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With sidewalk chalk, students tell peers, 'you're not alone'

MAYS LANDING — “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness,” “Be enough for yourself first, the rest of the world can wait,” and “Never lose hope” were just some of the positive notes written in sidewalk chalk by students for their peers outside of Oakcrest High School.

“I think every life is valuable and they need to know they’re not alone,” said 17-year-old Jeireck Santana, of Mays Landing.

With teen suicide on the rise in New Jersey and 1 in 3 students experiencing some type of mental health condition, AtlantiCare-run teen centers at Oakcrest, Atlantic City and Buena schools hosted a Message of Hope awareness event in observance of National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.

The event had the students create messages of hope in chalk along a well-traveled sidewalk.

“I think that it’s really important to be aware that a lot of people are struggling,” said Jaiden Navratil, 14, of Mays Landing. “It’s really a great thing that the school is open to having this type of thing, because it brings us a little bit closer each time.”

This is the fifth year Buena students participated in the Messages of Hope project, said Cathleen Morris, director of AtlantiCare’s middle and high school teen centers at Buena Regional School District.

Morris said the project started with 2nd Floor, a 24/7/365 youth helpline in New Jersey. Of the 400 students at Buena Regional High School, 165 participated in writing messages this week. There were double that number at the middle school, Morris said.

“The kids really enjoy the event. They like the idea of being able to give a positive message to their peers,” she said.

Morris, a licensed clinical social worker and disaster response crisis counselor, said even within her own family she has heard conflicting ideas about what conversations about mental health are appropriate.

“Kids hear it, so they need to have also the facts about it and that it’s OK to talk about mental health,” Morris said. “If your child had a physical problem, your child would get treatment.”

Morris said the national conversation has come a long way in the last decade, but there is still a long way to go.

“It’s OK for someone else to have the mental health condition, but it can’t be your child,” she said. “The conversation needs to be had that it’s OK.”

Craig Cochran, director of AtlantiCare’s Atlantic City High School Teen Center, said his students benefited from seeing the messages of hope last year, and they would again participate this year.

“I think it was a success on two fronts, one just realizing they’re not isolated in the issues that they face, but also writing a positive word just to give them hope to go through whatever they’re going through,” Cochran said.

He said students are more open now about mental health issues than they have been in the past.

“They are more receptive to being supportive and encouraging,” Cochran said. “We talk a lot about just giving an encouraging word to someone could really mean a lot to them. I’ve seen and heard students do that.”

Amber Harris, the director of Oakcrest’s teen center, said the Message of Hope event was just one of the many ways the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District addresses mental health. This year, Oakcrest brought in a mindfulness instructor for students and are modeling ways teachers can approach the topic.

“I think it’s important not just to talk about the symptoms, but ‘What do you do about it?’” Harris said, crediting principal James Reina for the school becoming very open-minded in the last few years. “Silence doesn’t work with this topic.”

Oakcrest student Alexis Mateo, 14, of Mays Landing said she wanted to participate Thursday to spread kindness to those with mental illness and to let them know that they’re not alone.

“With them reading these messages, they can feel better about themselves,” Mateo said.

Does the 'Cape May Bubble' really exist?

It’s a scenario that happens on occasion in Cape May County: You’re sitting on the beach and see black clouds in the distance.

But as soon as it looks like a downpour is coming, it doesn’t.

The 2019 Atlantic hurricane names are out, here's the forecast

“We live in a precarious position, surrounded by water on all three sides,” said Marty Pagliughi, Cape May County emergency management coordinator and mayor of Avalon.

Cape May County, the only county in New Jersey on a peninsula, does see significantly different weather than other portions of the state.

Thunderstorms fizzle away, the sun is out more and more would-be snow turns to rain. While places like Hammonton and Upper Deerfield Township can get caked with 6 inches of snow in a nor’easter, the Wildwoods and Sea Isle City will be all or mostly rain.

The different weather than the rest of the state has led some Cape residents to believe the storms will bypass them.

“The old-time county people kind of know about the phenomenon. I’ve heard of the ‘Cape May Umbrella’ before. It’s not just hurricanes, it’s low-pressure systems,” Pagliughi said.

