By Jeff Putthoff
About seven years ago, two Lutheran ministers and I saw Camden's young people languishing in a city that gave them little hope. Seeing the need for them to have more opportunities, we founded Hopeworks 'N Camden.
We provide training in Web site design and operate two small businesses that provide employment. Local youths can be employed in Web production or in the geographic information systems department, which creates digital maps. They get skills, a paycheck - and a chance at a future.
More than 1,000 young men and women have passed through Hopeworks since 2000, and there are many success stories. This year, we have nine in Camden County College, and at least the same number will begin college in the fall.
One participant, Angel Rodriguez, has been with Hopeworks since he was in the eighth grade. Now at Camden County College, he will begin studies at St. Joseph's University this fall with a $10,000 scholarship.
Another young man started working with Hopeworks through a cooperative program with the Camden Juvenile Justice System. He came every Tuesday for his training. At the completion of his program, he asked if he could come to Hopeworks when he "got out."
This young man is now finishing his second semester at Camden County College. He has his own apartment, has two jobs, and worked on a testing project with Symantec Corp., a leading information security company, which had partnered with Hopeworks. He and another youth went to Symantec's corporate headquarters in California as part of their work.
We operate on a small budget and reach out to the community for financial support. This summer, we hope to hire 25 youths to work on various programs.
Our fund-raising goal is $25,000, but the results can't be measured in only dollars and cents. These summer jobs will take young people who had limited options and give them marketable skills, encouragement, an outlet for their creativity, structure and, most important, a chance at a future. Is that too much to ask?