CAMDEN CITY NJ--St. Anthony of Padua parishioners in Camden will hold an evening vigil in troubled Von Nieda Park on Wednesday, Jan. 15. The parish invites people to come with flashlights to make a circle and light up the park to show Camden County leaders that the people in their neighborhood want lights and security.
The event will start with a prayer, and include the testimony of a St. Anthony's parishioner who was held up at gunpoint in the park at 6:15 p.m. on October 27, 2011. That incident inspired the Wednesday Night Peace Walks held by St. Anthony of Padua Church every Wednesday rain or shine since January 2012 at 6:15 p.m. (with the exception of the 4th of July, and Christmas).
Prior to the testimony the Student Leaders' Von Nieda Park Task Force, consisting of 6th-8th graders from St. Anthony of Padua School, as well as students from St. Cecilia School and LEAP Academy, will explain how they have asked for lights in Von Nieda Park for over a year. The park is dark at night, and has been the scene of drug use, drinking, violent crime, graffiti, illegal dumping, and vandalism.
Benozzo Gozzoli - St Anthony of Padua - WGA10218 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
At 6:30 p.m. the youngest person in the circle surrounding the playground will turn on his or her flashlight. Then in counter-clockwise fashion, everyone will turn on their flashlight, lighting up the park. Automobiles and other vehicles will then also turn on their lights, to show what a difference lights make in the park.
The Salvation Army will provide hot chocolate for all in attendance.
The Student Leaders' Von Nieda Park Task Force began in January, 2012 to address issues in what had been nicknamed "The Nation's Most Depressing Park." Through a combination of community organizing and community service, these students have transformed the park. The Student Leaders plan and chair monthly meetings of city and county parks officials as well as other concerned officials and neighbors, and during the warmer months they hold monthly park cleanup and paint-up days. Since they began organizing, the Student Leaders have gotten benches repaired and painted, recycling bins installed, murals painted, and a fence erected to keep motorcycles and ATVs out of the playground area. Instead of sitting there for weeks, illegally dumped trash is now picked up within 48 hours. The Student Leaders have also advocated for flood control in the park, and were the only residents present at a CCMUA public hearing to advocate for a $5 million flood abatement plan.
For their efforts the Student Leaders have been recognized by the Camden City Council, the Camden County Freeholders, and the New Jersey State Assembly. They have won state and national Jefferson Awards for Service. They won a PNC $500 grant for their project Paint=Hope! and painted a mural on a former eyesore bordering the park. In January, 2014 the Student Leaders will help expand their program from St. Anthony of Padua School in Cramer Hill to include Holy Name School in North Camden.
There are currently 13 active Student Leaders, as well as several alumni/ae still participating in the group. There are three adult moderators, all neighborhood residents in Cramer Hill: Ms. Mirta Nieves, Ms. Grace Kincaid, and Franciscan Father William "Jud" Weiksnar.
For more information, please contact Fr. Jud at 856-745-6118 or firstname.lastname@example.org