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WILDWOOD – Dec. 10 was a day of hope and heartbreak for the staff of Cape Assist. They planned for the annual Tree of Hope lighting at 6 p.m., but earlier in the day got word that the $300,000 Small Cities grant, to expand to a building at 5010 New Jersey Ave. was not awarded.

The Tree of Hope was decorated with ornaments that serve as symbols of hope for those struggling with and recovering from addiction, and the departed.

The ornaments, “Keep the flame of hope alive for those who have been touched by addiction and who are striving for a better tomorrow for themselves, their families, and our community,” according to a release.

Cape Assist announced in another release that it was cancelling the proposed acquisition of a building in Wildwood, which it intended to use as a Community Learning Center. Part of the funding would have upgraded the facility to retrofit it to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility.

The proposal to use a former Kay and Kay legal office had been opposed by the city and residents. A trolley from Wildwood carried opponents to an Aug. 25 freeholder meeting. Some carried signs demanding freeholders stop dumping on Wildwood, something flatly rejected by Director Gerald Thornton.

Mayor Ernie Troiano addressed the board and conveyed his disapproval of the proposal. At City Commissioners’ Dec. 9 meeting, Troiano said the grant did not pass, and that he had been in contact with “one of their directors.”

Opponents believed the center would ultimately become a drug treatment center; something Cape Assist is not, nor would it be licensed to have.

Instead, the building would have been used for family counseling, programs for the elderly and children, according to Cape Assist officials. Need for those services decline in summer, but increase in fall and winter.

Katie Faldetta, Cape Assist’s associate executive director, told the Herald regarding its next step, “We don’t really know yet. We still need space to provide the services we want to the community. We know there is a great need for more family programs, and more programs for youth, especially in Wildwood, and we’re trying to figure out what our next step should be.”

The board of the organization will convene in the near future to determine its course of action.

As the result of not winning the grant, Cape Assist temporarily interrupted its capital campaign.

“We still need to focus on what we can do without the space,” Faldetta said. “Then try to find more space so we can keep providing what we need to do.

“We’re going to stay in Wildwood,” said Faldetta, although there are needs throughout the county. “We know we’re not serving the community to the full extent,” she continued.

“Other places in the county have been a little bit more welcoming, and they have a need as well, so that might be something we consider other locations," she added.

“Cape May County continues to have rising numbers of ‘at risk families’ that contribute to the alarming drug epidemic in the region and there is an increasing demand for Cape Assist services,” the release stated.

In its current, two-story Cape Assist location at 3928 New Jersey Ave. space has become an issue with the influx of families and services needed, as well as demands on the staff of professionals, which need to increase to accommodate these growing numbers, the release stated.

A Community Learning Center would help strengthen and educate families in prevention and early intervention and allow Cape Assist to expand its preventative services and programs, provide resources to families and offer meeting space to local community groups. 

Lynne Krukosky, executive director at Cape Assist, stated, “Cape Assist is still committed to providing the much needed Community Learning Center and will resume the capital campaign once another location and funding plan is determined.”

“Cape Assist would like to thank everyone who supported their quest for the Community Learning Center, especially Joanne Kay, the owner of the proposed building, who generously worked with them throughout the process,” the release stated.

Faldetta said there had been no contact between the organization and city since the grant announcement Dec. 7.

“They (DCA) have not told us why (the rejection). They have not sent us a letter, but I understand it will be forthcoming,” said Faldetta.

“We’re going to regroup and see what we can do. We will not stop working with and relying on the kindness of the community to let us use their space,” said Faldetta.

The Cape Assist is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit agency dedicated to preventing and treating substance abuse and related issues in Cape May County through education, advocacy, community collaboration, and counseling, according to its website.

It is part of The New Jersey Prevention Network. Each county in New Jersey is represented in this affiliation. Together the organization strives to provide effective, research-based prevention programming and the latest materials and publications.

It has served the county for over 30 years. Cape Assist promotes health and wellness in the community, implementing research-based services to seniors, schools, businesses, and organizations, all structured to enrich families and build healthy communities.

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