For more than two decades, Sister Helen Cole has tried to make a difference in Camden's neighborhoods, counseling murder victims and families devastated by violence in the city.
Her work was recognized in Philadelphia on Friday by the FBI, which announced the award to Guadalupe Family Services, a nonprofit agency Cole started in 1995, of its Director's Community Leadership Award. Cole and her team were honored in a ceremony at the William J. Green Federal Building.
Philadelphia Special Agent in Charge Michael Harpster said Cole was selected because of efforts by her organization to educate Camden's young people and curb violence. The city, once labeled one of the most dangerous places in the country, has recently seen a decrease in violence.
A member of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Cole was assigned to Holy Name School in North Camden and later became a licensed clinical social worker. She founded Guadalupe and primarily works with families of murder victims, providing grief counseling. She holds a vigil at the end of every year to honor the city's homicide victims, lighting one candle each hour for each person. She started the vigil in 1995, a violent year in Camden when 58 people were killed.
Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson, who attended Friday's presentation along with a half-dozen officers, said Cole and her team have helped police efforts by offering counseling and healing to traumatized residents. The county force took over patrols in Camden in 2013.
"How I describe Sister Helen is, she is the Mother Teresa of Camden," Thomson said.