Editor's note: This is the second in a series of profiles on newly-elected members of the Camden City Council and School Advisory Board. The first in the series focuses on Nyemah Gillespie.
CAMDEN, NJ — While sitting in a downtown pub adjacent to the Delaware River, Shaneka Boucher says it's been a whirlwind of a month since she took on public office for the first time.
And with a lot of work ahead.
Yet the newly-elected councilwoman also said she takes time to appreciate how far the city has come as well.
“I look at all the wonderful things out there that I couldn’t have looked at even just a few years ago,” Boucher, 37, told TAPinto Camden. “I see so much movement and it looks like a transformed city. A lot of people will hear me say that...I almost sound like a broken record. But it tells me there’s prosperity, there’s promise for the future.”
A Brooklyn transplant, Boucher (pronounced boo-shAY) came to Camden in 2008 with her 2-year-old daughter, Eva Vanterpool.
Although serving on the female-majority City Council is Boucher’s first time in an elected-position, her list of contributions to the city are numerous.
In addition to serving as a commissioner for Camden’s parking authority for roughly four years, she is currently the director of enrollment at Mastery Charter Schools, and the president and founder of local non-profit Social Responsibility Through Me (SRTM).
She also served on the Board of the Heart of Camden.
“The grassroots experience I’ve had [has helped me in the new role], such as working on the ground with families and bringing resources to the community,” said Boucher, who noted that she is also taking advantage of offered training courses. “But also what I learned with the parking authority...how to deal in municipal government, how to manage resources, budgets and work within the set of regulations.”
The new councilwoman earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Phoenix, a bachelor’s in political science from Hunter College and an associate’s degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Morrisville.
She said her position has led to thinking of Camden on a “grander level” she said, which can come with hurdles of its own.
Priorities in Ward 1
Just one month in and Boucher has already advocated for Ward 1 residents with plans seemingly on the horizon for the long-beset Crestbury Apartments — including a new property owner and possibly much-needed rehabilitation.
She said more official word on the changes will come down on Tuesday during the council meeting.
“I went out and had conversations with residents directly. It is actually not far from where I live,” said Boucher. “What can be said for them applies to all families in the city I think. They want to have a great community and better housing conditions. Our goal is to partner with an organization that isn’t going to come in and promise people things that are not going to be a reality.”
Other priorities in her ward: representatives that are responsive, businesses held accountable to provide opportunities to locals, and a council that exhausts all the resources made available to it.
Hardships come in the form of optics, Boucher noted. Although it doesn’t have the money or tax base of cities like Newark or Philadelphia, “Camden is often compared to them.”
“Residents don't care about whether we have the resources or not, and they don’t want to wait. They want the same level of quality of life because they know it's their right, and we want to give it to them,” she said. “It’s helped to have a city council president whose leadership is really strong [in facing all the challenges ahead].”
And just because her attention is mainly dedicated to the City Council in an official capacity, Boucher is still working in other ways to improve the community.
In April, her non-profit is spearheading a project called “Lock In” to raise awareness toward the hardships dealt by juveniles in an attempt to draw money for more youth programs.
“There's a lack of resources for students — particularly Hispanic and African American students — because they are roughly 90% of the time [the types of individuals to be] incarcerated,” said Boucher. “It's mainly because there's a lack of funding and programs in the community.”