Fern and Larry Spruill have been helping young men and women in the Princeton community for more than 15 years.
Helping others, as well as social justice, have been a part of their lives since they were both young.
Through the years, the husband and wife duo have built a successful youth mentoring program that helps young men and woman of color from the ages of 11-18 achieve academic, social and personal goals.
“We were focused on doing this for the community and not expecting to have the spotlight on us. I used to, in fact, keep the spotlight off of us because I did not want to disturb what we were doing,” Fern Spruill said. “This was so outside my comfort zone and it was a series of events that brought me out here to work with the community.”
Larry Spruill explained that it is a bit awkward to receive accolades for community service.
“People are giving us awards for what, doing the right thing; for doing what we said we would do and enjoy doing it?” Larry Spruill said. “This is just who I am, and what makes this easy is the people who we have been able to work with us all along the way. From the mayor, to Princeton University, the schools in town and the parents – the relationships have been key. This community is tremendous.”
The program the Spruill’s initiated is called Committed and Faithful Princetonians. It began in 2004 as Committed Princetonians, at that time, and helped young people of color achieve goals and experiences.
“When my husband started with his peers at Committed Princetonians, we (women) kept trying to fit in,” Fern Spruill said. “After a fundraising dance event where two girls got into a situation it was realized that girls need a group too. So, we ended up merging and the commitment level is so high.”
Fern and Larry Spruill were recently awarded the Leslie “Bud” Vivian Award for Community Service from the Princeton Area Community Foundation. The award recognizes commitment to the Princeton community.
Named after Leslie “Bud” Vivian, the annual award was created in honor of the late woman who was the longtime director of Community and Regional Affairs at Princeton University, who was committed to the Princeton community, according to the Princeton Area Community Foundation’s website.
The couple has built a trust with so many of the young men and women that are a part of the program. The two even prefer to be called Uncle Larry and Aunt Fern.
“I have achieved more than I have dreamed of and there is even more achievement we could get. We have had more children go off to college and not boomerang – where they come back in couple months after [leaving],” Fern Spruill said. “We have them understand the fundamentals of life. We work with them socially and with family units.”
Larry Spruill said that the program has been so important to the community and to him and Fern Spruill.
“We have had young men and women come back and seeing them as professional members of society is a great feeling. We are just so happy to be here and to have been able to help them anyway we could,” he said. “The young men and women put the work in and has meant a lot to us.”
Larry Spruill said he does not want the program’s achievement to stop were they are now but instead continue to grow.
“I want to see everyone of our children in our community become successful members of our society; a lot of them will. Give them a lot time, a lot of love and make them feel like they are a part of something,” he said. “We make sure to meet with our kids one-on-one to help them when we can. They can always call us and we will answer.”
The young men and women of color involved in the program learn how they can help themselves up and take care of themselves through various outlets provided by the Spruills.
The program involves dinners, discussions, community service projects, inspirational speakers and field trips.
“The biggest and most important part of starting this program was convincing Princeton that the need was there, but we were over looking it. We have the same inner city issues here in Princeton that we have in a city like Camden, we just do not talk about it,” Fern said. “We have one unique thing going for us that most other places don’t and that is resources.”
Both Larry and Fern Spruill are still heavily involved with the program, but recently have taken a step back from the leadership roles. They will still oversee the programs execution.