Impact Stories

In Nov. 2021 after ten years of our evolving mission and impact, we changed our name to Gathering Ground. You may still find reference to our old name Creative New Jersey in posts created prior to Nov. 2021.

Collective Impact Conversations: moving towards actionable steps to continue the revitalization of Camden

Creative Camden Call to Collaboration

Blog by Michael D’Italia, Program Coordinator for Engaged Civic Learning for the Office of Civic Engagement at Rutgers University-Camden.

We met Michael during Creative Camden in March and May 2017. He led two breakout session during this Call to Collaboration: “How do we create sustainable employment for Camden?” and “Creating Sustainable Local Jobs to Build Community Wealth.” After Creative Camden, Michael, with the support of the Civic Engagement Office at Rutgers, sorted through the notes from the Call to Collaboration, identifying recurring themes and subject areas.

With this information on hand, the Office of Civic Engagement began hosting a series of conversations to identify some tangible actions that the community can take together to address the opportunities and challenges that presently exist in Camden. Creative Camden participants and Host Team members have helped with outreach, and the first conversation on addressing hunger and homelessness had over 50 participants.

In this blog, Mike tells us a little bit more about the purpose of the Collective Impact Conversation Series and how this idea came about. He also shares the outcomes from the first conversation hosted in November and the topics that will be explored during the following meetings.


Building off the momentum generated at 2017’s Creative Camden event, the Office of Civic Engagement at Rutgers University–Camden will be hosting a series of monthly Collective Impact Conversations during the 2017-18 academic year.  The purpose of the Collective Impact Conversations series is to convene a group of diverse stakeholders around specific issue areas in order to identify collaborative strategies by which Camden residents, local community and non-profit organizations, and Rutgers–Camden students, staff, and faculty can work together to create positive change in the city.  The Office of Civic Engagement intends to use the feedback and ideas shared in these conversations to shape its own strategic vision for civic engagement in 2018-19, as well as the development of a campus-wide civic action plan.

Michael D’Italia sharing his ideas at Creative Camden

The idea for the Collective Impact Conversations came about in the wake of Creative Camden, as staff from the Office of Civic Engagement wrestled with how to best invest its resources to drive progress on the vision crafted by Creative Camden participants.  Recognizing the value of its role as a convener, the Office of Civic Engagement decided to create space for these partners to continue to meet for the purpose of identifying common concerns and potential opportunities which could be capitalized on to increase coordination, planning, and collective impact across the city.

The first Collective Impact Conversation, focusing on hunger and homelessness, was held on the Rutgers–Camden campus on Tuesday, November 14th.  Fifty-seven people representing a host of different non-profit organizations, municipal offices, faith-based organizations, and other groups participated in the event, almost double the amount originally anticipated.  In this conversation, three important topics manifested as priorities among those gathered:

  • The need for a centrally located “one-stop” site where individuals in need could receive comprehensive access to services;
  • The desire to more effectively communicate and share resources and services between government, non-profit, faith-based, and grassroots organizations working with vulnerable individuals;
  • The opportunity for these different groups to participate in collective advocacy around factors that contribute to hunger and homelessness such as mental illness, addiction, and unemployment.

Moving forward, the Office of Civic Engagement will work with conversation participants and Rutgers-Camden faculty, staff, and students to explore how to potentially respond to these priorities, while also convening further Collective Impact Conversations around the following topics:

Collective Conversations flyer

December 12 Health and Wellness
January 9 Economic Development
February 13 K-12 Education and College Access
March 13 Workforce Development
April 10 Youth Empowerment
May 8 Arts and Culture

All conversations will be held from 12:00-2:00 PM in the South ABC conference room in the Rutgers University–Camden Campus Center.  If you would like to register to attend our upcoming conversation on health and wellness, you may do so here.

It is the hope of the Office of Civic Engagement that, as these Collective Impact Conversations continue, new ideas will be created that increase collaboration and effectiveness among organizations and institutions working in Camden, empower local residents to inform and participate in that work, and meaningfully engage the diverse resources of the Rutgers–Camden campus to make a tangible, sustainable impact.

If you would be interested in learning more about or participating in Rutgers–Camden’s Collective Impact conversations or the work of the Office of Civic Engagement, please contact Michael D’Italia, program coordinator for engaged civic learning, at michael.ditalia@camden.rutgers.edu.


Michael D’Italia is the Program Coordinator for Engaged Civic Learning for the Office of Civic Engagement at Rutgers University-Camden.  Working with a network of university faculty and grassroots, non-profit, and government organizations, he develops meaningful, mutually-beneficial partnerships between diverse groups that create positive transformation in the local community.  Coming to Rutgers with more than a decade of experience working with non-profit and faith-based organizations, Michael is passionate about empowering individuals to act as agents of change and strives to help others to recognize the unique contributions that they have to share to make the world around them a better place.

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“What an energizing and enlightening event! It was so wonderful to convene with recovery partners across the state to reflect on lessons learned. When we join forces and find a common voice, we are so much stronger and more effective. I look forward to being part of this movement to make meaningful changes which will positively impact the future of response and recovery in NJ.”

– Kelly Higgs – Former Executive Director of NJVOAD (statewide)

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