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Some are so bold, they’ve carved out specific dumping grounds. There’s a place where mountains of old Christmas trees pile up. Other places have tons of kitchen and bathroom appliances or accumulate debris from housing construction and other garbage sources.


Camdenites have been fed up for a while. They see it as a combination of greed from the haulers that send their trash there and a form of urban insult.


“People come and throw their trash here,” said Laradje Johnson. “They throw away Camden all together. You don’t have to-it’s a great community with great people within it.”


Johnson was born in Camden, and her family has lived in the city for three generations — her grandmother was one of the first Black women to buy a home there. Johnson is also one of the apprentices in “A New View,” a $1 million citywide art and social justice project.

Cooper’s Ferry Partnership

Funded by the Bloomberg Philanthropies, dealing with illegal dumping in a creative way is at the core of the project. Its goal is to transform six places along the city’s public transportation corridors into visually interesting spaces with installations that involve resident participation. The larger goal is to boost pride and economic development.


“It’s a project that I hope is going to inspire people to understand the power of art,” said artist Kimberly Camp, who was also born in Camden and is the “New View” co-curator. “We know from cases from around the world that if you provide opportunities and access for artists to move in, economic development follows. The creative spark, creative placemaking, which we now call it, of bringing artists that are innovators, curious, entrepreneurial — it’s a fever that infects everybody in the community, and it’s a tide that lifts all boats.”


“A New View” will remain in Camden until October and might inspire some artists to remain in the city, but from the start, the curators hope to have an impact on residents.


And these are far from traditional public art installations.


Take, for instance, the large, tower-like sculpture dedicated to placing boxes and boxes of earth, populated by hundreds of mealworms who love the taste of Styrofoam. Yes, the infamous, non-biodegradable material nobody wants. For three months, the mealworms crunch the waste into compostable mulch that can be used in gardens, and then those mealworms turn into earth-friendly beetles.


Mitchel Joachim is the director of Terreform One, the collective that came up with Bio Informatic Digester, and he speaks fondly of the mealworms.


The idea, he said, is to allow “creatures that have no voice to be front and center, more important than any human.”


“This is a very humble little mealworm, and they do amazing work by getting rid of polystyrene. We don’t need chemicals, we don’t need landfills, we don’t need guys with big trucks dealing with Styrofoam. These worms devour them naturally, and then they turn into beetles so that birds and other insects can eat them, and the things that they produce for us become garden material.”


All the way on top of the tower, boxed terrariums teeming with mycelium, fungus that absorbs nutrients from its environment, are waiting to start their bio-work.


A few blocks away, an old building displays portraits of 50 Camden residents in each window. Designed by Camden photographer and educator Erik James Montgomery, the artist asked each participant to complete the phrase “Camden is …” Some said, “Camden is legendary.” Others, “It’s my home” and “It’s worthy.” James Montgomery named his project “Camden is Bright not Blight.”


Each installation has interactive components for students of all ages. For instance, the heart for the 15-foot-tall Mechan 11 robot called “The Collector” was designed by a Camden high school student and then fabricated by Tyler Fuqua Creations. The robot stands near the State Street Bridge in the city’s waterfront park. The metal giant grabs pieces of trash to remind passersby to take care of the city.


“Ultimately, this is about changing human behavior,” said Kris Kolluri, president and CEO of Coppers Ferry, one of the nonprofits behind “New View.”


“The city has an amazing history,” he said. “It has been a contributor to the region going back 100 years, and the people in the region deserve the same respect for the environment they live in … For us, it’s about reclaiming the land.”


For example, remember that ugly pile of dead Christmas trees? They were hauled away to make space for the Avian Avatars, two 22-foot-tall colorful birds. The sculptures are woven out of bamboo, colorful strings, and other recycled materials, and can be seen from Route 30 and from the River Line light rail train.

Organic produce may not be the first thing that comes to mind when people think of Camden, but a community gardener in North Camden is hoping to change that.


Jackie Santiago runs two community gardens in the neighborhood, one on the 300 block of Byron Street and another on the corner of Grant and North 6th streets. And, plans to add a third soon at Mastery High School.


In addition to her harvests of peas, tomatoes, onions and more – which are shared with members of the community – Santiago said the colorful lots are a boon to the neighborhood in other ways.

“It’s a place to be tranquil,” she said. “Anybody can come here, sit down, relax and have a quiet place to enjoy.”


The spaces are never locked, and Santiago said locals should always feel welcome in the gardens, even if she’s not there.

But she can often be found maintaining the spaces, which are decorated with lots of colorful artwork and brightly painted tires, because it’s a time-consuming daily task.


“Our biggest jobs are always weeding and watering,” Santiago said. “I weed every day. Even on my days off… There’s no days off for the plants.”


