A Powerful Witness: Jesuit’s Ten-Year Ministry of Accompaniment and Empowerment at Hopeworks ‘n Camden

Founded more than a decade ago by Jesuit Father Jeff Puthoff and the pastoral teams of several local parishes, Hopeworks ‘n Camden is a transformative and holistic ministry of empowerment for the youth of inner-city Camden, which offers technology training and job opportunities, coupled with academic support and formation.

Jesuit Father Tom Greene, Secretary for Social and International Ministries at the Jesuit Conference (SIM), SIM Policy Director John Kleiderer and SIM Programs Director Amy Newlon were privileged to visit with Fr. Puthoff, the staff and youth of Hopeworks. Below are their reflections:

Under Puthoff’s leadership, Hopeworks has evolved in its ten-years of existence, expanding its programs to offer not only technology training but also comprehensive “literacy” programs that help youth complete high school, and get into college.  The technology and literacy programs are augmented by a counseling and formation program that helps young people to overcome barriers which impede their success.  Amy Newlon, Director of Programs for SIM, was very impressed with how adaptive Hopeworks is in its programming.  “Hopeworks saw that there was a critical need affecting the youth they serve – unsafe, insecure, or unsupportive housing with limited personal space.   As such Hopeworks opened a new residential community – the C.R.I.B. (Community Responding In Belief ) that provides a safe, respectful, celebratory and structured atmosphere where Hopeworks youth can and do succeed.”

Puthoff told the visiting delegation that the vision of Hopeworks is to empower youth to “identify and develop their D.R.E.A.M.S. – Dynamic, Realizable Efforts to Attain and Maintain Success” and thus create hope for their futures.

Fr. Greene, in reflecting upon the visit, said that direct ministries of accompaniment and service like Puthoff’s are important to the Society of Jesus because “direct contact with the poor and excluded is the challenge of solidarity called for by the Assistancy Strategic Discernment (ASD) Process and GC 35 – a solidarity that is mutually transformative and flows from the Gospel call to accompany the suffering.  It’s critical to the mission of the Society for Jesuits to be in places like Camden.”

For John Kleiderer, SIM Policy Director, the visit was an opportunity to enhance the domestic poverty advocacy work of the Conference:  “At a time when human-needs programs are facing the threat of extreme budget cuts, it was important to hear from Fr. Jeff, the staff and the youth of Hopeworks on the importance of programs such as Pell grants which make college possible for youth living in poverty.” The SIM delegation invited Puthoff and the youth of Hopeworks to come to DC to visit the Jesuit Conference and to accompany them on advocacy visits to Capitol Hill.  Said Kleiderer “It is important for lawmakers to listen to the poor, and to hear directly from youth about how federal programs can make a difference in the lives of real families and communities.”

As Fr. Jeff bid the SIM delegation farewell, a young woman participating in the Hopeworks program came running up to the door of the C.R.I.B., clutching her newly earned G.E.D., excited to tell the staff of her success.  It was another hopeful day in Camden.

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