VILLANOVA, Pa.—Camden, New Jersey has been the source of a number of alarming statistics. 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 a nonprofit organization called HopeWorks ‘N Camden. “Hope Works Here,” a social justice documentary produced by students at Villanova University, shows how this award-winning organization is changing the lives of Camden’s youth. The film premiere, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 7 p.m., May 6 in the Connelly Center Cinema on the University campus. A question-and-answer session with the cast and crew will be held immediately following the screening.
HopeWorks ‘N Camden
HopeWorks has been changing the lives of students for over 15 years. Utilizing an advanced training curriculum in website development, Geographic Information System (GIS) and Salesforce, HopeWorks works with youth between 14 and 23-years-old to go back to school and find a safe pathway to their future.
“During pre-production, we thought “Hope Works Here” was going to be a story about technology,” said director Peter Prokop. “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.”
In order for HopeWorks’ students to succeed in the professional world, the organization’s founders recognized the need to address the students’ emotional trauma. Beyond technical training, HopeWorks provides a highly trained faculty in trauma care. Students regularly attend check-ins with mentors to discuss issues and anxieties.
“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,” said Prokop.
Each cast member featured in the documentary has 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.
For five months, Villanova students of Bridgital Studios—the student-run production company that created “Hope Works Here”—travelled every week to film students and staff members at HopeWorks, historical experts and Camden’s mayor.
“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,” said Thomas San Nicolas, director of photography.
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.
“Producing this documentary has been one of the most humbling and eye-opening experiences of my life,” said Sarah Freitag, line producer. “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.”