ATLANTIC CITY - Saranne Rothberg will finally see the faces behind the stories next week.
The Bergen County woman who never got over her childhood love of Atlantic City will return Wednesday for the first time since she announced her mission to build a playground for the city's children on a family-owned lot turned drug den.
In the eight days since a Press of Atlantic City story about the spot on Virginia and Arctic avenues, Rothberg has been bombarded by offers to help.
Their stories have touched her. Now, she hopes to see many of those storytellers at a volunteers meeting set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Police Athletic League on New York Avenue.
Earlier that day, she will sit down with the architect, attorney and landscaper, who have all offered to donate their time and services to the project. Councilman George Tibbitt will also be there.
Rothberg has to write up her own plan, because there's never been anything quite like this before, she was told.
"Unusual cases never concern me," said the cancer survivor who is five years past when a prognosis said she would be dead. "My cancer was an unusual case, we just worked it out. We'll work it out."
For her, it's about the people.
"It's the smaller stories that are making me crazy," she said.
Like the man who remembered climbing the fence into the old lot where berries grew. He would take a bushel of the fruit to his grandmother, who would turn them into cobbler.
Or the pastor at St. Andrew by the Sea pastor who had been disappointed that the church's recent expansion couldn't include a playground - and was happy to find that one is now planned for a block away.
Then there's the longtime Atlantic City teacher now suffering from cancer, who left a message saying there aren't enough people watching out for the city's youth today.
"This would be a monument, a testimony to the fact that they are not forgotten," the woman said, bring Rothberg to tears.
Once again, she will stay in her free room at Resorts Atlantic City. She was promised a room there for life when she was a teen and her family sold the hotel to the casino. They have kept their word 30 years later.
Her one disappointment is that her planned arrival into the city will be in the wee hours as Tuesday turns to Wednesday, meaning she will have to alter her family's long-standing tradition of stopping at the White House for a steak sandwich upon arrival.
Growing up, it was like paying the toll on their way in and on the way out, she said.
"I'll have to go for lunch," Rothberg said. "Unless Resorts has one waiting in the room."
E-mail Lynda Cohen:
If you want to help
Saranne Rothberg will hold a town meeting 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Police Athletic League, 250 N. New York Ave. in Atlantic City. She asks that those who plan to attend contact her so she knows how many people to expect.
Call 888-300-3990, ext. 222 or e-mail SaranneR@comedycures.org
While the outpouring has been overwhelming, there are still plenty of needs to turn the vacant lot into a playground:
Refreshments for Wednesday's meeting, along with notepads for those in attendance
Two leaders to coordinate the volunteers
A graphic artist and printer
Lots of ideas