Santiago has around a dozen part-time employees who help her, but she also has a small army of volunteers consisting mostly of North Camden community members and school kids.

But the gardens are also a family affair for Santiago. Her niece Erielys Vicente, 18, and her son Diego Vicente, 12, help her with some of the daily labor.


“We’re planting tomatillos and green beans and on these trees, there’s some peaches and apples,” Diego said.


He prefers the produce from his mom’s garden.


“Some of them use pesticides to get rid of the weeds,” he said of most produce available at the grocery store. “It doesn’t give you the same flavor.”


His cousin agrees the natural approach to farming leads to tastier fruits and vegetables.


“When you go to the store and buy a strawberry, the ones there are mostly sour,” Erielys said. “The ones we get here are really sweet, because we’re not adding anything to it.”


On Saturdays, when the gardens are abuzz with volunteers running all-ages educational programming and cookouts featuring the crops harvested, the cousins help Santiago coordinate the youth program, an important way for the neighborhood kids learn about fruits and vegetables in a city where fresh produce can be hard to come by.


The garden on Grant Street can trace its roots back to 2011 when a local non-profit called Hopeworks founded the garden.


Santiago, a Camden native, returned to the city in 2017 so her family could care for her after she was diagnosed with cancer and needed chemotherapy treatments. It was supposed to be a temporary move, but that’s when Santiago started the garden on Byron Street.


In 2019, she founded the North Camden Community Gardens organization in conjunction with Camden Lutheran Housing Inc., another non-profit.


Santiago’s organization took over operations at the Hopeworks garden in 2020, which is now called the “La Esperanza Garden,” which means “the hope” in Spanish.


She hopes to open the location at Mastery High at some point this year.


But Santiago has her sights set beyond North Camden. She wants to partner with other community gardening organizations to provide resources in eight Camden neighborhoods for other residents interested in acquiring a green thumb.


“The goal for the eight greenhouse hubs is that anyone who wants to start a garden can come to our garden and we assist them with soil, mulch and plants,” she said. “We’ll even have a shared tool library.”


Santiago said the initiative is not off the ground yet, but that she hopes to have it ready soon.


Perhaps most importantly, those interested in gardening shouldn’t be intimidated. Before 2017, Santiago’s only gardening experience was from when she was a member of her high school’s ornamental gardening club.


“I put stuff in the ground and pray that it grows,” she said. “I’m getting better every year.”

The Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee comprises some of Camden’s most prominent business, economic development, community, education and social justice advocates to ensure Camden takes a “Camden First” community approach to the state’s emerging cannabis industry.

Community Submitted Content

CAMDEN, NJ – On Tuesday, May 11, 2021 the City of Camden passed resolution MC-21:7946 on the formation of a Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee with some of Camden’s most prominent business, economic development, community, education and social justice advocates to ensure Camden takes a “Camden First” community approach to the state’s emerging cannabis industry.

As stated in the resolution: The City believes that it is in the best interests of the City of Camden that valuable input be received from Officials of the City of Camden, the residents of the City of Camden as well as the local business, education and medical communities, in determining whether the City of Camden should exercise its right to allow such services to be conducted in the City of Camden and also to determine what the scope of those services should be as well as the types and number of licenses that should be allowed for license categories for Class 1 through class 5 in the City of Camden.


Nominated and confirmed committee Members include:

  • Chair – Nichelle Pace, Vice President, Camden Business Association
  • Vice Chair – Sheilah Greene, Parkside Business Community in Partnership
  • Secretary – Tameeka Mason, Executive Director, One Camden
  • Maritza Alston, IRS/Finance Professional and Education
  • Captain Vivian Coley, CCPD
  • Dwaine Williams, City of Camden Affirmative Action Officer
  • Community Members
  • City Officials

Working under the motto that good policy guidance is the policy of inclusion, the ad hoc committee members, members of city council, and the Mayor’s office are committed to ensure that Camden residents, businesses, and community stakeholders are included in the process.

The committee will host both virtual open public meetings and in-person meetings, including meetings in each ward, as well as tap into cannabis equity advocates and experts across the state to provide the ad hoc committee and the community with guidance and ideas to ensure equity for Camden’s residents and businesses.

It’s with great honor that I serve my city as Chair of this ad hoc. As Vice President of the CBA, I have been testifying, learning, and collaborating with organizations such as the NJCBA, NAACP, Minorities for Medical Marijuana, Women Grow, and the NJ Drug Policy Alliance and others, to ensure that our Camden community and constituents, which is 96% Black and Brown New Jersians, have voices with stakeholders, officials, and industry advocates throughout the state of NJ.” Says newly elected ad hoc committee chair, Nichelle Pace. “It is my mission to serve and stay engaged through partnerships and collaboration to ensure that this industry does not get built on the backs of the communities that have lost wealth, life, and liberties for decades. I will continuously call upon all diverse NJ community and legislative leaders to collaborate and ensure that those aforementioned communities are considered first, not last, in pushing for the economic equity of those who have been disproportionately impacted like our Camden community.

