ATLANTIC CITY — In matching T-shirts, Justus Taylor and her mother, Natasha, wheeled luggage along Atlantic Avenue, up a wooden ramp and into the residential complex at Stockton University last week.
“She’s following her mom’s footsteps,” said Natasha Taylor, of Atlantic City, a 1991 Stockton graduate.
Not only would they have the same alma mater, but the elder Taylor was an Educational Opportunity Fund student. Now, her daughter would also participate in the program.
The EOF provides financial assistance and support services, including counseling, tutoring and developmental course work, to students from educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds who attend institutions of higher education in New Jersey. Each year, about 13,000 New Jersey students participate in the program. Last year, the EOF celebrated its 50th year.
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The younger Taylor, a 2019 Atlantic City High School graduate, is part of the first group of EOF students to live at Stockton’s city campus, which opened in fall 2018.
This year’s program in Atlantic City specifically targeted local students like Taylor, as well as her former Atlantic City High School classmates, Christian Cabrera and Hassam Kaleem, who also moved in June 29.
In total, 50 students will participate in the one-month summer academy program in Atlantic City.
In addition to Atlantic City, Stockton’s EOF program has about 350 students enrolled at the main Galloway campus.
Stockton alumnus and EOF staff member Abdullah Bukhari, 23, of Ventnor, said the academy gives the students a head start on college.
They move into the dorms and spend a month getting to know the campus, making friends and receiving educational support to prepare them for their first semester and their future careers.
This year, the students also get a chance to live beachside in Stockton’s Boardwalk-facing dormitory.
“It’s fantastic. You never get to see this pretty much anywhere else,” said Bukhari, a 2014 Atlantic City High School graduate.
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For the Atlantic City students, Bukhari said it’s beneficial to have their families nearby for support. For those who are traveling from farther away, the EOF students and staff become family, he said.
Kathleen Villatta, 17, of Newark, was setting up her dorm room with her parents last Saturday morning.
“It’s fun. I’m excited,” said Villatta as she unpacked a pink backpack. “I really wanted Atlantic City, and I’m really thankful I got it. I’m just looking forward to the experience as a whole and starting a new chapter in my life in a different setting.”