National Night Out may be one night for most, but a new program being launched in Atlantic City will make sure the focus stays on resolving problems for the next year.
Project 365 will partner the civic associations in the city's six wards with the faith-based community to work toward solutions to what's plaguing each area.
From crime to drainage issues to programs for the city's youth, the civic association meetings have offered a wealth of ideas about what needs to be done, said Bishop Robert F. Hargrove, who is leading the charge.
"National Night Out is a staple event that takes place every year," he said. "But you don't just go home and fold your arms and say, 'We had a good time.' We're going to do something positive every day for the next 365 days."
The program will be announced at tonight's National Night Out in Atlantic City, which runs from 5 to 8 p.m. at Center City Park, 1200 Atlantic Ave. Pleasantville will also hear about the program, which will move there next.
"We plan to duplicate these efforts in Pleasantville," Hargrove said.
The project is part of a new group approach to tackling problems in Atlantic City and Pleasantville. The former Stop the Violence of Atlantic County was reborn as the Coalition for a Safe Community this year, and is a big part of the newly formed Atlantic City-Pleasantville Municipal Planning Board, which brings entities including law enforcement, religious leaders and political leaders together to solve problems. Richard Stockton College is the university sponsor.
"We always want to make sure Atlantic City and Pleasantville are working together," said Marissa Levy, associate criminology professor at Stockton, who has been gathering data for the planning board's efforts. "If we don't fix the problems in both cities, it's going to be difficult to fix the problems in either city."
Each ward is presenting the three top problems in those neighborhoods. With the help of 18 churches in the city and a mosque, work will be done. Stockton intern Gloria Hamlett - an Atlantic City resident for about 20 years - will assist with the program.
Three religious leaders will attend each civic association's meeting, helping find what the specific problems are and working toward solutions, Hargrove said.
For example, the 1st Ward talked about crime being a problem. But Hargrove said that seemed too vague. More discussion brought out that there needs to be more activities for youth and teens in these neighborhoods.
In the 3rd Ward, residents spoke of a need for summer camp, and exposing youth to careers and a better future.
"They were very concerned about the children coming home from the Juvenile Justice System," Hargrove said.
"What can we have in place right in this ward, right in this community so it's an asset rather than a liability?" they asked.
Since Pleasantville is split into north and south, two churches - Faith Baptist and Mount Zion Baptist - will serve as the sponsors for them, Hargrove explained.
Like the schools and other entities joining in, leaders of the new charge say having a faith-based involvement is important.
"In order for something like this (the coalition) to be effective, there need to be projects that are ongoing to bring people together in a variety of ways," said Levy, who will oversee Hamlett. "We would look for everyone to bring to the table whatever they can to gather the community."
Resident involvement is key, said at-large Councilman Mo Delgado, who has attended some of the civic association meetings as the plan has been discussed.
"I'm hopeful that this goes as planned," he said. "It's going to take the people getting involved. It's going to take the community to make it successful."
That's why the group is using the Night Out to introduce the plan.
"That's going to be the backbone of the (National Night Out) event," Coalition Chairman Perry Mays said. "Periodically, we'll probably give updates and reports of how well (each program is) doing."
Anyone interested in finding out how to help is asked to contact Gloria Hamlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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