A Commitment to Camden

The Rutgers–Camden Innovation Community Hub (RICH) will be a center of social and economic enterprise in the heart of Camden

Rutgers Innovation Community Hub champions Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, center, and Donna Nickitas, far right, with students from the LEAP Academy University Charter School.

The mission of the Rutgers University–Camden Innovation Community Hub (RICH), a Rutgers Big Idea, is to help transform the city into a center of social and economic enterprise that aligns private, public, government, and nonprofit agencies to create social-economic opportunities. “We will strive to bridge opportunity gaps,” said Donna Nickitas, dean of the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden and a co-champion of the project. “We also will work to better understand the impact that generations of inequity associated with racism, discrimination, and implicit bias have had on socioeconomic status, health disparities, poverty, lack of access to good jobs, education, health care, and affordable housing in Camden.”

Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, a Board of Governors distinguished service professor in public policy and administration who is co-championing the effort with Nickitas, said the goal of the RICH initiative is to build a pipeline of educational, employment, and entrepreneurial programs on Cooper Street. “RICH will become an ecosystem of innovative activity where creative and talented residents, leaders, and entrepreneurs will come together in the heart of Camden to learn, share, grow, and develop connections to create community economic development,” she said.

Bonilla-Santiago and Nickitas said the RICH initiative will leverage Rutgers–Camden as an anchor institution and champion of civic and social responsibility, providing numerous opportunities for residents to do the following:

  • Learn in-demand skills necessary for jobs in local industries;
  • Develop small businesses and become social entrepreneurs;
  • Collaborate with Rutgers faculty, staff, students, and community agency partners to identify and develop innovative solutions to the city’s social and economic challenges, and develop new ideas to advance greater equity and access.

Nickitas, a noted health policy scholar and an energetic visionary regarding the future of health care and nursing education in America, is deeply committed to ensuring that everyone—no matter where they live—has the opportunity to live a healthy life.

Bonilla-Santiago, known as the “Patron Saint of Cooper Street,” has worked for decades to transform Camden’s Cooper Street educational corridor where in 1997, she founded the LEAP Academy University Charter School, which serves children and their families from cradle to college in a holistic and innovative environment that provides a jumping-off point for the new community hub. “A vital component of RICH will be researching anddisseminating the lessons learned that can inform policymaking and kick-start a lasting change in Camden and beyond,” Bonilla-Santiago said.

To learn how you can get involved, please contact Kathleen Brennan, senior director of development, at katecb@camden.rutgers.edu or 856-225-6577.

Posted in: 2021 Fall

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