Women come in and out of Adelaide's Place, a drop-in center in the Ducktown section of Atlantic City, all day long. Some are homeless women looking for a place to make a phone call, do laundry, watch a movie, or just relax in companionship with other women.
Others are volunteers, bringing snacks to share, the all-important coffee, and friendly encouragement to keep trying to find housing and jobs.
The nonprofit is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary with a fundraising barbecue at Greate Bay Golf and Country Club in Somers Point, said Sister Patricia Prendergast, who founded it under the auspices of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, a Catholic religious order. But no proselytizing goes on there, she said.
"People come here from all faith backgrounds," Prendergast said. "We don't say how to pray."
Many volunteers, like Amelia DiCioccio, 74, of Atlantic City, bring snacks for "the ladies," as Adelaide's Place clients are called. She likes to cook and knit, so she shares what she makes, she said.
One recent afternoon, after dropping off a donation of snacks, drinks and cleaning supplies, DiCioccio helped two ladies do a jigsaw puzzle, as another homeless woman named Donna played classical and patriotic music on a piano in the main room.
Client Robin Vanderslice, 54, said she is back living at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission after finding a job and housing for about three months. "But the work situation was not as steady as I thought," she said, so she is back at the Mission. She has experience as a waitress, and is looking for that work again.
"They are great. They give us a safe haven," Vanderslice said of the staff and volunteers at Adelaide's Place, named for the French woman who started the Daughters of the Heart of Mary in 1749. "Plus, they love us, and we love them, too."
Maria Mandara, who also lives at the Mission, echoed her gratitude. "You can relax when you come here, and have a cup of coffee," she said. She is looking for office work, she said, and is hoping to work on an Associate's degree at Atlantic Cape Community College.
There are only two staff members at Adelaide's Place, Prendergast and Coordinator of Services Bridget DelGuercio Sarao, 42, of Hammonton. When DelGuercio Sarao got married in April, the ladies held a bridal tea for her, she said.
Homeless women are constantly being told by authorities where to go and what to do, so at Adelaide's Place they make their own decisions, Prendergast said. Most lend a hand making coffee, washing dishes and keeping things orderly, she said. "They all say it's so peaceful here."
About 25 women per day, most of whom live at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission or in rooming houses at night, use the center daily, she said. Some have mental health issues or addiction problems, and meet their caseworkers at the one-story house.
"I keep falling down because of my behavior," said Mary Finn, 53, who has lived in rooming houses and supervised housing with oversight to help her make good choices. But she is back at the Mission after losing that housing due to behavior problems caused by her mental illness, she said.
"I have been coming here five years," she said. "The nicest part (of having Adelaide's Place) is when you are walking the streets and bump into one of the girls you met here. You have a friendship companion."
Most of the women who have come to Adelaide's Place have connections to family or friends in the area, Prendergast said, even if they came to the resort from other parts of the state or region. They rely on the public transportation available in Atlantic City, she said, which is not as available in other parts of the area.
And some have lived here a long time before becoming homeless. One former client worked as a slot attendant at the Sands Casino Hotel for a long time, and lost her job when it closed several years ago, when she was 59. "She went through her savings," Prendergast said. "Then she came here."
She later moved to Baltimore to be close to family, and qualified for senior housing by that time, Prendergast said.
Prendergast, who grew up in Atlantic City, became a nun about 30 years ago. She said she had thought about it since her college days, "but I fought it for a while," she said.
While in graduate school at La Salle University in Philadelphia, where she got a degree in Theology and Ministry, she met some members of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary. The order does not allow its sisters to wear habits, and requires its nuns to blend in with the greater community.
It felt like a good match to her.
"I said, 'All right. I'll do it,'" she said, looking up at the sky with a big smile on her face.
Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:
Adelaide's Place Day Center for Women 10th Annual Bar-B-Que by Greate Bay, 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 2, at Greate Bay Country Club, 901 Mays Landing Road, Somers Point. Tickets $30 in advance and $35 at the door. Call 609-340-8816 or email
email@example.com for tickets and information.