Teen Bridges: Camden’s Latest Effort to Empower Local Youth

4 mins read
Group picture of founder, vendors, and council woman Jannette Ramos (Photo by: Ahnyah Pinckney)

The Neighborhood Center launched its inaugural Teen Bridges Program in Camden last week, bringing together vendors and community partners to offer resources that might otherwise be inaccessible to students.

Angela Longo and Natasha Roach greeting guest at the door (Photo by Ahnyah Pinckney)

Maurice Hayman, the Camden native who founded Teen Bridges, emphasized the program’s broad focus. 

“Our teen program is about student enrichment, arts exploration, but we’ll also be focusing on things such as career development, job readiness, workforce development, college prep, social and emotional development, and mental health awareness,” Hayman said. 

He added that exposing teens to these diverse programs and career opportunities is crucial for their development into well-rounded adults. “[We] just want to expand our kids’ minds into all the different programs and job opportunities and just to make them overall better well-rounded adults,” he said.

Camden County Job Developer Nicole Pomales standing in front of her stand (Photo by Ahnyah Pinckney)

Reflecting on his childhood in Camden, Hayman recalled the limited awareness of potential career paths. 

“It’s one thing for us to have discussions about it, but it’s another thing to be connected directly with professionals,” he said, underscoring the importance of making such connections tangible for students.

At the event, Nicole Pomales, Job Developer at Camden County College, shared her mission to equip students with essential soft skills and career guidance.

Judith Diaz, Founder of Say It Out Loud JiJi (Photo by Ahnyah Pinckney)

 “As the job developer at the college, I help students with resume writing, finding jobs…as well as share all of the job offerings we have,” Pomales mentioned. She recalled a recent meeting with Hayman that coincided with an earthquake, which they took as a positive omen. “We thought that that was significant for what we were about to do for the community,” she remarked.

Judith Diaz, a certified life purpose coach and founder of Say It Out Loud JiJi, also participated, encouraging teens to assert themselves. Having felt her voice was stifled growing up in Camden, Diaz now uses her platform to empower teens.

“I wanted to remind every teen and every person around how important their voice is,” Diaz expressed. She believes that by surrounding oneself with supportive people and programs, it’s possible to redefine one’s future positively.

The event also featured representatives from other supportive programs, such as Parents Invincible and Osborn Family Health Center, which all contribute to holistic student support.

Teens are encouraged to visit The Neighborhood Center every week from Monday to Thursday, 3:30 PM to 6:00 PM, to develop these crucial skills and connections.

This story was produced as part of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University’s South Jersey Information Equity Project fellowship and supported with funding from the Independence Public Media Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the NJ Civic Information Consortium.