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“There is no greater life than knowing you helped a fellow human being.” – Russell Berrie, 1933-2002

On Friday, May 4th, surrounded by his family and friends, Benigno (Pino) Rodriguez – the Founder and Director of the Camden Block Supporter Initiative – accepted a Russ Berrie Making a Difference Award from the Russell Berrie Foundation! He was one of over 240 nominees, and one of only 11 chosen honorees. “I am beside myself. This is absolutely an amazing feeling,” he explained on Friday in excitement. “This award is about empowering others, changing mindsets, and creating real results NOW,” he added, “Through the Block Supporter Initiative, we are taking the “hood” out of neighborhood and creating a better quality of life for our children and families in Camden.”

Pino was nominated by Betsy Clifford and Jessica Franzini of Camden Lutheran Housing, Inc., where he is now employed full-time. However, Pino’s original Block Supporter efforts were completely volunteer, with absolutely no grant funding or pay, for 11 years. It all started in 2004, when he was inspired by his children Alexander and Crystal to create a “Block Supporter” concept to make their block clean and safe. Watch the video here. Now, 14 years later, Pino is bringing that same model to North Camden, where over 550 households are Block Supporters.

On Friday, as Pino accepted his award, Alex and Crystal stood proudly in the audience, anxious to congratulate their father. “He’s always been committed 100% to everything he does. We’ve always known it, and now everyone else does too,” said Crystal.

Through tears of joy, Pino explained, “I want to congratulate all of the honorees and nominees. I’m so inspired by everything they are doing. Thank you so much to the Russell Berrie Foundation for this Making a Difference Award – it means everything to me, and it will take the Block Supporter Initiative to the next level!”

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