Tap to read Meteorologist Joe Martucci's 7-Day Forecast

The northeast winds, which give the nor’easter its name, are an icy, cold breeze the closer to the Interstate 95 corridor you are, because the chillier land is to the northeast.

Along the shore, and especially in Cape May County, that northeast wind is an onshore flow. With water temperatures above freezing, that air will come onto land above freezing, turning snow into rain.


The three bodies of water that surround Cape May County are the key to this phenomenon.

“You get the double sea-breeze. You get cooler water off the bay and ocean and the clouds will clear out of Cape May County and southern Cumberland,” said Jim Eberwine, retired National Weather Service forecaster for Mount Holly.


According to Frederic Fabry, director of the radar observatory at McGill University in Canada, South Jersey experiences six hours’ worth of thunderstorms per year, with one exception: The Cape May-to-Vineland corridor sees four.

Between October and March, Cape May averages temperatures more than a degree above Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, which has no body of water to moderate the icy, Canadian air.

Records show Cape May averages warmer weather through May, as temperatures closely follow the temperature curve of the Delaware Bay, which heats up more slowly than the drier land.

Temperatures then even out into June and July. In fact, Cape May has cooler high temperatures from roughly Memorial Day weekend until early August.

“It’s cooler in the summer when you have blasts of hot air coming in,” New Jersey State Climatologist David Robinson said.

This parlays into the biggest truth about this weather anomaly — thunderstorm activity.

“It’s always that exciting hour, hour-and-a-half wait. We’d always be checking the radar on our phones, refreshing the feed to see if thunderstorms over the Delaware Bay were going to hit us. ... You think it’s going to start pouring, and you’re like, ‘Oh crap,’ but then it goes away,” said Whitney Garrison, 33, of Cape May.

Fabry said Cape May and eastern Cumberland counties are heavily influenced by the Delaware Bay. If storms pass west to east, as they typically do, the cooler bay during these months helps stabilize the storms, weakening them to below the thunderstorm threshold used in the Fabry’s study.

“In the late afternoon or evening, the lower part of the storm has been destroyed by the cooler Delaware Bay, and you only get the mid- and upper-level part of it, which is the ‘steady’ storm,” Eberwine said.

This means a better chance at a dry day at the shore.

Contact: 609-272-7247 Twitter @ACPressMartucci

Edward Lea / Staff Photographer 

Oakcrest High School student Jeireck Santana, 17, takes part in the AtlantiCare program of writing messages of hope in chalk on the sidewalks outside of the school Thursday. The event helped mark Mental Health Awareness Day.

Are Atlantic City casinos cashing in on Vans Warped Tour?

ATLANTIC CITY — The final weekend in June is shaping up to be a major tourism draw and the resort’s nine casinos have priced their hotel rooms accordingly.

The nearly sold-out Vans Warped Tour beach concert is coming to town June 29 and 30, and the expected influx of people is reflected in the rates being charged at Atlantic City’s premier hotels.

The overall averages are anywhere from 4% to 45% higher than a single night stay on the weekends before and after the concert.

The higher casino hotel room rates for an anticipated event should not be seen as a negative, said Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism at Stockton University.

The rates reflect what customers are willing to pay, he said, and are signs of a healthy industry.

Pandit noted the average daily room rate increased last summer over the prior year, despite an increase in the supply of available rooms due to the dual openings of Hard Rock and Ocean on June 27. The average daily rate for summer 2018 was $151 compared to $118 the year before.

“The significant difference between 2017 and 2018 is showing us the strength in the market,” Pandit said, “which, in turn, is allowing the industry to charge higher rates for 2019.”

The average of the least expensive available rooms in a casino hotel on Friday, June 28 is $377.55 for a single night.

For the first day of the concert, the most affordable rooms in an Atlantic City casino hotel are averaging $586 for the night. An average single night casino hotel stay after the second day of the concert is $231.

The averages at the six Boardwalk casino properties — Bally’s Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, Ocean Casino Resor t, Resorts Casino Hotel and Tropicana Atlantic City — are $380 and $644 for June 28 and 29.

