By Barbara. A. Chaapel
"All the great youth ministries shouldnt be in the
suburbs," says Bruce Main, a PTS D.Min. student and executive
director of UrbanPromise in Camden, New Jersey. He has put his ministry
where his mouth is!
In 1988, Main left his studies at Fuller Seminary in California to
respond to a challenge from Tony Campolo, well-known evangelical minister
and author, to come east to begin a program for urban kids in New Jerseys
UrbanPromise started with three summer camp programs based in churches.
"The most striking thing I remember," says Main, "is the
large number of churches in Camden, yet how disconnected they were from
the young people in the community. I wanted to establish partnerships
between the churches, the kids, and the neighborhoods."
Beginning one church at a time, Main urged congregations to open their
buildings to the kids after school and in the summer. He looked for
struggling congregations with visionary pastors, like Westminster
Presbyterian Church, and promised to provide staffing and financial
resources if the church could provide space, volunteers, and pastoral
follow-up with parents.
What started with a handful of kids in summer camp has blossomed into
an organization that gives developmental and educational support to 1,000
young people daily.
In its twelfth year, UrbanPromise has established two schools, a
private Christian day school for pre-kindergarten through second grade
whose goal is to add a grade each year until it reaches eighth-graders,
and a high school targeted at teens who are not making it in the public
schools, usually dropouts or low-achievers. "We limit class size to
sixteen kids, with two adults in every classroom," explains Main.
"We ask every parent to pay $50 per month, and we provide the rest of
the cost$3800 per year per child as scholarship." The funding
comes from individual donors and churches; the human commitment comes from
Main and his staff of almost 100 teachers, tutors, mentors, and coaches
whom he hires citywide.
UrbanPromise also boasts a Streetleaders program that trains teens for
leadership. "The best way to develop leadership is to help kids learn
to lead, through mentors," says Main. Staff, including college
students recruited from across the country, serve as role models to older
kids, and older kids in turn to the younger kids. "The program has
its own momentum now; young kids anticipate the day when they will become
The program offers SAT prep classes, college tours, and tutoring as
well as participation in the fine arts and in gospel choirs. The goal?
Teaching urban kids that they can make itgo to college, graduate, and
make a difference in the world.
Its working. "We have thirty kids in college now, at the edge
of graduating," says Main. "Theyre at Rutgers, Eastern,
Howard, Cornell. Most of these kids began in UrbanPromise when they were
nine or ten."
Just as life has changed for his kids, so it has for Main. "One
day I was flipping pancakes and running the day school," he remembers
with a laugh. "Now I manage a $2 million budget and a large staff. I
have to work to keep hands-on involvement. The challenges have
His organizations challenges are the meat of Mains Doctor of
Ministry project. "UrbanPromise is a place where people in the city
and people in the suburbs meet. We create unique relationships, atypical
of what happens in the rest of society.
"For example, Camden is isolated from Cherry Hill [an adjacent
wealthy suburb] and theres not much bridge-building. At UrbanPromise,
city young people of many different ethnicities meet people from the
suburbs. I want to look at what happens, what can happen, in those
Main believes that both city and suburban dwellers stand to gain.
"Kids from the city need to broaden their networks beyond their city
block to have a chance at success in life. And CEOs, pastors, laypeople
from suburban churches need to broaden their world, too, and go beyond the
6:00 oclock news image of Camden kids."
Main is thrilled to find among his D.Min. workshop colleagues a prison
chaplain, a minister involved in AIDS ministry, a military chaplain, and a
pastor of an interracial congregation. "My kids connect with each of
these places," he says. His colleagues are helping him reflect on his
vision for the kids of Camden.
For the love of those kids Main earned an M.A. at PTS and entered the
D.Min. program. "Ive always believed that my faith should be
concrete. For me, that means insuring justice for kids in the city and
bringing whatever I can in human and financial resources to that
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