Posts Tagged ‘Jesuit Father Jeff Putthoff’
Jesuit Father Jeff Putthoff ministers in Camden, N.J., a city that experienced a record-breaking number of homicides in 2012. “I have learned that poverty is not pretty, nor is it romantic. The traumatic experiences of violence, abuse and endemic poverty deeply wound the people of Camden,” says Fr. Putthoff.
Fr. Putthoff founded and runs Hopeworks ‘N Camden, which trains youth in technology and helps them get back to school and away from the violence that plagues their hometown.
Among the 67 killed in Camden in 2012, 34 were younger than age 30; 11 were teenagers; one was 2 years old and another was 6 years old. Fr. Putthoff was one of the organizers of a new group, Stop the Trauma, Violence and Murder, which has a Facebook page documenting both the ongoing violence in the city and activities to bring attention to the problem, including painting and planting of crosses for victims.
“Camden is a place that is very bloody and disfigured, and it bothers us fundamentally to look at it because if we acknowledge it as disfigured, then we have to do something about it,” Fr. Putthoff told the National Catholic Reporter. “The alternative, what most do, is avert our gaze and find ways to justify it. We either make it invisible or we blame people for it.”
Fr. Putthoff and the staff of Hopeworks understand that changing lives go beyond teaching new skills. It also means they must help the youth to see possibilities that would have been previously unimaginable.
Fr. Putthoff said that even many from the program who “succeeded,” by moving on to college or to good jobs, often sabotaged that success by acting out inappropriately under stressful circumstances.
“What’s important is recognizing that even if we had no crosses, we’d still be saying, ‘Stop the trauma,’ because people are living an existence that is only about survival and not thriving,” Fr. Putthoff said. “They learn a whole set of behaviors to help them survive, but lamentably, those behaviors don’t help them thrive.”
The Hopeworks staff is currently undergoing a two-year training program to be certified in “trauma-informed delivery of services.”
“We believe that we’re operating more and more out of a model of trauma where our youth basically have a form of PTSD and their survival mechanism doesn’t allow them to actually move forward,” Fr. Putthoff said.
Camden, N.J., is just the width of a river away from Philadelphia, but the distance between its poverty and its neighbor’s corporate headquarters and comfortable suburbs is enormous. Growing up in Camden can mean sudden violence, inadequate schools, lack of opportunity and little hope for a better future. According to the 2007 U.S. Census data, more than 35 percent of Camden’s population lives in poverty and the school dropout rate is consistently one of the highest in the country.
Jesuit Father Jeff Putthoff has picked this unlikely place to try a bold initiative that uses digital technology and entrepreneurial business practices to help Camden’s youth find their way forward. Burnt-out homes and empty lots surround the three-story row house headquarters of Hopeworks ‘N Camden, a technology training center where as many as 250 Camden youth can learn technical skills in Web design, programming languages and information systems. They range in age from 14 to 23 and might begin with just a seventh-grade reading level. They leave with technological training, greatly enhanced self-confidence and job experience in the bigger world.
Fr. Putthoff created Hopeworks as a service for commercial and non-profit clients that pay for work by young Hopeworks trainees. Initially, Web design was the main product, but Hopeworks is moving beyond that into other areas and applications such as social media and Geographic Information Systems.
“We are not a business that has internships; we are a youth development program that has a business, and that business is part of our strategy for engaging our youth,” Fr. Putthoff said.
Hopeworks requires no entrance exam and charges no tuition. Most other job development programs for college-age students demand some prerequisite skills just to get in the door, a requirement that would keep out most of the Camden youth. The young people who want to come to Hopeworks are not illiterate, just poorly trained; but they learn quickly, Putthoff said.
“There is nothing the matter with the youth except that they have not been given what they need,” he said.
Young men and women come in with few skills and lots of damage from their environment. They cannot imagine themselves belonging in a corporate setting in what seems a world apart in Philadelphia. Hopeworks challenges them to think about themselves and their futures in new ways. They start to reimagine their lives with a different trajectory.
The data show that this innovative approach works. Nearly 100 alumni have progressed to junior college and around 300 jobs have been created. Read the rest of this entry »