Over the past year, The Neighborhood Center in Camden has felt “like a second home” to Marcus Biddle. More importantly, the Rutgers University–Camden Civic Scholar has been dedicated to ensuring that others in the community feel just as welcome.
Biddle and his tireless volunteering efforts was honored at The Neighborhood Center’s 101st annual meeting on Saturday, May 3, at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Cherry Hill.
“This is a well-deserved recognition of his commitment and hard work,” says Sarina DiBianca, director of operations and finance for The Neighborhood Center. “Marcus has a ‘can do’ attitude that resonates with his spirit and drive. I have never seen him without a smile on his face.”
For Biddle, the honor is simply a reflection of the generosity and gratitude that the center has for people who take the time to volunteer. “The center has never been shy to show their thanks for the hard work that people do,” says Biddle, an urban studies major minoring in journalism.
Begun in 1913, The Neighborhood Center is an urban outreach mission of the United Methodist Women’s Division and part of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. The agency’s vision is to create a “community living room” for citizens through a variety of resources and services.
The Pennsauken resident has been a regular contributor to the center’s community kitchen, community garden, and a variety of special events, including cleanup days, tree plantings, Thanksgiving food drives, and Christmas toy drives. Over time, he has also increasingly assisted in the coordination of several volunteer groups, including those comprised of college students, church members, and local youth. Biddle is also helping DiBianca start a Young Professionals Board of Directors at the center. The group aims to give young professionals a hand in the decision-making and goals of an organization, which they otherwise may not have experienced in their careers, while affording the center fresh ideas from a younger perspective.
As Biddle recalls, his introduction to The Neighborhood Center came in spring 2013 when the Rutgers–Camden Civic Scholars held a fundraiser there. He struck up conversation with Michael D’Italia, assistant director of community outreach, and was fascinated to learn of the center’s enduring mission. “I fell in love with the place right away,” recalls Biddle.
Biddle soon began volunteering in the kitchen, helping to prepare food for the community meals. He then helped out a couple days a week “doing a little bit of everything,” such as cleaning, painting, and helping out in the garden, before becoming a mainstay on the premises. He credits his overarching commitment to a group of volunteers who treat him “like family” and share a sense of responsibility in the center’s efforts.
As he sees it, his greatest reward has been the opportunity to meet and interact with people from the community. As someone mapping his own future, he enjoys hearing the perspectives of those who have faced challenges in their lives and are determined to overcome them.
“Every person who walks in the center has something very uplifting to share,” says Biddle. “It is rewarding to see how they are getting back on their feet. It makes me realize that Camden is a very resilient city. People aren’t walking around feeling sorry for themselves. They won’t stop before they accomplish their goals.”
Earning the recognition of The Neighborhood Center has now motivated him to do even more. “I am grateful to win this award, but at the same time, I know that there is a lot of work that still needs to be done there,” he says.
Upon graduating next May, Biddle plans to combine his interests in urban studies and journalism as a citizen journalist. He views the role as a vital tool for citizens to speak their voices and participate in the community-planning process.
“I want to connect more with community stakeholders in the city,” says Biddle, who gained reporting experience serving internships for WHYY and NBC in Philadelphia. “It is important that people on the inside are able to reach people on the outside and let them know that they want to be involved in the planning of their communities.”