Mural portrays Camden children's hopes for park

Volunteer painters near Camden's Von Nieda Park bring life to a wall that had been graffiti-covered.
Volunteer painters near Camden's Von Nieda Park bring life to a wall that had been graffiti-covered. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 18, 2013

CAMDEN Some city schoolchildren are transforming the side of a city warehouse to reflect their hopes for the troubled park the building faces.

The 20-foot-high, 60-foot-long wall on the edge of Von Nieda Park was once graffiti-covered. It now shows silhouetted figures dunking a basketball, throwing a baseball, or jumping rope. Other figures on the colorful mural are running or reading. There also are flowers, birds, and butterflies of various colors.

About two dozen people came out Saturday morning to help paint the mural, a project the Von Nieda Park Task Force began early this month and expects to complete by month's end.

The group of mostly middle-school students also has been fighting for increased police presence at the park, and better lighting, fences, and other improvements.

Many of the students, including Rodrigo Reyes, 14, walk by the park on their way to and from school. "All I see on the ground are drug vials and drug bags," the St. Anthony of Padua student said.

Some members of the task force spoke at a City Council meeting Tuesday to get updates on the status of safety enhancements for the county-owned park. They are scheduled to go to the Camden County Board of Freeholders' meeting Monday evening to press for better lighting for the park and basketball courts, which Council said would cost more than originally planned.

Dean Rosario, 16, a student at LEAP Academy, said the basketball courts were like a second home to him, and he needs lights to play when he gets there in the evenings.

"If I can't play there, it's going to be a long, boring winter," he said. And bored kids are more likely to get into trouble, his mother, Mirta Nieves, said.

The mural initiative is one of 45 community projects across the country to get a grant from PNC Bank. Students got the $500 needed for brushes and paint.

Extreme Painting & Powder Coating bought the warehouse in September, is cleaning out the inside, and will move in January, according to owner Mike Pfeiffer.

The younger students finished the bottom part of the mural Saturday. Brother Juan Turcios of St. Anthony of Padua and some older students from Romero Center Ministries will use ladders to finish the sky of the mural in coming weeks.

The Rev. William "Jud" Weiksnar, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church, who heads the student task force, said he hoped its work inspired other members of the community to take ownership of their neighborhoods.

"One of the biggest problems in Camden is people's reluctance to get involved," he said. "Once you get the community involved and the students involved, things start happening." The group will continue to do its monthly cleanups after the mural is completed.

Lisa Lamboy, who lives nearby, walked by the mural, a smile on her face as she watched the students and pushed her 2-month-old son, Benjamin, in his stroller. She said she hoped people in the neighborhood would respect the mural.

"It beautifies the park," Lamboy said. "It makes it more vibrant and family-friendly. It's great to see the progress they've made."

610-313-8105 @MichaelleBond

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