CAMDEN Between a juice bar and a home-furnishing store in downtown Haddonfield, Christmas music spilled out of what a few weeks ago was an empty storefront. This holiday season, middle school and high school students from a Camden youth group have decorated it and filled it with wreaths and poinsettias for sale.
L.U.C.Y. Outreach, or Lifting Up Camden's Youth, is holding its annual holiday fund-raiser there because the building owner, InterState Commercial, donated the space to the group to use Fridays through Sundays. Since Thanksgiving weekend, the youths have brought in about $7,000 at the space on Kings Highway. They also sell donated wreaths they decorated to churches, at basketball games, and at the program's headquarters on Federal Street in Camden.
Students learn customer service, inventory management, and other job skills that are difficult for teens in Camden to acquire on their own, said Kristin Prinn, the program's executive director. "It's an experience that helps level the playing field with kids in places like Haddonfield," said Prinn, whom several students called their "second mom." The seven-year-old L.U.C.Y. program focuses on education, spirituality, and service for youth ages 12 to 19. They go on college trips and get help with college applications and homework. In the last four years, the program has had a 100 percent high school graduation rate, Prinn said.
Alexander Figueroa, 15, stood outside the store Saturday morning, holding a wreath and trying to entice shoppers to stop in. "This program, it means a lot to me," Figueroa said. "It opened me up so much. I used to be the shyest kid around." Participants have been to museums, Six Flags Great Adventure, and Ocean City. Last weekend, they went ice skating at Penn's Landing. Money raised from their holiday sales will go toward trips and other programming.
Kelly and Andrew Logsdon from Haddon Heights were walking down the sidewalk Saturday and doing some last-minute shopping when their 2-year-old daughter, Kaelyn, ran into the shop. The table filled with snowmen and Santa Claus figures caught the family's attention and Kaelyn chose a Santa to take home. The family had never heard of the program.
The sale is a chance for the students to advertise who they are, what they do, and how much the program means to them. Penelope Dominguez, 16, said she felt at home in the program. "I'm thankful for it because it helps me and other kids from Camden have a refuge so we don't have to be on the street," she said.
Students will be at the store at 115 Kings Highway East from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday for the last day of the sale.