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Middle-class Atlantic City seniors take advantage of all resort offers

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ATLANTIC CITY — When people visit the Absecon Lighthouse between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. most Thursdays, the first person they see and the friendly voice they hear belongs to a gray-haired woman with glasses wearing a lighthouse cap and sweatshirt.

Gwen Demones is the ideal person to greet someone who is stopping by the lighthouse and the resort for the first time.

Demones, who is in her 80s, has lived in the city for at least 60 years, has been retired for 23 years and has volunteered at the lighthouse for more than 15 years. She is a wealth of information for the curious.

“You have to give back, and I enjoy it,” said Demones, who added she started volunteering at the lighthouse because she found it interesting. “It’s a landmark in Atlantic City.”

For seniors like Demones, who are in good health, have their own home and own a vehicle, the resort is a playground they now have more time to enjoy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 13.2% of the city’s estimated 37,084 residents were 65 or older in 2018.

Without health, a paid-off home or the ability to drive, living in the resort becomes a little more difficult.

Elizabeth Terenik, the city’s director of planning and development from 2014 to 2017, said the resort could use more housing for seniors, so they could stay in their homes longer.

There are waiting lists for affordable housing in the city, said Adrienne Epstein, executive director of Beron Jewish Older Adult Services of Atlantic County.

Seniors who do not have cars can make their way through the city on foot, on bicycles or via jitneys, cabs or buses. The Atlantic County Division of Intergenerational Services provides transportation for those 60 and older for essential life services such as dialysis treatment, therapy programs, doctor visits and daily nutrition-site services.

More free transportation could be offered for seniors who do not have a car, cannot drive or who have trouble walking, said Epstein, who works out of the Herman Pogachefsky Senior Services Pavilion on Atlantic Avenue.

Like any other community, having a mix of people of different ages, life perspectives and stages of life in Atlantic City makes for a dynamic, healthy environment, said Lisa M. Ryan, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

“For Atlantic City in particular, more residents of all age groups will help lead to the rehabilitation of underutilized properties, revitalized business districts, reduced blight and expanded entertainment options,” Ryan said.

According to the state’s transition report on Atlantic City, co-authored by Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy, the two demographic groups that compose the majority of the U.S. population — millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) and baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) — are looking for similar characteristics in residential locations.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the resort had an estimated population in 2017 of 39,075. Those between the ages of 25 and 34 totaled 5,380 and comprised 13.8% of the population. Those between the ages of 55 and 74 totaled 7,633, and made up 19.6% of the resort’s population.

They are looking for walkable, bikeable neighborhoods and streets; amenities and work within walking radius; smaller houses or smaller units at lower cost; an urban street environment; access to transit; and access to nature and recreation.

When Jean Griffin was in college and living in Boston, she took an acting class for fun. Years later, when she returned to the city where she was born, she took an acting class at Weist-Barron-Ryan but was too busy to attend her callbacks for commercial auditions.

Now 81, Griffin has time to explore her creativity through an improv comedy workshop led by Madelaine Welch, artistic director of Unity’s Theatre Troupe and held every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Dante Hall Theater in the Ducktown part of the city.

During a recent Tuesday, Griffin participated on stage in a two-person scene. Griffin and the other woman pretended to be in a beauty parlor, but each person had to reply to the other with a sentence starting with the next letter of the alphabet.

Improv class is just one of the things Griffin does in the city. She also attends the Pages Two book club; sees live theater performances at Dante Hall and the Claridge hotel; walks the Boardwalk; plays the card game Pokeno with the Golden Circle; serves as treasurer of the Children’s Cultural Arts Foundation in the resort; and eats at local restaurants.

“I think (Atlantic City is) underrated. People don’t know what they have here. For some of us, who retired and moved back here, we appreciate it,” Griffin said.

Charles Garrett, 72, knows in some areas of the country he would not be able to afford a house on the water where he can fish from the dock at the back of his house. But he can do that at his Venice Park home, which sits on the intracoastal waterway.

A city native who once ran for mayor, Garrett bought the house he now lives in, which used to be his mother’s home, in 1972.

Garrett, a member of the city’s Athletic Hall of Fame, enjoys spending his free time fishing and crabbing, but if he wants a beach experience, he will visit Inlet Beach on Adriatic Avenue.

Garrett and his wife, Augusta, attend the free Chicken Bone Beach jazz concerts in the summer at Kennedy Plaza. Once a year on one of their birthdays, they will stay overnight in a casino and gamble.

“There is a lot of stuff going on in Atlantic City. You just have to be aware of it,” Garrett said. “Sometimes, I have to pinch myself. It’s like a dream.”

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