This year, Cape Bank reached a major milestone as it celebrated 90 years as a community bank - providing banking services to professionals and individuals in Atlantic and Cape May counties since 1923.

On March 21, the bank invited community members to celebrate the grand opening of its newly extended Atlantic City offices and to unveil "Boardwalk Community," a mural created by artists from Atlantic City High School's Community Arts Club.

"The stars of the show tonight are the kids," said Larry Morier, Cape Bank senior vice president and regional manager. "This isn't about the bank."

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That night, a blue curtain dropped to reveal an 18-by-8-foot, brightly colored mural, spanning the wall opposite the teller's desk. The students' work, they said, was created as an abstract representation of the Boardwalk, the surrounding beach and the city's residents - rather than a realistic portrayal - in order to include more of the community.

Nine CAC members were in attendance, ready to reveal the work they spent months to create.

"I am excited to see (everyone's) reaction," said Amy Hua, 17, head artist and president of the CAC, moments before the reveal. "I hope that they enjoy it."

Located at the corner of Pacific and New York avenues, the Atlantic City location was functioning as one of 15 Cape Bank branches. As the Atlantic City property grew to house 40 relocated employees and two additional divisions - previously located in Linwood and Cape May - the bank took the opportunity to commission the CAC to create the mural as a gift to the community.

Beginning last October, about 15 students met weekly to prepare, sketch and paint their creation, which included beachgoers, multicultural storefronts, and the iconic Boardwalk.

"The process is like the one used in the Philadelphia Mural Program, using non-woven interfacing and acrylic gel medium to fuse with the background painting," said Dr. Jennifer Pullman, the school's art teacher and CAC coordinator.

Small groups of students would meet for several consecutive Saturdays to begin its installation, only with Hurricane Sandy to disrupt the project less than a month in.

The grand opening allowed Pullman the chance to thank Cape Bank for allowing her students the life-changing experience, as the art project unexpectedly became a form of therapy after the hurricane.

The CAC, a voluntary after-school program, has made several other artistic contributions to the surrounding community, including a mural at Ventnor's CSURE Children's Park, but none that felt this significant, the group said.

"It was very healing," Pullman said to the audience. "We were all feeling a little bit frightened and … it caused us to reflect on what it means to be a community and come together … and that evolved in the art."

After Mayor Lorenzo Langford made an appearance to show his appreciation for Cape Bank and its expanded operations, Morier represented the bank's appreciation for the student work with a check for $1,500. The donation was made by the Cape Bank Charitable Foundation - a partnership including the Arc of Atlantic County, CASA, the Community Food Bank of New Jersey-Southern Branch and Gilda's Club of South Jersey.

Pullman said the check will help the students to "enrich this community now and for here on out," through extra art supplies and group trips.

The art teacher praised Hua and two other group members, Xianna Kuang, 17, and Qi Qi Chen,17, for their efforts. "They didn't miss one Saturday," she said.

Morier, speaking on behalf of Cape Bank CEO Michael Devlin, saw the donation to the CAC as an extension of what the bank stands for.

"Our role as a bank doesn't just stop after our daily transactions. We all live and work here. We all like to think that not only as the bank itself, but personally that we should give back," he said. "That's the difference of being a community bank. It's very personal to us all."

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