Third Annual Project 76 Day Revitalizes Camden Children's Garden

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

CAMDEN, NJ - As much as the 76ers preach defense, pace, and space on the court, they abide by another set of important principles when it comes to the business side of the franchise.

Bring energy, be innovative, collaborate, and root for your colleagues are just a few of the core values that the company values highly.

Also paramount in the eyes of the Sixers’ front office is that the club acts as an instrument for powerful, positive community engagement and change in the tri-state area. Perhaps no event captures the essence of this belief more than the team’s annual Project 76 Day, which, in its third year, was held Friday, June 2nd at the Camden Children’s Garden.

Entrance to Camden Children’s Garden, located along the Delaware River waterfront, about a five-minute walk from the 76ers Training Complex.

Joining forces with corporate partner Virtua, the South Jersey-based healthcare system, the Sixers dispatched a group of over 250 employees to the Children’s Garden, where, on a gorgeous, 75-degree day, time was volunteered to spruce up the facility. The garden sits adjacent to the popular Adventure Aquarium, and draws thousands of visitors during the spring and summer seasons. 

Sixers and Virtua employees touch up the main plaza at the Camden Children’s Garden. 

Throughout Friday morning and well into the afternoon, Sixers staff members, and their Virtua counterparts, put plenty of paint brushes, shovels, and hand drills to use. By the middle of the day, the fruits of their labor started to appear, the smell of paint, soil, and wood fresh in the air.

A volunteer works in the Picnic Garden area of the Camden Children’s Garden.

Gardens were freed of their weeds, flower beds built, fences restored, and park benches installed.

A new bench for one of the Secret Gardens at the Camden Children’s Garden.

As Sixers Chief Executive Officer Scott O’Neil put it, initiatives like the one the team undertook Friday are “in our DNA.” 

“The Sixers organization is about giving back, it’s about service, it’s about making a difference in the world,” he said. “That comes all the way from the top. That is a [managing owner] Josh Harris and [co-managing owner] David Blitzer mandate - take advantage of the platform you have, and make the world better.”

Scott O’Neil helps paint one of the platforms surrounding the Camden Children’s Garden Arrow River Train.

The above sentiment expressed by O’Neil was one shared by several of his fellow volunteers.

"Today is one of my favorite days of the year,” said Chris Heck, the Sixers’ Chief Sales and Marketing Officer. “Working with Virtua and their staff in Camden shows us all how we can actually make a difference in the community and create change." 

Chris Heck, center, checks in on a few Sixers employees during the third annual Project 76 Day.

Upon being hired by the Sixers, all employees pledge to commit 76 hours of their time towards community service on a yearly basis. With this spirit in mind, the idea to help revitalize the Camden Children’s Garden was conceived.

“It’s something I’m most proud of, more than anything we do,” O’Neil said of the Sixers’ Project 76 campaign. 

A tent full of Sixers and Virtua volunteers finish up up their lunch break.

In alignment with the Sixers, Virtua, led by Chief Executive Officer Richard Miller, views itself as a “community organization.”

“It’s very important that we’re out and involved in the community, and we’re out consistently,” said Miller, a lifelong Sixers fan. “What’s nice is to have the Sixers as a partner in community events like this. The community, especially the city of Camden, where the kids really need this type of support, it’s great.” 

Richard Miller, left, and Scott O’Neil, right, take part in a commemorative concrete-laying ceremony marking Project 76 Day at the Camden Children’s Garden.

Michael Devlin founded the Camden Children’s Garden in 1999, and is now its Executive Director. Over the past two decades, he’s seen the garden assume an integral role in the Camden community. 

The site not only functions as a safe haven for local youth, but also anchors the city’s community garden network, which, Devlin said, uses vacant Camden lots to produce an estimated $2.3 million worth of fruits and vegetables annually. The Children’s Garden has devised educational and job-training programs, too.

“It means a lot,” said Devlin, expressing his appreciation for the support offered by the Sixers and Virtua. “This will help immediately, but also it helps enhance the garden’s reputation, to have your local entities support you.” 

Michael Devlin, second from left, poses for photos with Scott O’Neil, Richard Miller, local officials, and, of course, Franklin.

“We think of the Delaware Valley as our house, our playground, and our community, and our place to go serve,” O’Neil said. “To give back to an organization like Camden Children’s Garden that touches thousands of kids, and provides them a safe, beautiful place to learn and grow, that’s what we want to be a part of.

“We would drop everything and serve at at a dime, and we continue to do it.”

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