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The nights will last longer this summer in a corner of Camden's Cramer Hill section, and will linger, too, when fall comes, and even into the cold of winter.
Much of the credit goes to the young people of the neighborhood, who for two years pressed county officials on the need for lights in Von Nieda Park. On Tuesday night, together they flipped the switch that flooded its playgrounds with $365,000 worth of hard-fought illumination.
Among those on hand was Dean Rosario, 17, one of the leaders of the "Undark the Park" project, organized out of St. Anthony of Padua Parish.
"This is like a second home to me," Rosario said of the 18-acre park, taking a break from a basketball game before the illumination ceremony. "We want to play ball here and be safe."
It took two years of petitioning city and county officials, he said, "and it sometimes got discouraging, but we did it."
The Rev. William "Jud" Weiksnar, pastor of St. Anthony's, said some people might think the children of the parish "only come out for photo opportunities, but that's not true at all. We taught them community organizing by asking them to find a project that was challenging, important, and doable.
"They came up with the idea for the lights. We said, 'Find out who are the people who have the money to do something, and go after them.' And that's what they did."
Ziani Sanchez, 13, was one of the members of the parish's Von Nieda Park Task Force.
"We kept bugging them," she said, referring to city and county officials. "And they finally realized we weren't going to give up."
But she, too, felt discouraged at times. "We were promised light so many times," she said, "and it wasn't true."
That Camden County officials finally came up with the money for the lights has given her the confidence to try her hand at future projects, she said.
"I was so nervous at first, calling up Council members or speaking at meetings," she said. "But we're going to keep on making Camden a better place."
Camden City Council President Frank Moran was on the receiving end of the task force's persistence, and he described the youngsters as "wonderful" and "tenacious."
"Their efforts paid off," said Moran, who also heads the Camden County Parks Department. "They were the catalysts of this."
The lights, which sit on tall poles above the basketball courts, handball courts, and community center, are nearly vandal-proof, Moran said, because all their wires are buried deep underground, and their bulbs are shatterproof.
Said Freeholder Ian K. Leonard, who lives in the city: "We wanted to see it last."
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