Greg Collins ’11 took his first step toward Azusa Pacific University in 1993 when he was six years old, and it very well may have saved his life.
This Camden, New Jersey native was ripe for a life on the streets. His father worked long hours; his mother focused much of her attention on Collins’ older and younger brothers. Both ended up in the drug trade; Collins landed at UrbanPromise.
Bruce Main ’85 founded UrbanPromise in 1988, five years before Collins attended. What began as a Christian summer camp, UrbanPromise now offers a future for the underserved and underprivileged, includes a school, and stands as the largest employer for teenagers in Camden. “Kids in the city don’t typically go on family vacations or to sports or church camps during the long, hot summer months,” Main said. “They hang out on the streets. Idle kids present an explosive mix for trouble.”
Homeschooled as a boy, Collins’ mom sent him and his younger brother to UrbanPromise, called Camp Faith at the time, to learn social skills and be around others their age. He never missed another summer. “I always felt I was in a positive place,” said Collins. “I just felt comfortable there.”
At 13, Collins became an Urban “Street Leader” and his calling began to take shape. Collins emerged as a role model, an example of how to stay out of trouble, get your feet planted, and carve out a future that doesn’t include drugs and running from the cops. As he grew up, Collins wondered about college. He graduated from high school in 2005 with subpar grades, but managed to attend a couple of nearby colleges until he realized he had stopped growing and needed a change. Unfortunately, he had nowhere to go—and down was not an option.
UrbanPromise offered a substantial Christmas present in 2007 with a full academic scholarship to attend Azusa Pacific University in fall 2008. Main describes his time at APU as “total transformation” and hoped his former student would find a similar experience, but Collins readily admits he was “one of those” students who desperately tried to get out of attending mandatory chapel and often succeeded. “I didn’t want to go back to APU,” he said, with only one year before graduation. But a friend inspired him with a vision of how he could transform Camden with a graduate degree, and he eagerly returned to APU in September 2010.
He overcame challenging obstacles to finish strong and attended every mandatory chapel service that year. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, returned to Camden, and is now a third-grade teacher at UrbanPromise. He plans to attend graduate school in the fall and aspires to be a principal or superintendent. “This is my city,” Collins said. “A lot of people who come from Camden don’t come back. These kids need a positive role model, especially a male role model.”
Main believes Collins’ calling lies in Camden, and whether that’s in the public school system or at UrbanPromise, God only knows. Main envisions someone from the Urban program taking over after he is done, and he wouldn’t be surprised if Collins became his retirement plan. And when Collins looks back at where he has been and where he could have gone, UrbanPromise’s impact comes to mind first. “I invested in UrbanPromise and they invested in me,” Collins said. “Bruce told me I could be running Urban someday. You never know; the sky’s the limit.”
Andrew Tuttle is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon. firstname.lastname@example.org