Urban Promise is a school and a program located in Camden, New Jersey.  It offers real hope to some of the most underprivileged citizens of our country.  Today, I want to share just one of their success stories.

When we started the StreetLeader program in 1994, we had to decide how to best use the start-up money raised: hire 75 teens, but no additional staff, or hire a full-time staff person and half the number of teens. Putting the StreetLeader name to the test, we hired 75 teens: these young people would be going straight from street to leader. How would one person manage a program with 75 teens? Idealistically, we believed that there would be some teens in the program with high-level leadership skills and character who would take on responsibility for co-leading the program. We were right.

Three young people became the first Field Supervisors. Demonstrating drive and commitment, they took on significant roles in managing and leading the program, and none more than Siomara Rivera, now Siomara (Sio) Wedderburn. Sio started in the StreetLeader program at age 14. At age 15, she was managing a team of 10 of her peers; by age 16, she was managing a team of 30; and by age 17, she was running the first StreetLeader summer camp at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church. There she worked alongside the pastor’s son, who is now her husband and father of their 3 children. She graduated at the top of her class at Woodrow Wilson High School, attended Rutgers University while working as UrbanPromise Academy’s first Spanish teacher, and later went on to get her MSW from Rutgers University.

For the past 10 years, Sio has worked as a public servant in child protective services. Born and raised in Camden, Sio has dedicated her life to working with children and fragile families in Camden, both vocationally and through her church’s ministry. I am thrilled to announce that she recently joined UrbanPromise’s leadership team as Director of Children & Youth Ministries. In this position, she has responsibility for managing UrbanPromise’s after-school programs, summer camps, StreetLeaders, and interns. Sio embodies our vision that our alumni will return to invest in the next generation of UrbanPromise leaders and continue to nurture the city of Camden, one child at a time.

Jodina Hicks
Executive Director





Sister Helen Cole has worked in Camden, NJ for over 20 years.  Camden, NJ has had the recurring honor as being the most dangerous city in the United States.sister head shot cropped

What follows is an article that was published in the New York Times on December 29, 2004 written by Jeffrey Gettleman –

A Nun’s Blessings

Sister Helen Cole is known in North Camden as Sister Charles Bronson.

The other day she was walking down York Street with an Our Lady of Guadelupe pendant swinging from her neck, past once-beautiful peaked-roof houses now encased in burglar bars, past men in hooded sweatshirts mouthing “white horse, white horse,” past murals of dead boys with R.I.P. painted below their faces in huge snazzy graffiti letters, when she bumped into a neighbor.

“Hey, Terry,” she said. “Just doing a tour of the holy ground.”

“Sister,” the woman replied, “all Camden is going to be holy ground soon.”

When somebody is killed, Sister Helen goes to the spot with a bottle of holy water. She lights a candle. She says a prayer. The spot becomes holy ground. She has turned sidewalks, street corners, porches, alleyways, weed-choked fields and even a Toyota Celica into holy ground. Lately, she has been very busy.

She began this work in 1995 when the mother of a missing girl knocked on the convent’s door for help. The girl had been raped and murdered. Sister Helen hasn’t looked back since.
“I’m not a seeker, an ambulance chaser,” she said. “But I enjoy taking away pain. I hold out my hands and tell people, ‘Give me your pain, put it in my hands, let it go.”‘

She calls it companioning.

Every year on Good Friday, Sister Helen, a Roman Catholic nun, leads a Stations of the Cross procession through North Camden. People act out scenes from Christ’s crucifixion and then stand on the street corners and belt out the names of known drug dealers and pray for them.

“I’m not stupid,” Sister Helen said. “I’m not going to go up to these guys and confront them. I value my life.”

How does she even know their names?

“We coached them in Little League,” she said

Her church, Holy Name, has been running sports programs and social services in North Camden for years. It is one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city, and many houses have an unusual architectural feature: the totally fortified front porch, with burglar bars walling off not just windows and doors but the whole front part of the house. The police call them birdcages, and on many days when the streets are thick with drug dealers, it is the law-abiding citizen sitting behind bars.

Sister Helen, 46, lives amid all this in a convent on State Street with four other nuns. They have a Christmas wreath bound to their porch with three chains.

I think that you can agree that what Mother Theresa is to compassion, Sister Helen is to bravery.  Sister Helen you rock.

Stock photograph of the famous World War II poster "We Can Do It!" showing Rosie the Riveter wearing a red bandana and flexing her muscles against a yellow background, created by J. Howard Miller. The woman that modeled for this image was actually named Geraldine Doyle and was a real riveter in the 1940s.