 25 percent in the past year for Camden County Library customers.”
These two main ideas of providing electronic copies of materials and being able to educate people on how to use electronics in ways that can help them in many avenues have sparked a new way of looking at the experience a person can have at a library. Yet, Szpila says the older method of walking into a library, picking out books, and taking them out is still popular with their customers.
“Customers in our area generally prefer to access the library by coming in, rather than by e-books,” Szpila said. “Our branch does provide a comfortable, safe environment for area families and the role of library as a ‘place’ plays an important role in this urban neighborhood.”
Despite how the customers use the library and what platform they use, Szpila understands that times are continuing to change and it will impact the success of his library now and in the future.
“This trend has been with us for at least 20 years and will continue into the foreseeable future,” Szpila said. This is especially true in a low-income area, such as Camden, where many are unable to afford their own PCs and are reliant on the library.”
The branch manager also understands the benefits that customers of his branch can have if they decide to take their library experience to the Internet.
“Increasing use of technology by customers means that customers are increasingly more comfortable and willing to use on-line sources for their information needs and are much less reliant on using book sources,” Szpila said. “This has meant that libraries and spending much less on book reference material and allocating much less space in the library for this material and spending more for PCs and their upkeep.”
Computer classes are held once a month at the branch and people can sign up online at the Camden County Library System website at camdencountylibary.org. E-books are available to the customers of the library through the same website under the Services tab.
A little light shines in the center of Camden. It is a garden growing more than just plants.
The Camden Children’s Garden, established in 1999, is a nonprofit environmental and educational facility with a unique approach on serving the Camden community.
“I always say that at the garden, we not only grow plants, we grow kids,” said Jeff Clark, 60, of Maple Shade, NJ, supervisor of Children’s Garden.
Clark, who has been working at the garden for 17 years, said he finds fulfillment in this job, different from any other job he has ever worked. Clark said that when he wakes up for work every morning, he now has a purpose, and that purpose is serving the community and making a difference in the lives of Camden’s youth.
Camden Children’s Garden’s main purpose is to give back to the community through different educational outlets. From family oriented events, to weddings, the Children’s Garden does it all. Clarke said he especially loves working with the youth from Camden that the garden is able to employ.
“By the time you are 18 in Camden, you’re grown up,” said Clark. “You have your values set and your worth ethic set. So if we can get them at a younger age and teach them and train them I think we can help them be more successful.”
According to the Courier Post, Camden has an average high school graduation rate of around 60 percent. The garden puts a lot of emphasis on school when it comes to their youth employees from the community, said Clark. Starting at age 14, the garden hires students in the hopes of offering them skills and knowledge to help them succeed in their futures.
Out of the 500 students that the garden has had come through, only two have failed to graduate high school. Clark said he finds so much fulfillment in seeing kids go through their program. With 17 years in the books for Clark, he has been able to see students come back as professional adults.
“Seeing them come back with their families has been really neat,” said Clark.
Some of the garden’s main highlights include, three rides, a carousel, a train and a spring drop. A butterfly garden that was built by the eagles and a newly built playground. The Camden Children’s Garden presents a fun and safe place for parents to take their kids to play and learn, said Clark.
The garden has faced various struggles in recent years. Their neighboring business, Adventure Aquarium, draws a major crowd. Unfortunately, with a recent change in ownership, they have closed the door on a partnership with the Children’s Garden, which has been a major hit for the non-profit. Clark said they have tried to mend the relationship between the two, but to no avail.
After a major cut in funds from the government, the garden has had to work even harder to gain some attention from people who do not yet know they exist. However, on a break from her Philadelphia shows, singer Adele made a stop at the garden with her son and loved it so much she gave them a shout-out at both concerts. This confidence boost affirmed the staff that they are doing something right, said Clark.
“We may not have the most resources, and we may not always be that crowded, but staying positive and having a staff with a good attitude makes up for it,” said Clark.
For employee Natalie Caldwell of Camden, NJ, it is her coworkers and the children which make her glad to come to work every day for the past five years. Like Clark, Caldwell said that this is the best place she has ever worked.
“It is so satisfying seeing the smiles on the kid’s faces and helping these kids that come from the community,” said Caldwell, 35. “Being from this community I know what they go through.”
As the Christmas season approaches, the staff is preparing for their two Christmas events, ‘Breakfast with Santa.’ A time for kids to visit with Saint Nick before he makes his way down their chimney. Clark is especially looking forward to this event as he prepares for his 23rd year of playing Santa.
The garden will remain open until Christmas and reopen come spring of 2017.
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