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Pleasantville grad Nia Ali wins 100-meter hurdles at world championships in Qatar

Nia Ali is a world track and field champion.


The 2006 Pleasantville High School graduate won the 100-meter hurdles in a personal-best 12.34 seconds at the IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday.

Ali, 30, led the race from the start. She screamed with joy when she crossed the finish line. Keni Harrison, of the United States, finished second in 12.46 seconds. Danielle Williams, of Jamaica, was third in 12.47 seconds.

“I’m so ecstatic right now,” Ali told The Associated Press. “I’m truly at a loss for words.”

The championship was Ali’s first at the world outdoor championships. In 2014 and 2016, she won the 60 hurdles at the world indoor championships.

At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, Ali won the silver medal in the 100 hurdles.

Ali’s continued success is even more remarkable for a variety of factors.

First is her age. At 30, she is four years older than Harrison and three years older than Williams.

Ali also returned to competition this outdoor season after giving birth in June 2018 to the daughter, Yuri Zen, she had with boyfriend and Canadian sprinter and Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse. Ali also has a 4-year-old son, Titus Tinsley.

Ali lives and trains in Los Angeles. She grew up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia but moved to Pleasantville for her senior year of high school. Ali’s family is close with Pleasantville track and field coach Alan Laws. They come from the same Philadelphia neighborhood, and Ali refers to Laws as her uncle.

“She doesn’t get old ,” Laws said Sunday afternoon. “She doesn’t get old. She just knows how to compete in championships. She’s a competitor.”

Laws said watching Ali win is like watching one of his own children.

“It’s always new to me,” he said. “It’s always exciting.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

After years of fundraising, St. Nicholas Church in Atlantic City begins interior restoration

ATLANTIC CITY — An effort to restore the interior of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City, a goal set more than 20 years ago, is finally underway with the first portion of the project scheduled to be completed by the new year.

The church, built in 1905 on the corner of Pacific and Tennessee avenues, is being restored after experiencing damage mostly due to moisture and dirt settling in over the years, causing plaster, paint and artwork to chip and peel. Over the last couple of years, the congregation at the church has been busy raising money.

Rev. Jon Thomas of The Parish of Saint Monica, which includes Our Lady Star of the Sea, St. Nicholas and St. Michael churches in Atlantic City, said Mon. William Hodge, who was the pastor of St. Nicholas from 1997 to 2015, talked about restoring the church for years.

“He did restore the outside,” Thomas said. “He put on a new roof and had all the masonry work repointed.”

Repointing masonry involves removing damaged mortar joints and renewing them.

Some water damage is also visible on the walls and windows. After two main fundraising events and a capital campaign, pre-restoration efforts began two weeks ago in the transepts, or arms, of the church.

Scaffolding was up on the left transept of the church Wednesday as a foreman with the restoration company, EverGreene Architectural Arts, surveyed the damage.

Mass will continue on the weekends during the restoration but will not be held Mondays through Fridays due to construction.

A new roof was installed in 2009 and cost more than $1 million, he said. Two years later, the church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Once Thomas came into the parish in 2015, he didn’t want the goal of restoring the interior to be lost. To move the project forward, a group called The Friends of St. Nicholas of Tolentine, an independent nonprofit, was formed in 2018 to raise funds for the restoration and maintenance of the church.

The transepts make up about 30% of the building. The church plans to restore the remaining 70% once the funds are raised. Altogether, it will take about $1.3 million to restore the interior. Almost $300,000 of that is being used to restore the transepts.

Jeanne Eisele, a member of the Friends group, said it has raised about $150,000 for the project so far. The group also wants to raise additional funds for a new floor, but the restoration comes first.

“There were issues with decay and mold that we have to tackle first,” she said. “The floor is fine for now.”

The Friends group recently had a Hard Hat Party where, for $100, attendees were treated to hors d’oeuvres and drinks at the church as well as a detailed tour explaining four sections of the church that are typically closed to the public.

The event brought out just over 125 people, according to Thomas. The funds collected from the party went toward furthering the restoration project.

The money for the pilot phase — the restoration of the transepts — was raised by three sources, a capital campaign conducted by the Parish of St. Monica in 2018, the Friends group fundraisers and a $50,000 donation from a Philadelphia-based couple that vacations in Atlantic City, Thomas said.

Walls, columns, artwork and decorative details within the transepts will be restored.

