Local Groups Come Together To Transform Former AC School Site

Published On: September 22nd, 2017

Route 40

Elinor Comlay

Two nonprofits, the Catholic church, a development company and a casino are all coming together to refurbish a former school in Atlantic City. It might sound like an odd alliance but transforming the former St Michael’s school into a useable space almost three decades after it closed is turning out to be a little tougher than expected.

The Parish of Saint Monica initially decided a couple of years ago to try and revive the space in the old school so it could become part of the Atlantic City arts corridor. And now the non-profit developer behind the Stockton University campus in Atlantic City is getting involved, along with the new St Michael’s tenants and Harrah’s, to try and solve an electricity issue that is holding up the refurbishment.

How did all these connections come about? It’s an only-in-Atlantic City story involving two local dynamos, Dorrie Papademetriou, founder of pottery-making non-profit MudGirls Studios, and Dena Ferone, founder of soon-to-be non-profit Closet of Hope AC.

Ferone, who previously worked at Covenant House, says the Closet of Hope will provide everything from resume-writing help to job-interview skills sessions and workwear for local residents. In less than a year, she’s assembled a board, started the process of forming the 501(c)3, and fundraised for the organization. Ferone approached Harrah’s for help with painting and refurbishment of the site and Sherwin Williams to donate paint.

Meanwhile, down the former school corridor from Ferone, Papademetriou started to move into the site but hit a roadblock: the decades old electric supply in the building was not enough to power her kiln. When Atlantic City Development Corporation (ACDEVCO) approached Papademetriou for artwork to display in the future Stockton University campus in the city, Papademetriou mentioned the electric issue.

ACDEVCO and Harrah’s are now coordinating to try and solve the problem. “We thought it would be a good way to help another non-profit,” said ACDEVCO’s Sarah Clarke.

Ferone said while it is disappointing to have to wait before opening the Closet of Hope, she cannot put a price on the support her organization and MudGirls Studios are receiving. “It is so extraordinary and kind-hearted and I am extremely grateful!” she wrote.

Ferone expects to run Closet of Hope entirely with volunteers. Other costs will be met through fundraising and donations. There is a list of items that the organization needs here. Ferone is optimistic that finding volunteers to help will not be a problem. “There’s a yearning for people to volunteer,” she said.

As Ferone notes, with high unemployment in South Jersey and next year’s reopening of the former Taj Mahal casino, there will be a lot of future customers for Closet of Hope’s services. “I think of people who’ve been laid off from casinos or need some extra part-time work,” she said, adding that people who have been in one job for a long time are often most at a loss when it comes to trying to get a new job and figuring out the interview process after years of not needing to. “I want to have all different classes here and bring local businesses in and tell their story,” she said, emphasizing that the organization will do more than just provide clothes.

If you want to see some photos from our tour of the site last month, check out the gallery below. And you can find out more about Closet of Hope and help fundraise by attending the Carnival of Hope at Ducktown Tavern tonight from 5 pm.