Kevin Riordan: After a rough start in life, Camden women dreams of broadcast career

Temple senior Marchelle Roberts helps incoming students as a resident assistant.
Temple senior Marchelle Roberts helps incoming students as a resident assistant. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 25, 2011

Marchelle Roberts hopes to become a broadcast journalist.

She's already got a terrific story to tell. Her own.

Barely 8 when she and a younger sibling were made homeless by their mother's struggle with drug addiction, Roberts ended up in shelters and foster care in Camden.

"I had constant worries," recalls the Temple University senior, who felt responsible for her 3-year-old brother. "It was traumatic."

Unimaginable is more like it, particularly to those of us for whom childhood "trauma" was about not getting everything we wanted for Christmas.

"I wasn't worth my mother getting better," says the 21-year-old, with a matter-of-factness free of resentment. The family "came second to her addiction. It used to make me angry, but it doesn't anymore. Addiction is addiction."

Roberts doesn't know whether her birth mother has recovered, or whether she is even alive. She doesn't know what became of her brother. Her biological father is a vague memory.

But let's get to the happier part of the story.

At 10, Roberts was placed with a solid family from Camden's Cooper Plaza neighborhood. They adopted her two years later, and Roberts earned honors at the LEAP Academy Charter School, graduating in 2008.

Scholarships have enabled her to attend Temple, where she majors in broadcast communications and works as a resident assistant at Hardwick Hall.

"Marchelle is a great representation of resilience, which is part of being successful in Camden," says Valerie Frick, director of education at the Camden Children's Garden. "I don't know how you get resilience, but she's got it."

Roberts' adoptive family has been active with the Camden City Garden Club for generations. Her mother, Lisa, works part time at the Children's Garden, and Roberts eventually became a part-time employee there, too.

We met when I worked at the garden in 2008. I remember thinking, "Who is this young woman with the dazzling smile and even sunnier attitude?"

"I pretty much grew up at the Children's Garden," Roberts says. "It was like a family to me."

Roberts worked hard at all sorts of tasks, Frick says. The gate, the gift shop, organizing crafts, and, especially, mentoring other youth.

"That's where we really started to see her shine," she says.

"One of the things I've learned, living in Camden, is sometimes you just have to work harder," Roberts says.

Working at the garden has deepened her interest in broadcasting: She enjoys hearing people's stories.

Roberts also credits a teacher at LEAP with encouraging her. "I always wrote. I wrote poetry. I knew I wanted to do something in journalism, and now I want to be a news anchor."

First, there's senior year, after which Roberts has thought about joining AmeriCorps, whose young members are assigned to the Children's Garden and sites nationwide.

"AmeriCorps also does disaster relief," Roberts notes. "I like how they help people get back on track in their lives after something devastating happens."


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq.

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