About The Camden Ad Hoc Committee on Cannabis

The Camden Ad Hoc Cannabis Committee was formed by the City of Camden to coordinate, plan, and collaborate with the Camden community at large on how best to approach, implement, and manage the recently passed cannabis legislation, including the new recreational and current medical cannabis landscape.

The committee is tasked with ensuring equitable processes, inclusive community input, data collection and equitable outcomes for the residents of Camden, and centering equity in creating comprehensive recommendations to the City of Camden.

The Ad Hoc Cannabis Committee will lead an inclusive and comprehensive collaborative effort with Officials of the City of Camden, the residents of the City of Camden as well as local businesses, and educational, faith-based, and medical communities.

The committee will work with all of the aforementioned stakeholders in determining how the City of Camden should exercise its right to allow such services to be conducted in the City of Camden.

Priority and focus will be placed on creating equity and opportunity for Camden City Residents while aligning the Camden community’s needs and benefits for neighborhoods city-wide.

State lawmakers want to help improve the financial literacy of residents in some of New Jersey’s most economically challenged cites. Their plan: Establish new “financial empowerment centers” that would offer coaching and other services to the community.


Legislation that passed a key Senate committee with bipartisan support earlier this month calls for the state to create a pilot program to establish financial empowerment centers in the cities of Camden, Newark and Paterson.


Under the proposed pilot, the Department of Community Affairs would partner with local officials and nonprofits to use the centers to offer forums, programs, financial coaching and other services. Officials would also be asked to track the results of their work with residents in economically vulnerable communities, who often don’t have access to basic financial services.

Profiting from a data breach

Funding for the pilot would come from the money New Jersey is receiving from a major settlement that was reached last year with credit-reporting firm Equifax to settle claims stemming from a 2017 data breach.


The legislation would also build on other efforts lawmakers have launched in recent years to improve financial literacy, including among New Jersey’s middle school and high school students. It is already drawing praise from leading advocates for New Jersey’s low-income residents, who say similar efforts have already helped hundreds of other people improve their personal balance sheets.


More than 100 million people across the country have been identified as “economically vulnerable” by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was founded in 2011 in the wake of the Great Recession. In New Jersey, Camden, Newark and Paterson all ranked among the state’s most distressed cities in a 2017 analysis published by the DCA. In fact, Camden was ranked as the state’s most distressed city in that analysis, which considered factors like the rates of poverty and unemployment, and overall per-capita income.


To help address concerns about poverty and income inequality, including in communities of color, experts generally point to improving financial literacy skills as one of several key goals. Removing obstacles to basic financial services is another.

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Location, location, location

The legislation that was approved earlier this month by the Senate Commerce Committee calls for “financial empowerment centers” to be established where they would be “easily accessible to the residents” of the three communities chosen to participate in the pilot.


Those who visit the centers would receive instruction on opening an affordable bank account, establishing a good credit score and improving their personal savings, according to the legislation. Instructors would also help residents learn about ways to reduce their household debt, the bill says.


The pilot program would operate for three years, and a report detailing its operations and success would have to be submitted to the governor and Legislature for review. The report would also make recommendations about continuing the program and expanding it to more communities.


Paula Mirk from New Jersey Citizen Action, a nonprofit group that provides services to the state’s low-income residents, including tax-preparation assistance in Newark, said financial coaching “can make a difference” for residents of the state’s vulnerable communities.


“We’ve helped hundreds of individuals increase savings, cashflow, credit scores, and to decrease debt,” said Mirk, the NJCA education fund’s director of financial coaching.


“The need for financial empowerment is real,” Mirk said during testimony before the Senate committee. “New Jersey families need this help now.”


The current draft of the bill calls for funding for the proposed pilot program to come from any monies that are received by the state as a result of last year’s settlement of complaints lodged against Equifax following the September 2017 data breach that affected more than 147 million Americans, including 4 million New Jersey residents.


According to the state attorney general’s office, which helped lead investigations into the data breach, Equifax failed to establish an adequate security program despite knowing about a “critical vulnerability” that exposed highly sensitive personal information, including names, dates of birth, addresses, and Social Security and credit card numbers. Four members of the Chinese military were charged earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Justice with carrying out a cyberattack on Equifax’s networks.


New Jersey is receiving $6.36 million in civil penalties from Equifax as part of a broader, $600 million settlement, the attorney general’s office announced last summer.