Kristin Prinn, founder of LUCY Outreach, playing “ninja” with a group of young people as they gather outside the LUCY youth center before evening programs.
The LUCY Project: Lifting Up Camden's Youth

The Jesuit ideal of “living as men and women with and for others” resonates deeply with Kristin Prinn, MSW, LCSW, a 2004 graduate of Saint Joseph’s University. Prinn’s mindset is borne of sacrifice, compassion, and the importance of giving back and looking out for others, which are all Ignatian lessons her mother taught her as a youth. What’s more, these teachings were compounded by the time she reached SJU.

She hit the ground running once she arrived on Hawk Hill as an undergrad, working with the Faith-Justice Institute and taking service-learning classes each semester. She also participated in numerous leadership opportunities, retreats and service-immersion trips. Prinn received her bachelor’s degree in sociology, and upon graduation, she earned recognition for her dedication: she received the SJU Achievement Award and Curran Service Award.

She served a one-year mission with Associate Missionaries of the Assumption along the United States–Mexico border in the Mexican colonia Chaparral in New Mexico. She stayed two more years to study and work and volunteer in the border region. As a missionary, she worked with gang-involved youths in the community, schools and juvenile prison. In those years, she earned her master’s degree in social work from New Mexico State University and became fluent in Spanish.

When she moved back to Philadelphia, she looked across the Delaware and thought Camden would be a great fit for the next chapter of her life. Her Camden journey began in youth ministry at St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral parish, a vibrant 21st century church led by Msgr. Robert McDermott, a Camden native and visionary whose efforts were truly meeting the needs of Camden’s most vulnerable populations.

 
Prinn with three LUCY graduates at last fall’s We Are LUCY event in Philadelphia. Pictured are Johnny Cabrera, freshman communications major at St. Peter’s University, Julio Alfonzo, a high school senior who is currently applying to college, and JoJo Febo, sophomore nursing student at Rutgers-Camden.
“Fr. Bob believed in a ‘hand-up, not a hand-out,’ and was not only my boss but also a tremendous mentor and role model for me,” Prinn said. To become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, it was necessary for her to work a second full-time job, completing 4,000 clinical hours as an in-home therapist serving the highestrisk youths and families in Camden.

She decided to put her passion for serving others into creating a program of her own, founding LUCY Outreach, which is an acronym for “Lifting Up Camden’s Youth”––a name that the first young people whom Prinn was working with came up with on their own. In 2012, when LUCY was in the early stages of its creation, Camden was noted to be one of America’s poorest and most dangerous cities. Many youths there faced daily challenges, such as teen delinquency, gang involvement, drug use (especially in homes), teen pregnancy and a struggling public school system.

Starting LUCY seemed a daunting task––but one which Prinn was only too eager to undertake. “So many people throughout the years had done so much for me, and it was time for me to step up and do something for others,” she said. “Although I was constantly outside my comfort zone, and often lacked sleep and support, I never felt afraid to fail. Failure wasn’t an option––it couldn’t be an option. There were too many lives, too much potential in my hands, and I owed it to each of ‘my kids’ to support and motivate them to be their best and show everyone else what and who Camden really was.”

As founder and executive director of LUCY, Kristin and her colleagues have helped fill the void created by these social issues by enhancing the quality of life of young people in Camden through educational, social, spiritual and service-oriented programming. To date, 170 participants in the program have graduated from high school, with an additional 34 on track to graduate in June. All of them enrolled in some form of higher education or active-duty military service––and these participants came from a city with a high school graduation rate of only 60 percent, where less than 5 percent go on to receive college degrees.

Prinn and fellow student leader, Josh Power, during a 2004 Saint Joseph’s University immersion trip to Tijuana, Mexico.
 
“As a Jesuit-educated social worker, I feel called to promote justice and prioritize values that transcend the traditional definition of what it means to be successful,” Prinn said. “In turn, the youth I’ve worked with have taught me how to be a leader who is concerned about our world, its communities and its people.”

In October 2015, Kristin received the Ignatius Award from Saint Joseph’s University Alumni Association in recognition of her devoted efforts to serve others in ways consistent with the principles of Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. Ten of her original LUCY participants were there to give a speech and to present her with the award, including four who are currently attending Saint Joseph’s University and thus are receiving the same Jesuit education that Prinn received more than a decade ago.

This spring, LUCY starts an exciting new chapter, becoming an independent 501c3. “After enjoying great success operating as an initiative of St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral for so many years, we owe so much to the parish for our ability to grow into the educational outreach center that we are today. We will soon become an independent youth program, and our Catholic, Jesuit roots will continue to be a crucial part of our programming and all that we do.”

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