Before entering the Stanley Holmes Village Community Center in Atlantic City, Paul Campos takes a deep breath in anticipation of the enthusiasm that will surround him the second he opens the door.
“I know that I’m about to do something special,” he said.
The Social Work major, who graduated from Stockton University on May 9, is the lead facilitator of a homework completion program at Stanley Holmes, an initiative of the Stockton Center for Community Engagement and the Atlantic City Police Department and Housing Authority.
About 40 students in the afterschool program greet him with hugs and hellos, filling the room with a sense of comfort and excitement. So much so, that Campos knows he must prepare himself for the level of energy.
Since the program started last September, the diverse community of children who attend have come to respect Campos as a mentor, educator, friend, listener and supporter.
This time last year, the program didn’t exist, and Campos was uncertain about finding his place in the social work field.
He expressed his feelings to Dr. Merydawilda Colon, executive director of the Stockton Center for Community Engagement and professor of Social Work, during a class break. “I saw the face of a man who might give up,” she said.
Campos feared that his troubles in the past would prevent him from obtaining the career he wanted to pursue.
“You will find a way,” Colon told Campos. “I believed her, and she showed me the way,” said Campos.
“Students do great things if one identifies opportunities and believes in them,” said Colon, who asked Campos if he would facilitate the homework completion program.
“I jumped on board,” said Campos.
His first step was to knock on 500 doors in the Stanley Holmes Village. “In one block, I had 20 students signed up,” he said. That’s when he realized the program could be successful.
Colon opened a door for Campos, who is now opening a number of doors for the youth in his hometown of Atlantic City.
Every day is rewarding, Campos said. “I do it because I feel a sense of cultural responsibility.”
Campos has listened to the challenges and concerns of the students. He understands the children and connects with them because their experiences are familiar to him. “I’m aware of the culture in their homes,” he said.
He too spent a part of his childhood in the Stanley Holmes Village.
Some of the children think they are bad or do not feel worthy. Campos tells them that “’bad’ is a label.” Unacceptable behaviors can be changed for the better.
He describes the students he’s met as “great minds and great thinkers.” They have many ideas and “I want them to see their potential,” despite the barriers around them, he said.
Working with the Police Department is like having three Michael Jordans on the team, said Campos. Officer Kiya Harris, Officer Michael Braxton and Sgt. Monica McMenamin engage with the students and answer their questions.
“I want to see the program expand. It can be magnificent,” he said.
After graduation, Campos will take a year off and apply for a master’s program in social work. He will continue facilitating the Stanley Holmes Homework Completion program when school resumes after summer break.
His vision is that students will start as seeds and become flowers while they are in the program and return to be planters who will watch their flowers grow.
Campos’s lifelong goals are to find those who cannot help themselves and to talk for the voiceless.
“My life has never been ordinary. If I were to watch my movie, I’d never know the next scene. There’s an edge that always keeps me excited,” he said.
Campos interned at Covenant House and also led monthly professional development workshops focusing on diversity, customer service and compassion for Atlantic County Social Services staff at the Welfare Office.
In his spare time, Campos enjoys cooking and spending time with his family.
Campos’ advice is: “Know your worth and don’t let anyone place value on you. Place it on yourself. Make your own expectations and set them high even if you think you can’t reach them. No one can define you better than you can.”