Camden, N.J. — Camden has offered Brandon Rodriguez some harsh life lessons and some surprising opportunities.

Rodriguez’s parents divorced when he was 5, leaving his mother Sharmaine to raise three kids on her own in one of America’s most distressed and dangerous cities. To pay the bills, “she worked all day” and held down multiple jobs, he said.

Before they moved into a bigger place two years ago, the family lived in a cramped two-bedroom apartment in a rough neighborhood. Rodriguez kept his belongings in plastic bins stacked in the hallway and slept on the couch or the floor.

“We had bullet holes in our front door,” he said. “When you live in an environment like that, you tend to just ignore it. Only then can you work to pursue something better.”

For Rodriguez, 20, that’s exactly what he did.

Last summer, he began a three-month training program with Hopeworks ‘N Camden, a not-for-profit organization

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