CAMDEN, NJ — A $350,000 donation will not only call for Camden's LEAP Academy to rename its fabrication lab after Vernon and Shirley Hill, but more importantly help a new generation of students aspire toward careers in technology.

“In Camden, we believe that our children can lift our city to new heights,” said Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, founder and board chair of LEAP. “We are helping prepare them for college and to achieve, for many, admission to prestigious Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) programs and exposure to a growing career sector." 

During a Monday morning ceremony, attendees cut a ribbon and toured the Vernon and Shirley Hill Fab Lab at LEAP Academy. School officials said the lab aims toward assisting students with low-income backgrounds.

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According to Bonilla-Santiago, professions within the STEM fields will grow by 12% by 2024. 

“When I heard about the Fab Lab, Shirley and I immediately knew this was something that we wanted to support,” said Vernon Hill, who is also the Chairman of Republic First Bancorp, Inc. “As entrepreneurs, we were struck by how the Fab Lab provides an environment for innovation and entrepreneurship at LEAP Academy through offering students, teachers, and Camden community members the necessary tools and machinery that will allow them to design, engineer, and manufacture products.”

The Fab Lab, which first opened in 2015, includes 3-D printers, robotics tools and other high-tech equipment allowing students to learn "through trial and error," the charter school said in a statement.

“We are excited about this donation and what it means for the growth of our program,” said Christopher McCrum, coordinator of the Fabrication Lab. “Students will be able to get a host of new experiences and opportunities, thanks to the Hills generosity.”

In a press release, the lab has produced the following projects:

  • A patented water filter created by LEAP students and faculty, designed to allow more residents in Camden to drink clean water. About the size of a small bottle of nail polish, the filter fits onto the opening of a 16.9-ounce water bottle – the kind that one might find at a convenience store.
  • Face shields that were donated earlier this year to the COVID-19 unit at Cooper University Health Care in Camden. The face shields were designed to substantially reduce the short-term exposure of healthcare workers to large infectious aerosol particles from patients.
  • A bike rack, designed to look like the Ben Franklin Bridge, which was designed by Tony Tran. The rack was installed at Dudley Grange Park in East Camden. 
  • Drone making projects through a grant from Lockheed Martin.

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