When a six-year-old Carl Clark, Jr. discovered there was a place where he could go to find mentorship, love, and support in his native Camden, he was struck by the fact that no matter what was going on at home, “there was always someone there from UrbanPromise Camden to help me.”
Even at that young age, Clark, whose mother battled mental and physical challenges, and whose father spent time in and out of the criminal justice system, understood the need to provide activities to keep kids off the streets.
Twenty-six years later, that vision and mission of UrbanPromise, first conceived by Dr. Bruce Main and a small group of college-age missionaries, is now thriving in Trenton under Clark’s leadership. After pursuing a successful career in banking, Clark, 33, launched UrbanPromise in Trenton in 2011, carrying forward the mission of the organization that helped him traverse potentially dangerous environs of his youth.
“Even when I made mistakes, they were always there for me to give me a second chance. That’s what we’re doing here in Trenton,” Clark said.
In March, Community Foundation staff, Trustees and volunteers conducted a site visit to UrbanPromise Trenton’s West Ward location, housed at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. There, Clark discussed the organization’s long-term goal to grow capacity and increase its presence throughout the city.
The Community Foundation has supported UrbanPromise Trenton since its inception, most recently awarding the organization a 2014 Greater Mercer grant to support after school programs and summer camps in three Trenton wards.
“Because of the mentorship and leadership training I received through UrbanPromise, I was able to attend prep school and go on to receive a scholarship to and attend the College of New Jersey and became who I am today,” Clark said. “I wanted to make sure kids in Trenton had the same opportunities afforded to me.”
Lorenzo Giddens, a city high school senior who has spent three years at UrbanPromise Trenton and is currently serving as a Team Leader in UrbanPromise Trenton’s StreetLeader program (which trains and employs teens), echoed much of Clark’s experience, pointing to the program’s ability to not only train young leaders, but then enable them to influence others in the community.
“This is all part of us having a bigger voice and making a difference for ourselves and in this community,” Lorenzo said.
High school student Janice Randall, a StreetLeader as well as West Ward site’s field supervisor, said “an integral part of developing into a leader was being asked questions by younger individuals and having to find positive and constructive ways to respond.”
“It’s almost like this program creates a “second you,” because these kids are where we once were, but now we’re in a position to think again about how we could have changed our actions and pass that advice along,” Janice said. “I have to be good for them.”
As for grades, both Lorenzo and Janice have consistently made honor roll since entering the program. Such honors are recognized with a plaque posted prominently at UrbanPromise Trenton sites.
“It’s a must,” Janice said. “The kids want to see my award on the wall and they say ‘I want to get the same plaque you got.'”
Linda Haber, a retired Chesterfield elementary school teacher who formerly volunteered at UrbanPromise Camden, now spends time in Trenton tutoring and helps to organize the summer camp.
“When everybody thanks me, I have to tell them that I’m getting so much out of this,” Haber said. “Getting to know the street leaders and the kids and seeing their growth is the biggest honor of all.”
Jeffrey Vega, Community Foundation President & CEO, remarked on the scope of the UrbanPromise mission and its ability to deliver positive change: “These are remarkable, passionate young people and volunteers. To think how far Carl and his team have taken the program in just four years is nothing short of remarkable.”
“They are tackling many of our community’s challenges in a very inspiring way,” he added.
For more information about UrbanPromise Trenton, visit urbanpromisetrenton.org.