ATLANTIC CITY — About 70 youths turned out to bid what they hope is a temporary goodbye to the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City’s Sovereign Avenue facility, which closed Thursday due to a shortage of funds and a surplus of kids to serve.
The more than 1,600 youths in the program will now all go to the main building on Pennsylvania Avenue. The club will consider reopening the facility in the Chelsea section — which serves between 70 and 100 kids on a given day — in September, Executive Director Mekos Denson said.
The kids were upbeat at Thursday’s “See You Later” party, which Unit Director Joyce Tilton said belied the mood since the closing was announced last Friday.
“We’ve been trying to keep it upbeat and positive and fun, but they’re quite upset about it,” Tilton said.
A loss in funding and a successful recruitment plan combined for a financial hit last year, Denson explained.
Government grants decreased by more than $211,000 last year, while daily use increased 62 percent, officials said, adding that membership is up by more than 500 students, from about 1,100 members in 2012. This increase forced the hiring of more staff, which stretched the group’s budgets thin.
Part of the bump was due to post-Hurricane Sandy problems that closed the city’s Police Athletic League for some time. But the main reason was a plan to recruit more youths, including providing transportation from select schools, along with a partnership with other youth-serving organizations and changing the hours of operation to accommodate teens, Denson said.
The club stays open until 9 p.m. and also has Saturday hours, “when kids need us most,” he said.
Now, the upgraded transportation program will help get kids from the closed Chelsea location to Pennsylvania Avenue.
While Denson said he’s confident this system will allow the group to continue serving its participants, some members are wary of the change. Twelve-year-old Thalia Lugo said Thursday she’s nervous about integrating with the students of the other facility.
“I’m devastated, because I love the club so much and I come here a lot,” Lugo said. “I will not have anywhere to go after school.”
Some smaller groups within each membership cluster will remain separate at the shared facility, but most will be consolidated, Tilton said.
For now, Denson said the group has begun brainstorming a strategic plan including fundraising and revised financial management to allow it to re-open the Sovereign Avenue facility in September. It also plans to lean on city officials and the group’s national leadership for help.
“We’ve got to look at this as an opportunity to build more awareness about the importance of youth in Atlantic City and the importance of having multiple facilities,” he said. “It’s going to take a community effort to make this happen.”
Meanwhile, the community can learn more about the club through the website at acbgc.org or calling 609-347-2697. The South Jersey Men R’ Cookin’ event held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. next Thursday also benefits the club. Tickets are $60 and can be purchased through the website.
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