ATLANTIC CITY — Inside Indra Owens’ Venice Park home, a blue-purple betta fish swims in a tank on the dining room table.
“We asked for the most resilient fish,” Owens said Tuesday, smiling. “And then Journey named him COVID.”
Resilience is a word packed tight with meaning for Owens, a single mother to her 9-year-old daughter, Journey, but it’s taken on even more importance as the COVID-19 pandemic has raged through the state and continues to impact everyday life.
Owens, 38, who grew up in the city’s Westside neighborhood and now works as a counselor at Atlantic City High School, recently published her third book, “Trust Your Journey” — a self-help guide and activity book she completed during the state-mandated stay-at-home order to mitigate the spread of the disease.
It’s targeted at mothers and children to increase mindfulness and strengthen mental health, with an emphasis on Atlantic City “because you always take care of home first.”
“I believe it’s important because people, especially people in the Black community, are starting to dance with the whole concept of mental health support now, when it had been very taboo,” Owens said. “I just want people to take their mental health seriously. Even as a school counselor, I see the effects of parents not having the right tools. I serve the kids.”
The coronavirus pandemic has upended people’s lives across the country, but parents and their children have been hit especially hard. Financial pressures, food insecurity and mental health issues, including stress and anxiety, are all increased, and these effects are multiplied in Black and other minority communities, experts say.
Looking at Atlantic City, where the majority of people identify as Black, Asian, Hispanic or Latino and more than a third of residents live in poverty, officials have learned that even before the pandemic, many ran out of food before they had the money to buy more.
As of Friday, there have been 422 cases of the coronavirus in the resort with 14 deaths, according to Atlantic County data.
Owens’ book is filled with activities for parents and children to learn how to balance their lives and understand and improve their mental health, including journaling, drawing and coloring, because “hurt people hurt people” and “building healthy children builds healthy adults,” Owens said, attributing the sayings to her mother.
“I think we all would be a healthier and more successful community if we had some tools in place that we aren’t resistant to use,” Owens said, especially during the pandemic. “We got caught up in this house together, and I had to work and (Journey) had to do school work and then it became turbo time for our mindfulness strategies, our mental health strategies — we both had to really do some different things to build resilience.”
One of the tools Owens uses is pretty simple — asking Journey how she slept and how she’s feeling each morning. But, instead of asking her to express how she feels in words, Journey points to emojis illustrating different feelings instead.
“A lot of times, as parents, we’re not engaged with how our children are starting the day,” Owens said, explaining that once she knows, she can communicate with Journey’s teachers about how her daughter is feeling. “Often, kids might not be able to articulate how they’re feeling, but those emojis work. It didn’t take much at all, and now everybody’s on the same page.”
Dr. Nina Radcliff, a physician anesthesiologist from Galloway Township working on the front lines of the pandemic intubating patients, said communication between parents and their children, especially now, is important.
“Children are able to adapt if we teach them and set good examples,” she said. “They’re like sponges. We have to give kids more credit.”
Radcliff described routine family meetings with her 8-year-old daughter and daily “temperature checks” to ask how she’s doing and feeling, because stress that becomes chronic can turn into anxiety.
“Anxious thoughts are fine because it teaches you how to survive,” she said. “But when anxiety lingers without a potential threat, that’s when they can interfere with our best function and wellness.”
Eating well, staying hydrated and finding activities that decrease stress, including prayer, reading, meditation, yoga, aromatherapy and other hobbies, can all help, she said.
“We’re thriving, strangely so,” Radcliff said, describing quality time spent with her daughter during the pandemic. “I think that the story of COVID and pandemic, there are real fears, but you can turn this into a real success story.”
Near the end of Owens’ book are several illustrations to color, drawn by 16-year-old Olivia Edmonds.
“For me, the way I imagined it and tried to draw it out was showing resilience as in togetherness,” the Mays Landing resident said. “Resilience also correlates to happiness; I tried to draw my characters really happy.”
Thumbing through the pages, there’s a young man playing basketball, a cheerleader, a father and son feeding a sea gull, a girl braiding her sister’s hair and two women enjoying a picnic, among others. Above the illustrations are motivational phrases like “hug longer,” “strive harder” and “Black Lives Matter” that Owens added.
