ATLANTIC CITY — Twin sisters Zanajah and Zaniyah Chappell-Fuqua are no strangers to the kitchen.
The 13-year-old Atlantic City teenagers help their mother and grandmother with everything from breakfast to cakes and watch cooking shows on television.
But neither sister has ever been inside a state-of-the-art kitchen like the one that opened Monday inside the MGM Resorts International Teen Center for Economic Youth Development and College Readiness at the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City.
“I love it,” Zanajah Chappell-Fuqua said during a quick break from hand-rolling ricotta gnocci. “(The new space) is better than it was.”
The recently completed $2 million teen center at the Boys and Girls Club on Pennsylvania Avenue offers Atlantic City youth hands-on learning experiences in hospitality, technology and health complete with a teaching kitchen, simulation rooms and a fabrication lab.
The center will also offer academic enrichment in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), high school tutoring, SAT prep and college access, in addition to community workforce development opportunities.
“We want to make sure that every kid that walks through our doors has an actual path toward a career and an actual path to achieve a college education,” said Michelle Carrera, executive director and CEO of the club. “We want every kid (who comes here) to make it, and we won’t rest until that happens.”
The teen center was made possible by an “aggressive” fundraising campaign that began last year.
MGM Resorts International, the parent company of Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, donated $500,000 to kickstart the fundraising last fall.
Tropicana Atlantic City and the property’s ownership group, Eldorado Resorts, Bank of America, George and Patty Siganos, and several other donors each contributed $100,000 to the project as well.
Council President Marty Small Sr., an alumnus of the club and former staff member, said the investors would not be disappointed.
“The children of Atlantic City will not let you down,” he said.
Nearly 400 teens in Atlantic City will be able to utilize the new center, which provides a dedicated space for youth who previously had to wait until after the younger kids cleared out for access.
The club currently serves about 1,900 youth in the city each year.
Marcus Glover, president and chief operating officer for Borgata, spoke directly to the children who were present at Monday’s ribbon cutting, telling them he looked forward “to seeing the leaders you’ll become.”
“This is truly a new beginning for the City of Atlantic City,” said Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr. “This club right here is a cornerstone that will allow our kids and their families to blossom.”
Providing better opportunities for Atlantic City’s youth was one of six areas of strategic focus highlighted in the state’s transition report. The report characterized the city’s youth as its “forgotten citizens.”
“It’s programs like this, it’s the teen center, it’s the Boys and Girls Club, the mayor and (city) council, the CRDA, it’s other important entities, like Borgata, working together and putting the interests of children ahead of other interests that is going to be able to remove that (characterization) of the forgotten citizens here in Atlantic City,” said Matt Doherty, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
The Chappell-Fuqua sisters said they have been attending the Boys and Girls Club for nearly nine years and were excited to see the upgraded facility.
“I like the lounge,” said Zaniyah Chappell-Fuqua. “You can do anything there like study and chilling with friends.”