CAMDEN, NJ — The fact that the young members of LUCY Outreach will step foot into its 10,000-square foot expansion as the Camden non-profit celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2022 didn’t occur to founder and executive director Kristin Prinn.
“Wow, that didn’t even cross my mind,” Prinn admitted, a testament to just how much her mind has been embroiled in not only extending her center’s footprint but keeping programs up and running during the coronavirus pandemic.
LUCY (Lifting Up Camden Youth) Outreach started in 1985 as the St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral Youth Ministry. It was first headed by Prinn in its current iteration in 2013.
When it began, then-pastor of St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral Monsignor Robert McDermott sought to provide Camden teens with educational and social opportunities outside of school.
Today, it hasn’t strayed from that mission, extending it to older members in their late 20s with even more offerings like spiritual and service‑oriented programming, biking activities, college readiness initiatives and more.
With the additional two floors of space, LUCY Outreach will expand its Federal Street home from its current 3,400 square feet onto an adjacent parcel of land, which includes a parking lot. Similarly, the center will be able to help hundreds more youth on top of the 500 youth it serves.
Prinn is excited for the changes to come.
“The goal is certainly to slow things down a little bit so we can really focus on quality over quantity,” Prinn told TAPinto Camden at LUCY’s home at 3201 Federal St., which she moved into a few years ago.
“We want to get a thousand youth in here but also make sure we have trained and comfortable staff running programs, and that we have the resources and curriculum in place to be effective in what we do,” she continued.
Much of that staff consists of former youth, who now volunteer to help a new generation of members. On Tuesday afternoon, that consisted of greeting members as they arrived from school, handing out snacks and preparing for the week ahead.
COVID has of course impacted LUCY’s routine. Prinn, as she has become accustomed, greets masked members who exited capacity-limited vehicles and lined up on six-foot demarcations while staff prepared to check temperatures.
The pandemic, like many other hurdles along the organization's road, have just worked to shape its tenacity, Prinn said.
“Everyone here watched me grow up and make many mistakes. And vice versa. I got to see so many new grads grow up from middle school students, to college graduates, to parents and employees,” she shared.
The Federal Street center includes many small touches that bring to mind a family: walls filled with photos of members past and present, flags of various countries dangling from the ceiling, and artwork reading “Haven” in the LGBTQ support room.
Most of the center’s computer labs are currently being used for storage, as LUCY Outreach has opted to host programs outdoors for safety reasons - helped by tents, a basketball court and a large grassy field with room for a community garden.
With approval from the Camden Planning Board earlier this month, Prinn says she expects to break ground on the newly-expanded center around this upcoming Spring and have a shell up by Fall 2021.
LUCY Outreach, with help from funders and donors (which it is still seeking), will help make a number of new amenities possible as part of the expansion, including various new centers dedicated to education and other after school programs, a new kitchen, a S.T.E.M center, an outdoor activity center and tutoring hubs.
A $1.5 million capital campaign to fully take advantage of the new space is currently underway.
What is she most excited about when it comes to the new space?
“I think seeing the vision that so many of us have had for the programming to come fully to fruition...everyone has worked so hard,” Prinn said. “So to see that finished product after so much blood, sweat and tears have gone towards this, is going make for a really emotional and exciting day.”