Several of the casinos said there was no connection between the Warped Tour coming to Atlantic City for its only East Coast dates during its 25th anniversary tour and the increased prices.

Terri Lutz, assistant vice president of marketing for Tropicana Atlantic City, said the concert has not affected the casino hotel’s room inventory.

There are coordinated events planned throughout the city for Warped Tour, including pop-up skating and biking demonstrations as well as entertainment and promotions from area businesses.

“All three resorts — Bally’s, Caesars, and Harrah’s (Resort) — would typically be sold-out on a normal Saturday (and/or) Sunday in the summer,” said Noel Stevenson, regional director of marketing services for Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s three Atlantic City properties. “So we anticipate strong incremental visitation to our Boardwalk properties, specifically the Wild Wild West, which will offer programming that weekend that complements the concert.”

Nikki Balles, director of public relations and community affairs for Hard Rock Atlantic City, said the property had “very little expectation(s) for the Vans Warped Tour.”

“It is, however, our anniversary weekend, which we’re looking forward to celebrating with the community,” she said.

Hard Rock and Ocean celebrated grand openings June 28 last year but officially commenced gaming operations one day earlier.

The Warped Tour recently made additional tickets available for the Atlantic City concert. Earlier reports stated the two-day show, which will feature more than 50 bands on multiple stages, was sold out, but concert organizers disputed those claims.

Ducktown Revitalization Plan accepted by Atlantic City Planning Board

ATLANTIC CITY — The Planning Board unanimously approved amending the municipal Master Plan to incorporate the recently completed Ducktown Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, opening the door for new funding and incentives that would spur economic growth in the area.

The 185-page plan was the result of a nearly year-long process that included community meetings, door-to-door surveys and analyzing data with the purpose of improving the long-term viability and quality of life in the Ducktown neighborhood.

Barbara Woolley-Dillon, the city’s planning and development director, said the Ducktown proposal was “planning done right” in voicing her support.

Ducktown Neighborhood Revitalization Plan

“This is what is going to be coming next for the rest of the neighborhoods,” she said. “We need to do neighborhood-based planning (throughout the city).”

Jim Rutala, principal of Rutala Associates LLC and author of the revitalization plan, said the next step was the creation of a nonprofit community development corporation in Ducktown. The city’s adoption of the revitalization plan makes the neighborhood eligible for up to $1.2 million from the Wells Fargo Implementation Grant to fund staffing of the development corporation.

In 2017, the state Department of Community Affairs — the agency overseeing Atlantic City finances during the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act — determined that Ducktown could qualify for the Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit program, but a revitalization plan was necessary. DCA must now approve the plan.

“With a revitalization plan now in place for Ducktown, the city is better positioned to attract investment to this neighborhood through a variety of private-sector and government initiatives like the Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit program, which DCA administers, and Opportunity Zones,” the state agency said in a statement Friday. “Comprehensive planning can open so many doors for Atlantic City, which is why the state and city are focused this year on creating a citywide master plan that provides a clear vision for how development should happen in the city.”

The NRTC is designed to foster the revitalization of distressed neighborhoods by offering business entities an 80% tax credit against various state taxes. Sixty percent of the tax credit funds must be used for activities related to the development of housing and economic development.

Ducktown Neighborhood

The neighborhood’s proximity to the Atlantic City Rail Terminal could also provide development incentives if the city is able to obtain a Transit Village designation. Funding from a variety of state agencies, most notably the state Department of Transportation, is available to qualifying municipalities for streetscape improvement, road paving and pedestrian-friendly projects.

Rutala also noted that Ducktown was the only neighborhood in Atlantic City that was completely inside a federal opportunity zone, which provides tax credits for rehabilitation and development projects in low- to moderate-income areas.

Proposed by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and approved by Congress in 2017, Opportunity Zones provide for a reduction in capital gains taxes for investors. The program is already being used by developers in the Orange Loop of Atlantic City.

“(The revitalization plan is) opening a lot of avenues to the neighborhood that they’ve never had,” Rutala said. “You need all these tools to make something happen. There’s a reason these neighborhoods haven’t changed in the last few decades.”