Monday, June 15, 2015
Needed Now More Than Ever, The Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City Continues the Good Fight
by Morgan Appleyard, Courtney Keenan and Lauren Ivancich
When most view Atlantic City all eyes are gazing on the depths of the multitude casino buildings that cover the city’s skyline, but what is below Atlantic City's skyline? The city that so highly reflects nightlife has placed a major crutch on its youth. These images along with the hype of the media have over time portrayed this city as dangerous with crime being a dominant factor. Does the youth in this highly depicted nightlife scenery city even stand a fighting chance? Finding a solution for the youth may lead to a dead end but, The Boys & Girls Club of AC hasn't lost hope for the children and has taken on the challenge for over 40 years.
In AC there are not a great deal of activities for the youth, so fortunately there are people in the community attempting to change this. The Boys & Girls Club works with different organizations around the area in order to help youth get off the streets. This national organization began with just one woman who wanted to see troubled kids get off the street. This woman, over 100 years ago, started this well-known organization by planting a garden and getting the kids involved which then soon flourished into what is now known as the Boys & Girls Club.
The Boys & Girls Club of AC located on N. Pennsylvania Avenue take in kids around the surrounding area starting as young as five years-old all the way up to the age of eighteen. This club tries to teach the children partaking in the programs to become confident in themselves and to know who they are. Joyce Tilton, the program director of the Boys & Girls Club of AC, explained that the club is all about the life skills, and building the child within, "building the self-esteem, learning how to resolve a conflict, learning how to eat right. Participating in healthy lifestyles that you need to become a productive citizen in society" which, is a part of the clubs mission statement as well as what they really try to focus on.
The clubs attendance expanded quickly and had well over 200-300 children a day during various times to the point where they outgrew their finances causing them to shut down their Chelsea Unit located on Sovereign Avenue. This growth also resulted in the Pennsylvania Unit to close its doors. Luckily the Pennsylvania Unit got back on their feet the summer of 2014, but the Chelsea Unit has yet to reopen.
"It’s been a tough couple of years for all of us," Tilton stated, “because we knew we were outgrowing our finances."
With the help of National coming in to help the club of AC raise funds along with Milton & Betty Katz Jewish Community Center, JCC, donating a huge check as well as any other grants the club then obtained the financial needs to reopen. The youth was then given another chance at surviving with the Pennsylvania Unit now back up and running.
The Boys & Girls Club of AC has done a tremendous job in providing for the youth of AC, but the crime in this vibrant city still plays a minute role, or does it? On the other end of town, out of reach to the Boys & Girls Club, is plagued with a lot of gangs, and depending on which part of town you are located in will almost determine if you stay off the streets or become lost with other gang related members.
"DO AC" is Atlantic City's promotion logo for tourist to explore, view events, and or plan a stay in one of its many casinos. On the Atlantic City's main website they state, "Atlantic City provide days of endless entertainment." The site then proceeds to tell viewers how there is "plenty of family-friendly fun suitable for both children and adults," but never state what suitable things they offer for children. Below this statement the site list a few suggestions; beaches & boardwalk, attractions, arts & culture, shopping, sports & outdoors, spas, casinos, dining, and of course nightlife. Out of these suggestions almost all are for "adult fun," but a select few are offered for "children fun" and only provided during the day, but what else do they have?
With the lack of entertainment for the young ones amongst the city, crime within the different neighborhoods has an effect on the youths outcome, mainly resulting in two options; join an after school program or worse case join a gang. Tilton sadly stated, “There is very little for the kids to do in the city. What there is an Imax theater which is so unaffordable you barely get to go." She said that there used to be a bowling alley in the casino, but they took that out. Tilton would love to see more come into the city for the children, but can't say that’s the cities responsibility, "I believe it’s getting beyond the media hype." Crime although she realizes has an effect on the city itself she claimed that she doesn't feel uncomfortable walking out the club doors late at night.
“Power is perception," Tom Forkin, the director of the AC Surf & SUP School, commented on the so-called crime of AC, "media perception, every city has crime." He believes that there is more than meets the eye, and a lot of it has to do with the way the media portrays AC. Forkin who was born and raised in Atlantic City and is a teacher at New York Avenue School, gives back to his city in more ways than one. The AC Surf School provides not only free lesson to the community, only charging tourist, but to The Boys & Girls Club as well.
The AC Surf & SUP School is the original and the premier surfing organization in Atlantic City and its surrounding areas. The AC Surf School offers a surfing program for everyone's needs at any level. Forkin, who believes in giving back to the youth of AC said, "It’s all about the kids." In the summer months, mainly July and August, Forkin and his team of instructors offer their services two days a week to the Boys & Girls Club free of charge. They begin each lesson by showing an ocean tutorial and then an ocean safety tutorial which teaches the kids about how the different tides, and how it can affect you being pulled out into the ocean, as well as learning how to be safe. The tutorials are then followed by teaching the kids how to surf by giving them each a personal and professional surfing instructor. An article conducted in 2003 when Forkin was asked what three words describe AC best he replied, "Life's a beach," which to this day he still believes.
Does the youth of AC have options that outsiders don't necessarily know about? Is it really all about the city’s crime? Tilton commented on how "It’s about breaking that persona that we are the most violent city in the area." The Boys & Girls club will continue to create a fun and safe atmosphere for the youth to hang out.
"What makes a club is when you can walk in and there is this feeling, and it’s hard to explain. It's this feeling of home, it’s this feeling of safety, it’s this feeling of belonging, and respect. Because once you feel like you belong to this club you're going to also in return respect this club," a passionate, emotional Tilton concluded.
To donate to the Boys and Girls Club Atlantic City or for more information, call 609-347-2697 or check out acbgc.org.