ATLANTIC CITY - Community members will soon transform a vacant parking lot adjacent to Hamilton Memorial United Methodist Church into an urban garden and playground.

Groundbreaking for the project, located at Arctic and North Connecticut avenues, is set for March 15, with a goal of being completed by late spring, when planting will begin.

The project is a community effort envisioned by Cookie Till, owner of Steve & Cookie's By the Bay restaurant in Margate and founder of the nonprofit A Work in Progress Foundation. It was put to paper by John DeRichie, an associate at SOSH Architects. Ed Kline, of Kline Construction Co., will oversee the construction and, when it is complete, the garden will be maintained by members of the church and the community.

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The project is being funded by grants and donations as well as local sponsors, including AtlantiCare.

Till said she founded A Work in Progress to give back to the local community and to promote her passion for healthy eating. Previous projects include community gardens at the Atlantic City Boys & Girls Club, the Salvation Army in Atlantic City and St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Pleasantville.

"It's so much more than starting a garden and building a park," Till said. "It's opening people's eyes to a different lifestyle, a healthier lifestyle, both physically and nutritionally. It's providing a safe place for kids and families to get them outdoors and providing them with fresh produce, which there is a definite lack of in Atlantic City."

This latest project is the largest the foundation has overseen. The site will feature an amphitheater and picnic tables.

A Work in Progress Foundation volunteers also educate the communities on the care and maintenance of the gardens and hold lessons about the nutritional benefits of fresh, home-grown produce.

The Rev. Jevon Caldwell-Gross, pastor of Hamilton Memorial United Methodist Church, said the project is a blessing for the community.

"I see it as a place that will bring people together, a place for our kids to play and grow," he said. "We needed this."

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For more information,

including ways to donate to the project, visit www.awork

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