A group of Cape May County women "superheroes" recently gathered in Wildwood to rally in support of the county's at-risk teenagers.

They were the members and supporters of Cape May County's Women of Wonder League, or WOW, and their mission was to raise funding to help send students from Cape May County's alternative high school, Cape Educational COMPACT, to college.

COMPACT has a long-standing relationship with Atlantic Cape Community College's Cape May County Campus, which allows the high school's students to take courses at ACCC during their junior and senior years. Budget cuts, however, have eroded the support of this partnership in recent years. Many COMPACT students also live under the poverty line, and high school students aren't qualified to apply for financial assistance for college courses, said Tracey Stabb, COMPACT principal. The WOW League was formed last year to increase awareness of this issue - and all that COMPACT does for its students - and to rally support. WOW targets professional women from the county, including government officials, educators and business leaders. Its organizers are Patricia Gentile, dean of Atlantic Cape Community College's Cape May County Campus, Maria Kellett, the director of major gifts at ACCC, Stabb said.

"The 'Women of Wonder' theme plays into the idea that all woman have struggles and obstacles they must overcome in life," Gentile said. "So the goal is for the women to find their inner superheroes and inspire the students to find their inner superheroes."

WOW's second annual meeting took place Oct. 24. Attendees were encouraged to dress the part of a superhero - and many did - but more importantly, to act the part of a superhero by donating to the cause. An ACCC college credit costs $103 and the average course is three credits. Last year's inaugural WOW event raised $8,300.

"We can't let school budget crunches deny our most at-risk and poor children the opportunity to flourish and to realize their American dream," said Gentile, who was dressed as Wonder Woman. "When these COMPACT students are given the opportunity to transform their lives through attending college, they are very successful at our college."

The WOW event also was an opportunity to honor one special Women of Wonder for her commitment to COMPACT's students. This year's award honoree was Martina Singleton, the sexual assault direct services and prevention coordinator at Cape May County's Coalition Against Rape and Abuse, or CARA. In her role at CARA, Singleton works closely with the kids at COMPACT, many of whom are victims of rape or abuse. She holds one-on-one counseling and group sessions with its students and acts as a mentor and support system for the kids, even during her off-work hours.

Singleton, who is a survivor of sexual assault, said she believes working with COMPACT is her calling and she doesn't consider it work.

"My heart is so much into what I'm doing here that I don't need to be honored," she said.

Singleton said that in a way, the COMPACT students also help her.

"I am a survivor, yes, but I survive on a daily basis," she said. "When I walk into that school and I'm able to help those kids, it gives me a sense of power. They are me. That quiet, closed-off little girl who didn't have a voice and thought that no one wanted to hear me or that no one would understand. So I didn't express anything." Singleton said.

Stabb said COMPACT doesn't have an expensive chemistry lab or a fancy library, or even a gymnasium. But it serves a greater purpose.

"It's a small school with a big heart," she said.

Stabb said COMPACT's students have faced many obstacles in their lives. Most have very low self-esteem, many are poor, come from broken homes, have mental issues or learning disorders, or are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.

Nonetheless, they have great potential.

"COMPACT students are disaffected," she said. "They turned off to education a while ago.

"We can't tell them they are bright or have potential. We have to show them by placing them in college courses. Only then will they see it."

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