The nonprofit Hope for Atlantic City, founded in 2011, wants to help restore community and heal the racial divide in the resort.
"We want to do community development from the inside out," said Executive Director David Cohen, 35, of Margate.
The group plans to bring together people of all backgrounds to improve both housing and human relationships that are so important to quality of life.
"We want to be part of the neighborhood," Cohen said. "Safety and security should not be a luxury for people."
That means having a physical base in Atlantic City, and this summer the group took a big step towards that goal. It purchased a vacant 1,800 square-foot house on Drexel Av enue between N. South Carolina and N. Tennessee avenues, and started to rehabilitate it with the help of volunteers from all over the East Coast. It will be a bunkhouse where future volunteers will stay, said Board of Directors President Ray Costello, of Egg Harbor Township, a mortgage broker who also has worked in roofing and siding.
Hope for A.C. also has support from local residents.
"The (Class of 2012) at Atlantic City High School chose us as their senior project, and raised $3,700 for us," said Cohen, who also plans to move to Atlantic City, preferably to one of the target neighborhoods around Buzby Village in the Chelsea section, or the Barclay Arms Apartments in Back Maryland, he said. Hope for A.C. was also one of four groups that shared about $3,000 from the Atlantic City Marathon Race Series' Inaugural April Fools Half Marathon.
The organization grew out of work by members in the 3-year-old New City Fellowship in Atlantic City, a member congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America that is focused on cross-cultural cooperation. But it is a separate organization.
The group gets many volunteers from its contacts within the Presbyterian Church. Recently 60 people came from Mitchell Road Presbyterian Church in Greenville, S.C.; and the following week about 30 people came from Covenant Presbyterian in Cherry Hill, and Calvary Presbyterian in Baltimore.
Volunteers also have helped paint the Boys and Girls Club on Sovereign Avenue, run Bible study groups for kids in the Back Maryland neighborhood and have taken kids from Buzby Village to the beach.
"They've done so much more than just paint," said Joyce Tilton, unit director of the Sovereign Avenue Boys and Girls Club in Atlantic City. She said three groups of Hope for A.C. volunteers, which included teenagers as well as adults who are professional contractors, have been working there this summer. "They've knocked down walls and fixed ceilings, and replaced ceiling tiles. I feel like I'm in an episode of 'Extreme Home Makeover.'"
Atlantic City's Darryll "Skip" Ramsey, 30, is also on the board of directors. He teaches fifth grade at Pleasantville's North Main Street School, and is the youth pastor at Dunamis Ministries in Pleasantville. He got involved through prayer and strategy meetings between his church and New City, he said.
While love of God is the main motive for many of the organizers, people of all faiths and beliefs are welcome in Hope for A.C., said one of the founders and pastor at New City, Rev. Santo Garofalo, of Ventnor.
Katie Fourqurean, a social worker in the Atlantic City schools system and Hope for Atlantic City board member, said the group has so far raised $32,000 towards the builidng. It must raise another $22,000 by the end of next June, she said.
"We're taking it down to the studs. The neighbors have thanked us. It's been vacant for years and years," she said. "One older woman who lives in a retirement home across the way brought soda for the kids who were volunteering. She was so happy."
The group hopes to use volunteers for skilled labor such as carpentry, plumbing and electric wiring, when it starts the rebuilding process, she said.
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