“They will scrape down all the plaster to a hard surface,” he said. “A lot of the plaster received moisture over the years and is soft, meaning it’s begun to chip, flake and peel. You can see some stains as well. Once they get to a hard surface, they will replaster and repaint in a brighter color.”

The four morals within the two transepts will also be restored as they’ve experienced peeling and cracking in certain places. They will also be cleaned of the dirt and soot that settled onto them.

The project also includes restoration to window frames that suffered water damage. Arches in the church will be repaired and restenciled, and marble columns will be cleaned and glossed over “to make them pop.”

The project will be completed by Christmas, and Thomas anticipates a grand reopening to coincide with Christmas Eve Mass.

The last time work was done inside the church was the 1980s, when the current floor and pews were installed, Thomas said. A beautification project that included repainting the walls, ceiling and columns was completed in 1977. Some original artwork was also painted over.

“You could actually say that the 1977 campaign unrestored it because they painted over some artwork,” he said. “They gave us this, to me, an attractive clay color that really makes the church interior look dark.”

He said he believes some artwork was painted over because the church did not have the necessary funding to hire an artisan to properly restore it.

Thomas is excited about the project because he believes it will attract more people to the church and, after seeing the restored space, will hopefully encourage them to help fund the remaining restoration.

“It’s long overdue,” Eisele said of the restoration. “Beautiful facilities like this have to be maintained. Religion is one thing, but the building is one thing itself. It’s one of the last big buildings on the National Register of Historic Places in the city.”

After the restoration is completed, the priest said, a wish list of future upgrades would include an update to the church’s electrical system and a new floor.

When people walk into the church, Thomas said, the comment they usually make is that it’s magnificent, not unlike a church typically seen in Europe or St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

“People have that great impression when they first walk in, but as they spend more time in here they begin to see the damage,” he said. “So what’s exciting for me is that these two transepts are going to pop when people come in now. They are going to be amazed when they first walk in and see the whole picture.”

GALLERY: St. Nicholas Church restoration work in Atlantic City

Skate parks a hit in some — but not all — South Jersey towns

As some skate parks have become an asset to their towns, others have been shuttered due to safety reasons.

Skate parks in Ocean City and Atlantic City are making positive impacts in their communities, like bringing in skateboarders from around the region or simply enhancing the neighborhood. However, skate parks in Galloway Township and Brigantine have closed due to skateboarders not following safety protocol or infrastructure problems.

In Linwood, though, the idea of a skate park can’t seem to get off the ground.

Brigantine’s skate park, on Bayshore Avenue, was condemned Wednesday by the city’s insurance company due to cracked and sunken surfaces as well as a broken gate, according to Mayor Andrew “Andy” Simpson.

The city closed the park Thursday and put up a fence to block trespassers from entering the space, the mayor said. As of Friday afternoon, no “closed” signs or fencing was visible around the park.

If the city decides to keep the park, Simpson said numerous fixes would be needed before it could reopen. The park also would have to be staffed by an employee, the insurance company told Simpson.

The mayor said the city wants to hear from skateboarders on the island at the Oct. 16 city council meeting before it decides what to do with the space. He also wants to hear from pickleball players because reconstructing the space into a pickleball court is also an option.

“I want to be transparent with our skateboarding people,” he said. “I don’t see it being used that much because our kid population is dwindling, but I want to give them a chance.”

In Linwood, after months of comments by residents for and against the idea of building a skate park, an effort that has gone before the board three times, city council last week voted against moving forward with one.

Linwood City Council was previously divided on whether a skate park would enhance the city’s recreation options without a major financial impact. The Neighborhood Services Committee submitted its report to council Sept. 13 recommending the city not move forward. The proposed park would have cost more than $100,000 to construct and would be located near the hockey rinks at All Wars Memorial Park.

“There are more pressing needs at this time in the city. Beyond the construction of the skate park at approximately $40 to $45 per square foot, also considered is the cost for fencing, maintenance, proper drainage and field preparations, lighting and the possibility of needing a paid attendant at the park,” committee chairwoman June Byrnes said in her report to council.

A skate park attendant would cost the city $30,000 to $40,000 annually.

“There are no grants for that. There is no way for the city to absorb that cost,” said Council President Ralph Paolone.

Lawrence Lhulier, who said he previously served on the city’s Planning Board for 25 years, is “anti-skate park” but “not against the clientele or the kids.”

