Monday, May 14, 2012

Drew University Honors Shalom Community Leader at Commencement 2012

Wilbert Mitchell, founding executive director of Respond Incorporated in North Camden, NJ, was awarded an honorary doctorate at Commencement in recognition of his 45 years of exemplary and visionary leadership in non profit management and community development.
It was my honor and privilege to present Mr. Mitchell, deliver the citation, and confer the degree in behalf of the Board of Trustees of Drew University on Saturday, May 12, 2012

Official Citation:
For the last 45 years, in the community where you live and work, you have helped local residents help themselves, by identifying local assets, mobilizing community resources, organizing for the common good, improving individual lives, as well as transforming your neighborhood of North Camden, NJ.
In your 4.5 decades of nonprofit management, as the first and only executive director of Respond Incorporated, you have stayed true to your original purpose of responding to the needs and developing the potential of underserved citizens in Camden.
Under your leadership, RESPOND INCORPATED provides an array of services to all ages, including: affordable day care centers for over 800 children, senior centers, programs for the homeless, rental assistance and home ownership, job creation for youth, vocational training for adults, health and education, and economic community development.
In 2009, you led Respond Inc. to new heights with the establishment of the New Worker Job Development and Vocational Training Center in North Camden.  This 24,000 square foot, $4.6 million facility offers expert instruction in culinary arts and automotive technology, and has prepared hundreds of local residents for the workforce.
Drew’s Communities of Shalom initiative, which offers community development training world-wide, is proud to be your partner in improving life in the shalom zone where you live and work.  Part of what makes this partnership successful is your leadership capacity to see the big picture of how to transform an entire community, and your matching gifts and abilities to make that vision into reality.
Where some see only trash heaps in vacant lots, you see tree-lined streets and community gardens.  Where some see only dilapidated buildings and boarded up businesses, you see state of the art playgrounds, new homes, sustainable industry and a vibrant waterfront where a prison once stood.  What distinguishes your leadership from others who respond to needs and do good is that you moved into the neighborhood, lived and worked there for a generation, long enough to see systemic change and transformation.  And in “seeking the shalom of the community”, you found your own shalom.
So, by authority of the Board of Trustees of Drew University, I confer upon you the degree Doctor of Humane Letters. Honorus causa.

Respond Incorporated was started in 1967 as an outreach ministry of Haddonfield United Methodist Church, when Dr. Stan Menking (Drew Trustee emeritus) was one of the pastors.  He challenged a local school teacher, Wilbert Mitchell, to take over a fledgling day care center in North Camden, and become its Executive Director.  He did, and stayed for the next 45 years, attracting resources and new development, and expanding the church outreach into a highly successful 10 million dollar nonprofit operation.  In 2009, with a desire to reconnect with their United Methodist roots, Respond INC. applied for Shalom Training and became a registered community of Shalom.  Drew assigned student interns for two summers to the shalom ministry in North Camden, under Mr. Mitchell’s tutelage, and today, their shalom program and summer shalom resource fair are integral to the entire community development operation.

In 2012, Respond INc. applied for certification in the Communities of Shalom network, making them eligible for recognition as a distinctive, exemplary site at the upcoming Shalom Summit in October. For more information on Respond Incorporated Community of Shalom, visit their website at