Post—Potus (President of the United States)
Reflecting on the President’s visit to Camden, N.J.
Two years ago, the police department in Camden, N.J., doubled the size of its force, cut desk jobs, and got more officers to walk the streets and to know residents. As a result, Camden’s crime rate plummeted, and observers have lauded the department as “a model for community policing.”
And during this process, The Salvation Army helped by offering office space to the police at the new Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. So when President Barack Obama decided to visit Camden in mid–May to spotlight the police department’s good work, the Kroc Center became the host venue.
Camden is one of America’s poorest cities, with 40 percent of its 77,000 residents living below the poverty line, compared to the state average of 10 percent. The Kroc Center’s work reaches a broad swath of Camden residents, and providing office space for the police department is just one of its many services. Other programs include job training, after–school activities, an early child education center, and a social and family services center.
The Kroc Center is a 120,000–square–foot facility that covers 24 acres along the Delaware River. Majors Paul and Alma Cain, who were the Kroc Center administrators and the area commanders in May, had just three days to work with the Secret Service to ready the facility. This was the Cains’ first collaboration with the Secret Service, and it proved to be quite an education, as they had to allow officials to search every inch of the grounds. The Secret Service also conducted background checks on invited guests.
A festive day
On Sunday, May 17, Salvation Army personnel set up the center’s “Town Plaza Area” to prepare it for the crowd. Early the next morning, the Secret Service took over, escorting everyone out of the building. Even the Cains, who had established the center in Camden, were among them.
Crowds lined the center’s wide sidewalks, waiting to be screened by Secret Service agents and their bomb–sniffing dogs. Ribbons adorned tree trunks along the thoroughfare for the President’s motorcade. Television news trucks lined the center’s front drive.
An appreciative president
Against a backdrop of clicking cameras and news reporters, President Obama played basketball with members of the Camden High School basketball team and with the police.
Attending the President’s speech were community leaders, police officers, and hand–picked representatives from the City of Camden, including children. Among the Salvation Army leaders were Commissioner Barry C. Swanson, territorial commander; Majors Donald E. and Vicki S. Berry, then New Jersey divisional leaders; Majors Barbara A. and Edgar C. George, program secretary and divisional secretary for New Jersey; Majors Raphael C. and Sandra J. Jackson, then Harlem Temple Corps leaders; and selected employees from the Kroc Center.
Corps Sergeant Major Mark Morton led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, and Major Sue Dunigan sang the National Anthem.
During his address, the President thanked the Camden Police Department for its effort to aid the community with positive programs to help youth. “If we’re seeing such extraordinary improvement in Camden because of the good efforts of elected officials, an outstanding police chief, some wonderful police officers, a community that is supportive, and non–profit organizations like The Salvation Army and others who are doing some great work—if it’s working here, it can work anywhere. It can work anywhere!” he said.
Afterwards, he walked down from the podium to the front row, where he shook hands with Salvation Army representatives and thanked them for their work.
Majors Susan and Terry Wood now oversee the Kroc Center. They say the President’s visit spotlighted The Salvation Army’s crucial work. “President Obama’s visit raised much positive awareness of The Salvation Army’s dramatic expansion in the region,” said Major Susan Wood. “Many local Salvation Army donors, members, and friends attended the President’s speech. And, with extensive media coverage, The Salvation Army Kroc Center in Camden became an integral part of the storyline throughout the region and beyond.”
by Major Vicki S. Berry
— Major Vicki S. Berry, now retired, was at the time of this writing
the New Jersey Division’s director of Women’s Ministries,
Women’s Auxiliary secretary, and Retired Officers’ representative.