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Youth nonprofit shines light on Camden's crime problem

Youth nonprofit Hopeworks is attempting to fight crime by powering up street and decorative lights through its "Turn the Lights Back On in Camden" mission.

light Credit: Flickr / CoCreatr

A nonprofit based in Camden, which has year after year won the dubious recognition of being America's poorest and most dangerous locale, is attempting to shine light on the city's crime problem –both literally and figuratively.

Local high school students volunteering with Hopeworks' "Turn the Lights Back On in Camden" mission spent the summer gathering community feedback and mapping the city's more than 400 street and decorative lights, at least 77 of which have gone dark.

"I think a big problem is a lot of people either shoot out the street lights or intentionally defect the wiring in street lights to keep the neighborhood dark so crimes can happen without anyone seeing," said Danyelle Austin, director of academic success for Hopeworks.

Shamir Lyons, 17, who works with Hopeworks' social media team, said he felt proud to use his summer break to make his neighborhood safer.

"I never realized that people in their own communities were actually scared to be outside at night – I thought they were used to it," he said.

"I learned new things about how in a community, every change makes a difference."

Maryann Vega, 16, who worked this summer on Hopeworks' GIS mapping team, said now data has been gathered, the group will petition the Public Service Electric and Gas Company to restore power to the broken lights.

"We're having a meeting during the next couple of weeks with the manager of PSE&G," she said.

"Once we collected all the information on which lights were working and which lights weren't, we made it into a little booklet we can bring to show him."

Austin said she hopes the group's participation in National Night Out Tuesday will forge lasting partnerships and advance their goal.

"One of the reasons we really wanted to bring everybody together in the community around National Night Out is so we can get some of key people involved in a conversation about street lights," she said.

"Our social media team has done a lot of work around talking to the community about how they feel about street lights being broken and talking about safety.

"We're expecting the mayor to join us tonight and we're hoping to start a conversation with her really making the lights a collaborative effort with Hopeworks youth, PSE&G and the mayor."

 
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