Let's hear it for the "white chick in a tea outfit."

And for Sharon Miller, who owns Dave's Grocery at Virginia and Arctic avenues in Atlantic City. And for her three sons.

For Councilman George Tibbitt and for everyone else who is helping Saranne Rothberg.

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She's the white chick. The tea outfit was actually a pink sundress and a straw hat. That's what Rothberg, a 46-year-old cancer survivor from Bergen County, was wearing when she started picking up trash - including hypodermic needles, beer bottles and condoms - on a vacant lot next to Dave's Grocery.

Rothberg owns the lot. She came to town after getting a citation for uncut grass. She found a littered lot in a rough neighborhood frequented by drug users. So she went to work.

Another woman saw her and went to get garbage bags. Miller volunteered her three sons to move furniture that had been dumped on the lot. Then Rothberg had an epiphany - this lot could be a playground for neighborhood kids.

What a story.

"I've never seen anybody come forward with their own personal land and offer it for something like this," Tibbitt said.

Rothberg has found a lawyer and and an architect who have agreed to help her for free. The city is putting together a checklist of what will be needed to turn the lot into a playground. And Rothberg already has lined up the Harlem Wizards basketball team - the owner is a friend - to come down and give a basketball clinic once the playground is completed.

So what's this all about?

Rothberg spent her summers in Atlantic City as a child. Her father owned two hotels on Virginia Avenue. And she loved the place. Ten years ago, she was diagnosed with cancer and told she had five years to live. Cancer-free now, she runs Comedy Cures, an organization that uses humor as therapy.

The news coming out of Atlantic City hasn't been good lately. The casinos are hurting. The politicians are bickering (when they're not being sent to jail). Drug-related shootings occur almost daily.

And then along comes Saranne Rothberg. Miller, who grew up on Virginia Avenue, considers Rothberg an angel. The playground, Miller says, will let neighborhood children know that someone cares about them and where they live.

This story is a testament to the hold Atlantic City has on so many people, despite its problems. It has a hold on Rothberg, who remembers a more genteel time in the resort. It has a hold on Miller, who raised a family and runs her grocery story in a rough neighborhood others have fled. A neighborhood that will soon have a new playground.

Want to help? You can reach Rothberg at 888-300-3990, ext. 222, or via e-mail at SaranneR@ComedyCures.org.

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