For him, the park is a “double issue,” the cost to build it and the cost to maintain it. He also sees an issue with the location.

“Based on the proximity where the skate park would be, somewhere near the bike path, it would quickly be accessible to residents in Linwood, Northfield and Somers Point,” he said. “I think the costs shouldn’t just be on Linwood, but Northfield and Somers Point as well.”

Galloway Township opened a 20,000-square-foot skate park on East Jimmie Leeds Road in 2004 but closed it in 2012 due to skaters not complying with safety rules, The Press previously reported.

Galloway Mayor Anthony Coppola did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Ocean City’s skate park opened on Asbury Avenue in 2015 after popular demand, said Doug Bergen, a spokesman for the city. The park cost $750,000 to construct with $500,000 of that coming from a Cape May County open space/recreation grant. About $30,000 is spent annually on staffing the park with a Recreation Department attendant, according to Michael Allegretto, Community Services Director.

Years ago, the city had a temporary skate park near the Boardwalk that fell into disrepair, “and there was a lot of outcry to bring it back,” Bergen said.

The skate park in Atlantic City on Sovereign Avenue has gained support from the community since opening in April, according to Zach Katzen, vice president of Skate AC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing neighborhoods in the city through its public skate park. The park cost about $25,000 to build with funds from a GoFundMe account, donations from the construction company that built the park and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.

The park was donated to the city after it was built, Katzen said. It is not staffed and is maintained by skateboarders using the park and the city’s Recreation Department.

“We always knew there was a need for a skate park. Since we were young, we didn’t have a place to skate,” Katzen said. “The skate community was pushing for it for the past 10 years.”

Having a recreational space, like the skate park, gives children an outlet as well as a support system that they may not have had previously, he said.

Community hopes for 'positive end,' while search continues for 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez

BRIDGETON — Search efforts continued Sunday for a 5-year-old girl who has been missing for several weeks.

Nearly 50 volunteers combed the woods behind Alden Field for several hours looking for any clues that might help locate Dulce Maria Alavez, who was last seen at City Park on Sept. 16. The search did not yield any tangible evidence of the girl’s whereabouts.

“If this was to happen to me, as a mother, I’d want all the help I could get,” said Jackie Rodriguez, who organized Sunday’s efforts. Rodriguez, 37, of Vineland, also helped put together a candlelight vigil at Alden Field shortly after Dulce’s disappearance.

On Friday, Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said law enforcement was still searching for “that key piece of information that we need to to lead us to Dulce, or to the circumstances surrounding her disappearance.”

Webb-McRae said the investigation, which has included more than 300 law enforcement officers from various agencies, is operating under the presumption that Dulce is still alive.

Mayor Albert Kelly, who led one of several teams of volunteers Sunday afternoon, said the community is holding out hope the young girl will be found. A father of four daughters, Kelly said no parent should have to endure what Dulce’s mother, Noema Alavez Perez, is dealing with right now.

“Who would want to live through this nightmare? Nobody,” Kelly said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a positive end to this.”

Jennifer Capizola and her 13-year-old daughter, Emma Warfle, both of Rosenhayn, wanted to help in any way they could. At one point, Warfle found a plastic wrapper to a coconut ice cream bar, briefly giving the volunteers hope because Dulce had been eating a similar treat the afternoon she disappeared. But it turned out Dulce had been eating hers from a paper cup, and the search continued.

Capizola said she twice attempted to contact law enforcement with information Wednesday, but both times she only got a recorded message that her call could not go through due to a high call volume.

“My heart’s been bleeding for this kid since this started,”Capizola said.

Dulce was reported missing Sept. 16, and state police issued an Amber Alert for her the next day.

Alavez Perez, Dulce’s 19-year-old mother, was sitting in her car with an 8-year-old relative when her she saw her 3-year-old son crying and pointing to where he last saw Dulce, police said. The girl may have been taken by a man who led her way from the playground where she was playing with her brother, according to police, and into an older model red van.

A $40,000 reward has been offered for information leading to Dulce’s whereabouts. She has also been placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list of missing or kidnapped persons.

Anyone with information can call Bridgeton police at 856-451-0033, or the FBI at 800-CALL-FBI, or text information to tip411 with the word “Bridgeton.” Pictures or videos can be uploaded to fbi.gov/alavez.