For Owens, resilience means letting her daughter “lead the way,” she said.
In the book’s dedication, Owens wrote that Journey has “redefined life for me — everything now has more meaning and purpose — her wit and intelligence and humor and maturity and beauty and kindness and talent motivate me more and more each day to chase and manifest my own dreams so that she can attain her own.”
She admires that children intrinsically have a certain level of resilience that comes with being young, she said.
“Me allowing things to fall in place and they do, and being OK with whatever the outcome is ... what’s for me is for me,” Owens said. “And the resilience it takes to trust the journey even when we’re not sure of the outcome. The anticipated end is what excites me the most.”
OCEAN CITY — After 85 years and three generations on Asbury Avenue, brothers Mike and Mark Annarelli have decided to sell the bicycle store founded by their grandfather.
“We’re ready to retire,” said Mark Annarelli, 59. He and his brother Mike, 61, sat for an interview in the back of Annarelli’s Bicycle Store before it opened for the day.
Both said they were planning to retire in a few years, but the summer of 2020 has convinced them the time is now.
“It moved up the timeline, that’s for sure,” Mike Annarelli said.
Extraordinary demand for bikes, coupled with factories around the world shut down for weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has meant a crushing shortage.
The state is looking into a glitch that lowered the total positive COVID-19 cases from Saturday to Sunday, according to a Twitter post from the governor over the weekend.
At the shop, they have a couple of children’s bikes in the window, a couple of vintage bikes on the floor that Mark Annarelli dug out of storage, and a secondhand beach cruiser, one they described as a “beater,” that they do not expect to have very long.
“We don’t have really any product, and we don’t foresee getting any in,” said Mark Annarelli. They expected to get new bikes earlier this summer, but that keeps getting delayed. The store usually deals with five different bike companies, and none of them has bikes to sell.
“Schwinn has told us now it’s going to be November before we see any bikes,” he said.
Mike Annarelli believes Schwinn is the only company that is leveling with them. He said the 2021 bike models are set to be released in late summer, but he does not expect to have much for sale during their busiest season.
May was great. Everyone came in and bought bikes,” Mark Annarelli said. Since then, businesses has been a fraction of previous years.
The $17.3 billion merger of Eldorado Resorts Inc. and Caesars Entertainment Corp. was finalized Monday, the newly formed company announced.
The brothers joked that the long space in the store that is usually jammed with bikes for sale could be used as a bowling alley or a dance floor.
The brothers continue to service bikes, but they said it is also difficult to get parts right now.
“Everything going on made our decision for us,” Mark Annarelli said.
They both grew up in the business, living upstairs and working downstairs.
“I was 7 and Mike was 9 years old when our father bought the business from his father. So we’ve been in it going on 53 years for me,” said Mark Annarelli. “For 31 years, Mike and I have owned it.”
There were no coronovirus-related deaths reported over the weekend in either Atlantic or Cape May counties.
It started with their grandfather, Magno Annarelli, who came to Ocean City 99 years ago and opened a barber shop at 1014 Asbury Ave. They said when he immigrated from Italy, he was told by an immigration officer that his name was now “Michael.”
In 1935, during the Great Depression, Magno Annarelli bought out a bike rental stand and began offering bike rentals from the shop, launching the new family business, renting and selling bikes and accessories and doing repairs.
His son, Dominic, worked in the shop before he bought it in 1968. He sold it to his sons when he was ready to retire in 1989. Mike and Mark Annarelli both have grown children, but they never encouraged them to take over the business.
The work is too demanding, they said, and it almost never stops. Even when the shop is closed and the repairs and services are done for the day, they still have to do the books, make the orders and plan for the next day.
Many people miss family events for work, Mike Annarelli said, but as a business owner, you miss almost everything.
OCEAN CITY — Five days after closing their stores on the Boardwalk because of several employees testing positive for the novel coronavirus, Manco & Manco Pizza reopened one Boardwalk parlor on Sunday.
Mark Annarelli has two daughters. One worked briefly at the business.
“I think my wife fired my one daughter,” he said. “That afternoon she went up to Johnson’s Popcorn and got a job. Just to rub it in. She’s a pistol.”
