Afternoons are a whirlwind of activity at the New York Avenue Family Success Center in Atlantic City.
When school lets out, the center begins to fill with students from kindergarten through eighth grade looking for a safe haven to engage in activities, get help with homework or enjoy a hot meal.
"It's definitely our busiest, and loudest, time of day," said longtime director Rosalind Norrell-Nance, who shows as much positive energy as the youth under her care when she talks about the role of the center in the community.
Located at the school at 411 N. New York Ave., the center is one of four school-based sites offering after-school and community outreach programs operating under the umbrella of AtlantiCare Family Success Centers in Atlantic City.
The centers have served the community for more than 18 years. More than 600 families and 311 students passed through the doors last year seeking their services.
"Our whole purpose is to be a one-stop place where any community resident can go for family support, information or services," Norrell-Nance said.
Besides providing after-school activities, Family Success Centers of Atlantic City offer a wide range of programs and services for residents of all ages by partnering with local and state governments, nonprofits, educational institutions and community businesses.
"Basically, we're here to assist and celebrate the whole person," Norrell-Nance said. "We want the community to come to us as a resource."
The staff and trained counselors have access to family health services information and referrals, life skills training, parent education and workshops and activities for whatever type of need they have, she said.
"Last week, I had an individual who came in and hasn't had insulin since November," Norrell-Nance said. "We made arrangements to not only get him his medication, but made an appointment for him to see a health care provider."
Quite often, she said, someone will come in for one thing and the staff recognizes other issues that need to be addressed and can refer that person to the services they need.
The after-school program is one of the Family Success Center's largest services to the community.
Norrell-Nance said there is a constantly growing need for after-school programs.
"For one thing, there is an increase in gang activity and violence in the community, and this provides a place for children to go after school," she said, adding that the center has developed community service and anti-violence programs to help children.
The after-school programs give peace of mind to working parents who know their children are engaging in positive activities in a safe environment, she said. And the programs are free for Atlantic City students.
Through the "School Zone" program, students can engage in academic enrichment in art, science, music and design, or they can participate in recreation and sports activities and special events. There are five different clubs that meet during the hours of 3:45 to 5 p.m., identified as the "prime time" when school children are most vulnerable to negative peer pressure.
Norrell-Nance said the center has "a very good relationship" with the Atlantic City public school district, and the state acknowledged that cooperative relationship by naming the FSC as one of 15 promising programs in the state for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.
Recently, FSC worked with the school district to start a dinner program for children.
"We become aware that hunger is a major issue for many school-age children. Oftentimes, lunch was the last full meal of the day, and children weren't eating again until the free breakfast program in the schools," Norrell-Nance said. "Now, these children get a hot meal to carry them through the night."
The FSC can assist parents and families as well. Norrell-Nance said maybe parents need help trying to motivate their children to do better in school. Or they might be having difficulty paying rent, or maybe they are victims of domestic violence.
Grandparents raising families can get help through parenting classes or get budget and finance information. Nutrition awareness, probation counseling, career information, life skill programs, anger management and counseling are some other types of services FSC can provide.
"Everybody has pitfalls in life. We can help navigate those situations by providing coping skills and assistance," she said.
The New York Avenue FSC is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and residents are encouraged to call or stop by to learn of their services.
Other AtlantiCare Family Success Center locations in Atlantic City are at the Dr. Martin Luther King Center, 1700 Marmora Ave.; Uptown Complex Center, 323 Madison Ave.; and Atlantic City High School, East Campus, 711 N. Indiana Ave.
Family Success Centers are a cooperative effort of Family Service Association, Atlantic County government and the state Division of Children and Families. Additional Family Success Centers are located in Galloway Township, Egg Harbor Township and Hammonton.
For more information about programs or services at FSC, contact Adele Polk, Volunteer Coordinator, at 609-441-0102.
Contact Lucia C. Drake: