Rebecca Turygan first got involved with the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey when a friend who worked there, Amanda McGowan, asked her to be part of the Celebrity Date Auction.

She had a good time and liked the idea of combining fun with a good cause. Now the 23-year-old from Mullica Township is now on the steering committee for the United Way's Atlantic Cape Community Emerging Leaders group, or ACCEL, which works to host events geared toward a younger crowd of under 45-year-olds.

"We try to have events that are like going out with friends, but also raising money for the United Way," Turygan said.

McGowan, director of Community Initiatives for the United Way, said young adults, especially those with families, care about their communities, but have less time to get involved in fundraising and service activities. ACCEL works to develop events that will have a social, community and even professional benefit to participants.

"The point of the group is to engage the younger generation," she said.

The March date auction at Tango's Lounge at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City included a dinner at Luke Palladino's and a spa day at Elizabeth Arden, and raised almost $4,000. The group also sponsors a Halloween event for kids, collecting gently used and new costumes for the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City and hosting a party there.

The next event is linked to Mother's Day, and is a food tasting at the Viking Cooking School at Harrah's Resort from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 9. Chef Chris Scarduzio will preside over an evening of small plates and cocktails. The cost is $30 per person.

Anthony Frabbiele, 35, vice president of Hotel Operations at Harrah's is chairman of ACCEL and has been involved since 2007. He said he was looking for a way to be active in the community that also had a social component.

"It's a way to get young professionals interested in the community," he said. "And it's an opportunity to interact with other professionals and raise money for the United Way."

Frabbiele said the group initially charged a $500 contribution fee, but that proved too expensive for many young people and is no longer required. Instead the focus is on gaining membership and participation.

Vice chairwoman Deanna Frennekohl, 25, lives in Marmora but works in Philadelphia. She said ACCEL is a way for her to contribute to her community and also interact socially and professionally with others her age in southern New Jersey.

"It is harder for me to stay connected because I commute to work," Frennekohl said. "This is a way to be involved."

Lean Schwartz, 24, of Egg Harbor Township, got involved after McGowan, who is also her sister, told her about the impact the group was having on the community.

"Events like the Date Auction appeal to younger audience because they are able to do good and socialize at the same time," she said.

Greg Saher, 30, of Absecon, said unlike large cities, there aren't large numbers of young professionals concentrated in the Atlantic City area. ACCEL provides a way to network.

Saher, who works at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority in Egg Harbor Township with Turygen, said he would like the group to sponsor some summer events in Atlantic City to also help promote the city.

The group has also discussed family-oriented events that could include children so community involvement could become a family activity.

"It is hard for young families," Saher said. "But kids love to help. When the ACUA sponsors cleanups we always get groups of kids."

Anyone interested in joining ACCEL can contact Amanda McGowan at 609-404-4483, ext. 19

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241

To join ACCEL

Contact Amanda McGowan at 609-404-4483, ext. 19