Camden, N.J. – Jameka Walker, Executive Director of Catholic Partnership Schools (CPS), has been named a finalist for the 2023 Opus Prize, an annual faith-based humanitarian award that recognizes social entrepreneurship. The 2023 Prize, which comes with $1 million to the winner’s organization, will be awarded at Villanova University on November 9, 2023.
Walker was named a finalist for her groundbreaking work in serving students of all faiths in Camden, N.J., one of the nation’s most impoverished cities.
CPS is a network of five Pre-K through 8th-grade schools. Walker has been instrumental in advancing CPS' mission in a city that presents enormous challenges for students. Under her leadership, CPS students enjoy a high school graduation rate of 99 percent and a college enrollment rate of 87 percent. High school graduation rates in Camden hover around 60 percent.
“This is a tremendous testament to Jameka and her leadership, impact and respect of the community,” said Denise V. Monahan, Chair of the CPS Board of Trustees and a Senior Vice President at M&T Bank. “It is quite an amazing honor, a testament to the impact a CPS education provides, and the hope Jameka instills and leads for our students, families, and community.”
Walker, who grew up in New England, received a high-quality education – made possible, she says, by the zip code she was fortunate enough to live in. Passionate in her belief that every child – no matter where they live – should have access to quality education, she became a teacher.
She was also drawn to the field after witnessing a lack of diversity in the inner-city Catholic school her children attended. “Although 98 percent of the students in that school were of color, there were no teachers of color,” she recalled.
Her first teaching assignment was in North Philadelphia. Despite the lack of financial resources confronting most families, Walker was struck by the resilience and desire to rise from poverty that characterized most of her students. During her 10-year tenure, her students excelled academically and came to value hard work and education. Many went on to college and reversed their impoverished beginnings.
She was recruited to join CPS seven years ago. She began as an Instructional Coach and was named Executive Director in 2021.
Walker credits her family – and particularly her grandparents – for instilling in her an obligation to share her God-given gifts with others.
“I am so honored to be recognized by the Opus Foundation,” she said. “But this recognition rightfully belongs to the entire team of educators and staff at Catholic Partnership Schools. We are passionate in our shared belief that every child is deserving of a high-quality education and that poverty should not be a barrier to that. We look forward to continuing to provide a pathway of hope and success for the children of the Camden region.”
Members of the Villanova University community led the process to identify the recipient pool for this year’s prize. In addition to the $1 million for first place, the two runners-up will each receive $100,000. Finalists for the Opus Prize are selected for their work in championing faith-filled change and their efforts to solve the world’s most persistent social issues.
In February 2023, Villanova invited 11 jurors to select the three finalists from the pool of nominations. The other two finalists are Kristin Schroeder, MD MPH, co-founder of the International Cancer Care and Research Excellence Foundation (iCCARE), and Bishop Paride Taban, founder of South Sudan’s Holy Trinity Peace Village Kuron.
“The 2023 Opus Prize finalists have had a remarkable and lasting impact in the communities they serve,” said University President the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, and chair of the Opus Prize jury. “Their unwavering commitment to improving the human condition, each in their own ways, is a testament to the boundless potential of compassion in action.”
2023 Opus Prize Winner Announcement
Each year, the Opus Foundation partners with a Catholic university to oversee the process of identifying nominees, selecting finalists, participating in site visits, planning the awards week, and, most importantly, inspiring others to ignite change in their respective work and organizations. The 2023 Opus Prize, hosted by Villanova University, is centered around the theme of “Awakening Restless Hearts,” and will be celebrated during Opus Prize Week on Villanova’s campus November 6-9. 2023 Opus Prize jury members include leaders from the Greater Philadelphia arts, business, non-profit, faith and civic communities.
For more information on the 2023 Opus Prize, please visit the Villanova University Opus Prize website - www.villanova.edu/university/opus-prize
About Catholic Partnership Schools: CPS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit committed to strengthening and sustaining the educational excellence of the Catholic, Pre-K through 8th grade schools that serve the children of Camden. The network of four Partnership schools - Holy Name, Sacred Heart, St. Cecilia, St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral, and the Community Learning Campus and Dual Language Pre-K at St. Anthony’s - nurtures our more than 860 students by grounding them in faith and values. Partnership schools have been serving Camden’s children for more than a century, tracing their history back to the first students at St. Joseph who were taught in a home in 1894.
About The Opus Prize Foundation: The Opus Prize Foundation is a private and independent nonprofit foundation. Established in 1994 by the founding chairman of earlier Opus Companies, the Opus Prize Foundation is a self-sufficient foundation independent from The Opus Group. The foundation selects universities as partners to organize and execute the Opus Prize selection process and award ceremony. Through these partnerships, students are challenged to think globally and inspired to live lives of service. For more, visit www.opusprize.org
About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit www.villanova.edu
2824 River Road, Camden, NJ 08105 │ (856) 966-6791 │ www.catholicpartnershipschools.org