ATLANTIC CITY — City resident and local youth advocate Shalanda Austin will be honored Friday with the county’s annual Community Spirit award during a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

Austin, 45, is the founder of the In My C.A.R.E. mentoring program, which helps coach and support local girls ages 8 to 18. In addition, Austin is an author, an accelerated reading teacher in the Atlantic City School District and teaches gospel.

The Community Spirit award recognizes an outstanding resident who exemplifies the principles of King through their involvement in the community and their efforts to improve the lives of their fellow citizens.

“Ms. Austin may not yet be well known to all because she has quietly worked to make a difference in our community without expectation or need of personal recognition. She is truly one of our unsung heroes,” Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said in a news release.

Austin received her associate’s degree in criminal justice from Atlantic Cape Community College and a bachelor’s in political science from Stockton University. She is working toward her master’s degree.

Being born and raised in Atlantic City, Austin said, she has seen the problems that have overtaken the community.

“As a child looking in, you want to help, but there’s not much you can do,” she said. “I grew up, and I saw the different deficiencies.”

She said she saw others trying to make positive changes and wanted to be a catalyst for change. In My C.A.R.E. was one of the ways she has been able to accomplish that.

“I saw that a lot of our young girls were ending up pregnant at an early age and the dropout rate was really high, and a lot of grandparents raising daughters, a lot of single-parent homes. I remember what helped me was the older women besides my sisters who took me under their wings,” Austin said.

Since its founding in 2015, In My C.A.R.E. has also been adopted by the city of Camden. Austin recently started a similar program for boys in Atlantic City that has 38 participants, and is ready to launch another program for boys in Pleasantville next month. She said the programs wouldn’t be possible without the help of Yvonne Sutton, director of operations; Shamone Alvarez, facilitator for the boys programs, and Jasmine Moore, facilitator for the Camden program.

Austin said she is humbled, honored and excited to receive the award, something she believes would have made her late mother very proud.

She said at first the magnitude of the award did not hit her.

“Then one morning I woke up and I was thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King and his legacy,” she said. “I began to cry because I felt it was such an honor to be put into the same sentence as Dr. King.”

Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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