CAMDEN, N.J. — Last week, the Nuns on the Bus made their way from the New York City area to Washington with a stop in Camden along the way. Their main focus was on immigration, with a rally at Camden’s St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral on May 30. However, they first stopped at St. Anthony of Padua Parish to meet the Student Leaders’ Von Nieda Park Task Force, a group of 14 sixth to eighth graders from St. Anthony of Padua School moderated by Lauryn Klingler, a Franciscan Volunteer Minister and 2012 graduate of St. Bonaventure University, Allegany, N.Y., and me.
Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, executive director of NETWORK and one of the “Nuns on the Bus,” had met some of the students at a Gathering for Peace and Justice earlier this year in Camden. She was so taken by the community organizing they have done to improve what was once referred to as “the nation’s most depressing park” that she asked the young people to write an article for the spring edition of NETWORK’s Connection magazine. Their article “We Make a Difference!” is featured in the magazine, with pictures of the students on the front and back covers.
During a quick 20-minute tour of the park, the students took turns telling the sisters about how they have helped transform Von Nieda Park, across the street from their school. During the presentation, the students noticed that some of the swings had been vandalized. A seventh grade student took a cell phone and called a contact at the Camden County Parks Department to report the vandalism. One of the sisters remarked, “So that’s how you get it done!” Within 24 hours, the swings were repaired.
Thanks in part to monthly meetings that the students hold with city, county and parks officials, Camden County has eliminated the former County Park Police Department, which went off duty at 8 p.m. well before most of the trouble in the park started. Now the park will be patrolled by the 24-hour Metro County Police force. Also, the students were key in the county’s decision to put $60,000 worth of new lighting into the park this summer.
Last summer, the students gave a presentation at the U.S. Health and Human Services Office in Washington.Thomas Conway, OFM, and the friars at Holy Name College in nearby Silver Spring, Md., then hosted them for a cookout. This summer, the students hope to give a similar presentation at the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
— Fr. Jud is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden, N.J. To learn more about the Student Leaders’ Von Nieda Park Task Force, visit their webpage or contact Jud. In this photo, Jud and the Student Leaders give the sisters a tour of the park.