By Nadia Maria Smith
CS&T Staff Writer
It may seem unfathomable that a child living in Philadelphia could go his or her entire life without visiting the beach, but that is the case for many inner city youths.
That reality inspired Jeanie and Vincent Hubach, members of St. Andrew Parish in Drexel Hill, to start Angels on the Atlantic, a nonprofit organization that delivers a variety of beachside educational and recreational activities precisely for those children.
“Vince and I were fortunate enough to spend time down the shore with our families growing up,” Jeanie Hubach said. Through her husband’s work in providing equipment for corner stores, delis and pizzerias in impoverished city neighborhoods, she met a number of children who didn’t know what a beach was, let alone experienced it.
“These children only see three or four city blocks … but we thought that if we exposed them to something bigger it might motivate them to stay in school and try harder to succeed,” she said.
The couple decided to buy two beachfront properties in Ocean City, N.J., and start a nonprofit that would give children in Philadelphia and Camden time at the shore. That was almost four years ago and since then thousands of children have visited the beach through Angels on the Atlantic.
The nonprofit offers free daily programs that include Science by the Sea, a hands-on exploration of sea and dune life; Arts & Entertainment by the Sea, an opportunity for artistic and musical expression; Health & Nutrition by the Sea, a fun approach to better understanding food choices and nutritional content; and Sports and Fitness by the Sea, a program that provides an opportunity for youth to interact with local sports celebrities and trainers to learn daily routines for staying active and fit.
All programs were designed in collaboration with Fortune 500 corporations, academics, entrepreneurs and mentors. During the programs, children get free beach access, beach tags, t-shirts, bathing suits, towels, sunscreen, refreshments and lunch.
It is all made possible through private donations and volunteer work.
Bathing suits, beach towels and sunscreens are donated by the Hubachs’ parish and other local parishes; the beach tags are donated by Ocean City; and the snacks and refreshments sold through the Angels on the Atlantic Restaurant are donated by local stores. 100 percent of the proceeds from that are reinvested in the nonprofit.
Recently, the fifth grade class of St. Joseph School in Downingtown raised $1,000 for the organization. The money will pay for bus transportation for visiting inner city parishes that can’t afford it.
“Some of the kids show up with real hardened street attitudes although they are just 8, 9 or 10-year-old kids,” Vincent Hubach said. “Whatever I say to them they act like they are too cool for it, but within 30 seconds on the beach, they become kids again and can drop their street defenses for the day. We hear them sitting around eating lunch saying things like, ‘This is the best day of my life!’ They are so excited and you can tell it is a highlight for them.
“The counselors tell us that they use the beach as an incentive and motivator to get them to follow through on their homework or to behave,” he added. “Going to the beach is their reward at end of the year and they want it so they shape up and do their work.”
With no children of their own, the couple is happy to be able to pass on the Christian virtues of love, kindness, compassion, respect and sharing, Jeanie Hubach said.
“Nowadays people are so fixated on money and monetary things, but we just want to make a difference in these kids’ lives and show them they don’t need money to make a difference. We want them to understand that everyone is the same — it’s not about money, the color of their skin, or what neighborhood they come from, but loving each other and having faith.”
For more information visit www.angelsontheatlantic.org, or call 610-571-2221 x 2.
The Hubachs invite other parishes to help Angels on the Atlantic by coordinating bathing suit and beach towel drives over the winter months.
CS&T staff writer Nadia Maria Smith may be reached at email@example.com or (215) 965-4614.