CAMDEN, NJ — “Where are you finding your moments of joy, peace and tranquility?” 

That was the prompt the Nick Virgilio Haiku Association (NVHA) presented to writers — both near and far — this week, as part of its ongoing “Haiku in Action” program. After choosing weekly winners throughout the year, haikus and senyrus - a form of Japanese short poetry similar to a haiku — will be considered for publication in a book.

It’s one of many ways the Camden-based organization, which was founded in 1989 and opened its center in the city in 2018, has kept locals engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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“It’s been a radical change,” Robin Palley, board member and secretary at NVHA, told TAPinto Camden on Wednesday. “Everything we’ve been doing has been about supporting the community.”

The association, which pays homage to famed Camden haiku poet Nick Virgilio, also recently launched "Black Haiku Fridays" and held a virtual open mic earlier this month with attendees tuning in from across the country, including California and Washington.

Programming has had to shift to online, such as tutoring the Mighty Writers conduct with more than 100 children, mindfulness classes and other opportunities for writers to gather.

A self-guided tour, which attendees can partake in virtually as well, will be held later this year, Palley said.

On Tuesday, the Chairman of Cooper University Health Care, George Norcross announced that four Camden non-profit organizations, including the NVHA, will receive $5,000 grants each - part of a supplemental rounds from funds awarded in February.  

"Now more than ever, it is vital to support community-based organizations who provide services to Camden youth and families,” Norcross said in a statement. “We are proud to partner with non-profit community organizers who make a difference in Camden."

The NVHA says it will use the funds to support nutrition and arts for residents in the waterfront south through “community supported agriculture,” online cooking classes, and food-centric haiku workshops.

“[The pandemic has] hit us hard and shut down most of our funding stream so the grant is a godsend,” Palley said. 

Other grant awardees included the Camden County Women’s Center (for facility upgrades at its center, which helps victims of domestic violence and their children), the Education Over Everything Foundation (for its Young Mogul Club Youth Entrepreneurship Program, created to help Camden youth learn business skills), and LUCY Outreach (for the Youth Night Program, mean to support low-income residents ages 12-19 to take full advantage of educational, social and service-oriented programming).

The $1 million grant program, meant to run for the next five years, was made possible by the Conner Strong & Buckelew, American Water, The Michaels Organization, NFI, and The Cooper Foundation.

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