Just more than a week after the soft opening of the Boys and Girls Club Atlantic City Chelsea unit, Executive Director Mekos Denson, the unit's director, Joyce Tilton, and director of operations Hudson Lee gathered at a table on the second floor-and soon to be renovated teen space.

Downstairs, more than 40 children made use of their recently donated foosball and table games. Several gathered around the kitchen's large countertop to prepare whole wheat banana waffles as a part of the club's Healthy Habits program.

And as the smells of the afternoon snack crept to the top floor of the Sovereign Avenue location, the three staff members expressed the importance of being able to open their doors again.

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Located just feet from the bay, the facility was damaged severely by Hurricane Sandy. The storm came and went, leaving behind damaged ceilings and a couple of feet of water damage, putting the location out of commission for four months - devastating for both members and staff.

"You really realize how much this facility plays such a role in our kids' lives," Lee said.

"Be patient, it's coming, it's coming," he recalled telling them continually in the weeks leading to the reopening.

"For me, (being closed) was hard, because I am so used to seeing these kids all the time," Tilton said. "I've missed the kids."

Before the storm hit, the staff experienced a significant increase in attendance and new developments to its facility, including a recent paint job, carpets, and a year-old full kitchen, donated by Art Handler's Appliance Center of Pleasantville.

In October, average daily attendance reached 83 children, said Tilton, of Mays Landing. Some, but not all, of the children were bused to the club's first location on Pennsylvania Avenue after the hurricane.

Roman Cabanas, 12, said he would spend time at the other site on occasion, but its distance from his home deterred him most of the time.

On a recent Thursday after school, Roman was back, playing card games with a friend and fellow club member. To be back, he said, is "incredible."

Both Tilton and Lee noticed that it was the club members - some who stay at the club after school until 9 p.m. - and the support of their parents that helped the transition to reopen run smoothly.

"(They were the ones who) stood out in the middle of gusty winds on the beach to sandbag this club," Tilton said. The club members were also the first to notify Tilton of the site's damage, she said.

Donations from community partners helped them with their renovations.

Art Handler's Appliance Center general manager Brian Finkelstein said the company was happy to help give back, even after donating the same materials a year ago.

Two refrigerators, a gas range, microwave oven, and dishwasher were delivered in the first few days of March, he said: "It was just about making sure that they had the stuff that they needed."

Although the transition is still a work in progress, the staff is hopeful for the coming months, expecting attendance to increase.

Standing in one workroom overlooking the water, Tilton outlined with her hands where a computer lab is to be installed.

"We're fortunate enough to have a lot of dedicated club members as well as dedicated parents that really believe in what we are doing," Lee said.

This summer, the Sovereign Avenue location will have its first-ever summer camp for children ages 5-13, beginning in July. Running eight weeks, the camp will provide T-shirts, lunch and several planned trips.

To donate to the Boys and Girls Club Atlantic City or for more information, call 609-345-0781 or see acbgc.org.

Contact Caitlin Honan:


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