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UrbanPromise is an organization in Camden, New Jersey, born out of the community’s need to address the problems of intergenerational poverty and the incarceration of youth.

UrbanPromise Logo.jpg
Type Non-governmental organization
Founded 1988[1]
Headquarters Camden, New Jersey
Founder(s) Bruce Main [1]
Slogan(s) Believe. Become. Belong. Be Promise
Website www.urbanpromiseusa.org

Mission and History[edit]

The mission of UrbanPromise is to equip children and young adults with the skills necessary for academic achievement, life management, personal growth and success. Founded in 1988 by Jodina Hicks in the basement of an unused Baptist church, UrbanPromise began with just one adult staff, 12 college-aged volunteers, and an annual budget of only $12,000.

UrbanPromise began as a spin-off of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE),[2] and was directly inspired by EAPE founder Dr. Tony Campolo, renowned speaker, author, and sociologist known for his call for Christians to seek justice for the poor and liberation for the oppressed.

Today, the organization has grown to offer myriad youth educational and developmental programming, including an alternative high school, an elementary/middle school, after-school programs, summer camps, teen job training, boat building, environmental and experiential learning, and a host of other enrichment activities.

UrbanPromise challenges Camden youth to develop their academic, social, creative, and leadership potential. From humble beginnings, the organization now boasts a budget of $3.6 million — primarily generated from individual donors who give $500 to $10,000/year — employs more than 50 full-time staff, and serves 600 local youth and families annually. UrbanPromise also engages 500 volunteers annually: 50 college interns, 350 work group individuals, and around 100 local residents.[3]


The goal of each UrbanPromise program relates to the development of healthy and positive relationships. Many of the organization’s employees and volunteers are UrbanPromise graduates who have returned to Camden to serve their community. Staff work with a group of 50 college-aged interns who commit one to two years to community service in the city of Camden. These interns work with local teens in UrbanPromise’s AfterSchool Programs and Summer Camps; teens are employed as counselors, tutors, and mentors through the organization’s StreetLeader program.[4]


The majority of children in Camden, New Jersey qualify as “at-risk,” which —as defined by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention — means they are exposed to high levels of risk in their families, homes, communities, and social environments to such a degree that it could lead to educational failure, school dropout, or involvement in juvenile delinquency.[5]

Programming at UrbanPromise is scheduled during the time when youth are most at risk of involvement in crime and violence — between 3 and 9 PM.[6] Through a variety of activities, children and teens are encouraged to avoid negative influences and focus on school through mentoring; community service; life skills classes; tutoring; SAT/ACT prep courses; classes in reading, writing, and math; groups focused on social development; and performing and visual arts.[7]

UrbanPromise’s two schools — particularly its UrbanPromise Academy high school — serve some of the highest risk youth in the city. Many come to the organization after dropping out of public school or involvement in the juvenile justice system. Nevertheless, in 2011, UrbanPromise’s elementary and middle school saw 98% attendance; and 100% percent of UrbanPromise Academy 2011 and 2012 seniors graduated on time. Of UrbanPromise’s 2012 graduating class, 98% have gone on to pursue post-secondary education. Historically, UrbanPromise graduates have had an 85% college completion rate.[8][9]

UrbanPromise also offers experiential learning activities through its UrbanTrekkers program. Through hands-on learning and outdoor experiences, UrbanTrekkers connects children and teens to the natural world and diverse communities throughout the United States and abroad.[10]

International Replication[edit]

The UrbanPromise Camden model has been exported throughout the United States and abroad. UrbanPromise sites are located in Wilmington, DE; Miami, FL; Trenton, NJ; Toronto and Vancouver; Honduras; and Malawi; and Uganda. Each location uses its own local resources, donors, and staff to replicate the Camden-based UrbanPromise.[11]

Notable Support[edit]

Over the last decade, UrbanPromise has received support from several notable individuals, including ABC News’ Diane Sawyer. Since her 2007 20/20 special “Waiting on the World to Change,” [12] which focused on poverty in Camden and highlighted UrbanPromise, Diane has continued to stay connected to the organization. In September 2012, she was the keynote speaker at UrbanPromise’s 25th Anniversary Banquet held at the Scottish Rite Theatre in Collingswood, New Jersey. Her relationship with UrbanPromise was featured as the cover story in the November 2012 edition of SJ Magazine.[13]

Additional supporters include: David Kim,[14] concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Denise Morrison,[14] CEO of Campbell Soup Company, and authors Shane Claiborne,[14] Philip Yancey[14] and Brian McLaren.[14]

Notable affiliated persons[edit]

Diane Sawyer
Tony Campolo
David Kim
Shane Claiborne
Philip Yancey
Brian McLaren
Denise Morrison
Charles Tillman [16]

Affiliated organizations[edit]



External links[edit]