CAMDEN, NJ— Kristin Prinn was driving down Federal Street around midnight one night earlier this year when she noticed a “For Sale By Owner” sign on the front lawn of the century-old home at the corner of 32nd and Federal streets.
“We realized this was definitely it,” Prinn said on Thursday, sitting on the same porch she drove by just months ago.
“It” was Prinn’s dream location for LUCY [Lifting Up Camden Youth] Outreach, and on Thursday Prinn, joined by some of youth currently in the program and some program alumni, cut the ribbon to LUCY Outreach’s new home at 3201 Federal St.
LUCY Outreach is a nonprofit that offers educational, social, spiritual and service‑oriented programming to Camden youth, and just over one year ago, the nonprofit was forced to move out of its old home at St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral when the Camden Diocese ended its lease one year early without explanation.
“We ended up homeless with about 500 youth,” Prinn said. Thankfully, Prinn said, Virtua provided them with a temporary space until they could find a more permanent home, which they purchased in May for $200,000.
Over the summer, volunteers helped fix up the interior of the home, and LUCY was able to move in this September — however, it won’t be staying for long.
“We came and saw it, loved it, got the money together to purchase it and we fixed it up quite a bit this summer,” Prinn said. “But were actually building our dream building next to it.”
With a large vacant space on the property, Prinn said LUCY is planning on building a 6,000-square-feet addition that will allow it to double or even triple the 500 youth that it currently serves.
“We’re just really proud and excited, and we need generosity and support to continue to continue to grow our vision,” Prinn said. “The work has just begun, and we hope that people rally around us and help us.”
LUCY Outreach began in 1985 as the St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral Youth Ministry. It was started by the then-pastor of St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral Monsignor Robert McDermott to provide Camden teens with year-round educational and social opportunities outside of school.
“I would go there, play basketball for an hour or two, say a prayer, and then I would go home,” Angelo Sodevila said. Sodevila was 15 when he started going to the after school program in 1987.
“I grew up in this neighborhood, and it was a little bit rough. When I was 15 years old, I got into a little trouble and I met Monsignor Bob, and he said come to this youth group every Wednesday,” said Sodevila, who is now a LUCY Outreach board member. “For me, it saved my life.”
“I kind of wish that it was like this when I was a kid, but it was worth it the way we went through it,” Sodevlia continued. To watch it grow, it's pretty amazing to see. Proud is the word that comes to mind.”
According to its website, in 2008, the program underwent a restructuring to address the particular challenges faced by Camden’s youth: teen delinquency, gang and drug involvement, substance abuse in the home, and teen pregnancy. It also took on a new name, LUCY Outreach, the acronym coined by the teens in the program themselves, and in 2016, it gained nonprofit status.
“For a lot of our youth, they definitely consider us a safe space, a safe haven in the city,” said Prinn, who has served as executive director for 12 years. “For all, a second home — but for many, a first home.”
Prinn said LUCY aims to provide the children and teens it serves safety, security, access to staff and volunteers “that they love and trust,” and programming that focuses on college and career readiness.
“We are looking for our graduates to become successful and give back to the City of Camden,” Prinn said.
“It helped me a lot academic wise,” Kytara Long said on Thursday. Long said she was struggling in middle school when she started attending LUCY when she was in fifth grade.
“They found me a tutor that helped me graduate on time. They’ve been there for me throughout my high school years, so I could get all the credits I could to graduate and go to college and pursue a career,” Long said, now a junior at Rutgers University—Camden studying criminal justice.
“I think the new space will be able to bring a lot more youth. To be able to do what they did for me for other youth in Camden is amazing,” said Long, who grew up in the Fairview section of Camden and graduated from Urban Promise Academy.
LUCY Outreach provides educational, college prep and mentoring programming for children and young adults ages 7 to 25. It also has a LGBTQ support group.
Genesis Velez, 15, said when she comes to LUCY Outreach, its a place where she feels comfortable and safe.
“It’s sort of just like a place to forget about everything going on, Velez said. “Everyone here is like family, and we get along.”