Pitching in

A few years ago, when Katherine Nguyen of Cherry Hill was a student at Paul VI High School, she decided to volunteer one day at a local soup kitchen.

“It was really eye opening,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen, a 2011 graduate of Paul VI High School, is now a freshman at Rutgers-Camden majoring in nursing. In her first semester, she was one of 10 named to the newly launched Civic Scholars program, which provides selected students with a $1,000 scholarship for the school year.

Students work closely with Rutgers-Camden faculty mentors to create meaningful projects in the community.

“The first class of Rutgers-Camden Civic Scholars consists of 10 first-year honors-college students who have identified themselves as committed to effecting social change,” said Rutgers-Camden spokesman Mike Sepanic. “The Civic Scholars have served their communities around issues of poverty, access to health care, the environment, wildlife rescue, literacy and art awareness, drug and alcohol awareness, veterans, children with disabilities and human trafficking.”

The program is a perfect fit for Nguyen, she said.

This semester, she’s been spending her time at Project HOPE, a clinic in Camden for the homeless and uninsured.

The clinic lines up with Nguyen’s own ambitions, as she is studying to be a nurse. Right now, she volunteers by scanning patient paperwork and working with social workers to advocate healthcare for the homeless.

“A lot of them don’t have insurance and need help,” Nguyen said.

By volunteering at Project HOPE, she said she has seen first-hand the struggles the homeless community faces in terms of receiving adequate and compassionate healthcare.

“I was talking with one of the social workers who said many don’t own calendars, so they don’t remember what day to go in or how to mark it down. As far as communication, a lot of them do own cell phones, but have minute plans and sometimes it’s a long time to hold (for scheduling appointments). It’s eye opening the technology we take for granted every day,” Nguyen said.

The experience, Nguyen hopes, will lead her to a career in the field of public health. She said she hopes to work in AIDS and HIV prevention at the community level and with the homeless population.

Nguyen also continues her volunteering efforts in Camden by planting trees, cleaning up vacant lots, donating her time at area food banks and meeting with high school students from Camden.

“North Camden is one of the more volatile areas. It was eye opening in terms of what we saw,” she said.

Nguyen said she will continue with the Civic Scholars program at Rutgers-Camden and hopes to include future students in the process. She and nine colleagues will help recruit the next wave of students for the community-service program helping to revitalize the community.

“We’re helping to build the program for future students trying to take the lead,” Nguyen said. “There’s such a stereotype in Camden. We’re not here to save the day, but to form a long-lasting partnership.”