“Hope Is Sweaty”

Those are the words of  Rev. Jeff Putthoff, the founder and executive director of HopeWorks N’ Camden, a nonprofit that provides youth with the resources, training, and support they need to realize their dreams and thrive in their community. Hopeworks believes that every youth, no matter their history, has the ability to succeed and thrive. Not just survive.

Here is the organization’s mission statement:

Hopeworks ‘N Camden uses education, technology and entrepreneurship to partner  with young men and women as they identify and earn a sustainable future. Together we seize the opportunity to heal and thrive in the midst of violence and poverty.

The goal of the film was to illustrate one nonprofit organization’s healing effect on communities in Camden, NJ. The problems of Camden are many, and well-known. Roughly three in five children live below the poverty line. The violent crime rate is 6.6 times higher than the national average—the highest rating in the country in 2012. Yet, for thousands of young people, Camden has become a beacon of hope and prosperity thanks to HopeWorks.

HopeWorks has been changing the lives of students for over 15 years. HopeWorks works with youth between 14 and 23-years-old to go back to school, earn their GED, and find a safe pathway to their future.

Hopeworks uses a Trauma Informed approach in working with the program participants, and believes such an approach is the core of its success. Hopeworks helps individuals work through adversity by developing emotional intelligence and practicing success.

According to its web site, Hopeworks runs four businesses. Three of these businesses collectively offer a complete array of website design, development, maintenance and hosting services, as well as online mapping products using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and comprehensive Salesforce administration offerings. These companies provide paid professional experience for Hopeworks trainees entering the workforce.

The fourth company,  Hopeworks Youth Healing Team, offers trauma-informed training and consultation for schools and non-profits working with both youth and adults.

Together, these four businesses generate more than 50 youth jobs a year. Hopeworks trainees can also earn part-time paid internships with a variety of local businesses and organizations.

I just learned about the life-changing work of HopeWorks last night at a showing of a student produced documentary, Hope Works Here, at Villanova.

The film offers a glimpse into the lives of three people, each of whom has had a different and traumatic past:

  • George has drug dealing in his past.
  • Corey, who witnessed murder and destitution, struggles with depression.
  • Adria’s past is plagued by homelessness and isolation.

It was eye opening to learn about the difficulties these youth have had, but also inspirational to witness the success they have had in overcoming such obstacles.

Villanova’s documentary program is funded by the Waterhouse Family Institute for the Study of Communication and Society, and Elaine and David Nord. Each year, the students in the program create their own production companies and their films have screened across the globe. Several have advanced to become finalists in the Student Academy Awards competition.

Housed in the Communication Department, the Waterhouse Institute emphasizes the vital role of communication in the creation of a more just world. Consistent with the Waterhouse Institute’s mission, the Social Justice Documentary Program teaches students the importance of Communication in creating social change.

This was the third film we have seen produced by students in this program (we saw a fourth one tonight, which will be the focus of tomorrow’s post), and every student who has been involved in the program has noted its life-changing impact.

Here are some of the comments from the students who were part of “Hope Works Here“:

“During pre-production, we thought “Hope Works Here” was going to be a story about technology. Hopeworks furnishes its trainees with marketable skills in technology, public speaking and networking. While the skills these young people work to master are a huge step towards a sustainable future, neither tech skills nor money can erase trauma. Caring for trauma takes time, resources and commitment—three things that Hopeworks has realized are not optional if they are really going to help young people reach a sustainable future.”

“Even though we only saw a glimpse of life in Camden, our visits and experiences challenged the stereotypes of Camden that I had seen in the media.”

“Producing this documentary has been one of the most humbling and eye-opening experiences of my life. I have learned so much more than how to produce a film, rather, I learned why we make social justice documentaries in the first place—to advocate for the voiceless and to ignite change.”

It’s a wonderful thing to see students committed to wanting to make a difference, and for the University to be willing to support such a commitment.

It makes me proud to be part of Villanova.

Congratulations to all those involved in HopeWorks for doing work that matters.

Here’s the trailer for the documentary:



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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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