ATLANTIC CITY — At the corner of St. James Place and the Boardwalk, right next to the iconic Irish Pub, a mural is beginning to take shape that will not only beautify the block but give at-risk youth in the city a second chance.

The Atlantic City Youth Diversionary Arts Program, which officially began July 1, is a collaborative effort among Jingoli, the Atlantic City Arts Foundation, the Atlantic City Police Department, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Vision 2000. The pilot program will turn vacant walls into community art while wiping the slate clean for a handful of city youth with minor legal offenses.

“An investment in our youth is an investment in the future of Atlantic City,” Atlantic City police Deputy Chief James Sarkos said Thursday during a news conference at Hard Rock Cafe. “The Atlantic City Police Department is committed to working with anyone who has Atlantic City’s and its youth’s best interest in mind.”

The Police Department, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Rev. Collins Days of Vision 2000 identified 12 young people, ages 12 to 15, who could benefit from an eight-week program focused on community beautification and personal enhancement.

Joe Jingoli, CEO of the Jingoli construction management firm and co-owner of Hard Rock Atlantic City, said the goal was to show the kids they have opportunities to better themselves and their communities, regardless of previous mistakes they may have made.

“Here in Atlantic City, there is a large group of young people who don’t believe those opportunities exist — and they’re right. We believe it’s our job to lay them out in front of them,” Jingoli said.

The kids will spend the next several weeks prepping the mural sites and cleaning up the areas around them. They also will work with artists selected by the Arts Foundation to complete the murals that will go up at five locations throughout the city.

“(The kids) are very hardworking and dedicated,” said Precious Hall, of Vision 2000. “And, as cliche as it sounds, the children are our future.”

Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said the city needs more programs that focus on the arts and music.

“Combining our efforts with the Police Department to identify kids that would benefit from this type of program, that can be diverted from further problems, is just incredible,” said Tyner. “I see the hidden talent that is here.”

Sarah Painter and Cosby Hayes, two Florida-based artists, are completing the first mural on St. James. Painter, 25, said it was important for kids to be involved in projects such as the Diversionary Arts Program for them to feel “represented” and “to take pride in their community.”

“It’s not just the end result of a painting,” she said. “There’s so much that goes into it. And when you can make that process equally important, it’s really powerful.”

Hayes, 28, said the Atlantic City community and the Arts Foundation have made the project worthwhile for the traveling artists.

“You can just tell that they’re passionate about the project itself and they’re passionate about Atlantic City and the power that public art can have on the community,” he said.

Evan Sanchez, president of the Arts Foundation, said the diversionary program is a “truly unique way of working together” for the betterment of the city.

“This program, with its focus on Atlantic City’s youth, is another step in building a great city,” Sanchez said.

The five murals will be completed at St. James Place and the Boardwalk, New York Avenue and the Boardwalk, Texas and Fairmount avenues, 23 N. Iowa Ave. and one yet-to-be-determined location.

Contact: 609-272-7222 ddanzis@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressDanzis

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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