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Graffiti, Trash Get Booted in North Camden Area

By Lavinia DeCastro, Courier-Post, April 6, 2009

Something vanished from Pyne Poynt Park this weekend, but residents living around the North Camden landmark don't seem to mind. That's because what's missing is the graffiti that covered the park's only two structures, a shed used to store soccer equipment and an abandoned radio station.

"We're going to have the youth here when soccer season starts and they don't need to see that," said Wren Ingram, chairwoman of the city's newly formed anti-graffiti task force on Saturday. Ingram, a Fairview resident, was among the more than 50 volunteers who spent most of Saturday morning painting over the graffiti around the park and picking up trash. "This is in response to concerns from the residents," Ingram said. The task force was born out of Camden's District Council Collaborative Boards, comprised of residents, officials and law enforcement who gather to identify problems in the community and find ways to address them. "North Camden has the highest concentration of graffiti, so we wanted to start here," Ingram said.

The cleanup coincided with registration day for the Camden Youth Soccer Club. "It gives the kids something better to look at," said Felix Moulier, a volunteer who grew up in East Camden and now lives in Pennsauken. "It motivates them. It boosts their morale to see that somebody cares. Maybe they'll follow in our footsteps and start cleaning up their neighborhood some day." More than 300 children between the ages of 4 and 14 use the park during soccer season, which starts in less than two weeks and runs through June.

"They have a lot of life experiences here," said Ed Bonnette, president and founder of the soccer league. "We leave this field pristine every week. We try to teach them good citizenship." Bonnette, who was involved in a soccer league in his hometown of Gloucester Township for many years, started the league seven years ago because the area lacked recreational activities for children. "Everything we do is through volunteers," Bonnette said. Through donations, the league is able to lower the participation fee to $10 for returning players and $30 for new players. The fee includes a uniform, including soccer cleats, and a soccer ball for each child. Members also are eligible to participate free in the league's summer camp.

Eleven-year-old Aniekan Ibanga and his 9-year-old brother Abasiama liked returning to a graffiti-free home field. "I don't like graffiti," said Aniekan, a student at the McGraw Elementary School. "Some of the graffiti have bad words or inappropriate stuff for kids." Pyne Poynt Park is just a starting point for the anti-graffiti task force. On Saturday, the task force also cleaned the area between Fifth and Seventh streets, the park and Vine Street. It's important to do several blocks in one shot, Ingram said. "A lot of people are afraid with gang graffiti, that there's going to be retribution," Ingram said.

The task force will continue its work twice a month, slowly branching out to cover all of North Camden. The idea is eventually to continue across the State Street Bridge onto East Camden, Ingram said. Should more graffiti appears, the task force has a plan. "You have to be relentless," Ingram said. "As soon as it gets tagged, we'll paint over it."

Reach Lavinia DeCastro at (856) 486-2652 or