That daughter, Danielle Kershbaumer, is now a registered nurse. Dominique, his other daughter, teaches in the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District.
But both men said they will miss their customers, whom they described as amazingly loyal. Just as the business has gone through generations, so have the customers. The brothers reminisced about selling a family a child’s first bike and then seeing that child return years later for bikes for his own children.
“All that time, we’ve met a lot of nice families,” Mark Annarelli said.
ATLANTIC CITY — State gaming regulators gave the final approval Friday for a $17.3 billion merger of Eldorado Resorts Inc. and Caesars Entertainment Corp., clearing the way for a deal that will create the country’s largest casino operator.
“We’ve really been blessed. That’s the only word to say. We’ve had some wonderful people who’ve supported our family for 85 years. We really can’t thank them enough,” Mike Annarelli said.
They said they explored selling the business, which already has a built-in customer base, but there was little interest. Instead, they plan to sell the building, which includes a three-bedroom apartment upstairs. They have not yet decided on an asking price. Until recently, their mother, Margaret Annarelli, lived upstairs, dividing her time between Ocean City and their sister’s home.
Now 97, she has been staying isolated because of the pandemic and did not come back to Ocean City this summer. Her sons described her as integral to the business when their father ran it, doing the books and working with customers.
The building is set to enter a booming real estate market at the shore. Just next door, a combination of retail and residential units is planned for the former Cape Bank building at 10th Street and Asbury Avenue.
The state’s first mostly vote-by-mail election resulted in thousands of voters having to prove their ballots legitimate because they either didn’t sign them or the signatures on their ballots didn’t match those on file at county boards of election.
A particular problem in Atlantic County were signatures on file that were indistinct — often just a squiggly line — while signatures on ballots were much clearer.
The indistinct signatures were often made on an electronic screen through the state Motor Vehicle Commission, said Board of Elections Chair Lynn Caterson.
“The board has indicated there are many concerns we found in this election ... we felt needed to be fixed before the next election, and yes, that was one of them,” Caterson said of the poor-quality MVC signatures.
In Atlantic County, 615 vote-by-mail or provisional ballots were set aside and “cure letters” sent to the voters, said Caterson. That was out of about 49,000 ballots cast.
NORTHFIELD — Likely Democratic nominee for the 2nd Congressional District Amy Kennedy, of Brigantine, is ready to mend fences after a heated primary election.
The cure letters asked voters to sign and return a form in order for their votes to count.
Caterson said about 365 forms had been received back, and those votes were counted Friday.
“While MVC is always working to upgrade and improve systems, there are no specific plans at this time to change the mode of signature collection,” spokesman William Connolly said.
The cure letters were only an option because of an executive order by Gov. Phil Murphy, who wanted to minimize the chance of spreading COVID-19 by holding a mostly vote-by-mail election.
He ordered that voters whose ballots had signature problems be given a chance to correct them so their votes would count. It is unknown whether a similar order will be in place for the general election in November.
The hotly contested Democratic primary in the 2nd Congressional District — unofficially won by Brigantine’s Amy Kennedy — coupled with the ease of voting by mail, seemed to have dramatically driven up voter turnout in the July 7 primary election in South Jersey.
Statewide in earlier elections, ballots without signatures or with problematic signatures would not be counted.
“In the past we would void the ballot and send the voter a letter after the election telling the voter the signature didn’t match and the vote didn’t count,” Cape May County Registrar Michael Kennedy said.
Then the office would have the voter come in to update the signature for the next election.
According to the MVC’s 2019 annual report, 713,223 people registered statewide to vote while applying for driver’s licenses, an examination permit, a probationary driver’s license or a non-driver identification card. It was the first full year the MVC of automatic voter registration at MVC. Previously MVC customers could register on an "opt-in" basis, but had to deliberately select an option to register to vote, according to Connolly.
In Cape May County, 278 voters got cure letters, said Kennedy, out of almost 24,000 ballots cast.
MAYS LANDING — With all of Atlantic City’s 364 provisional votes counted Friday night, and almost all of the county’s 45,000 vote-by-mail ballots tabulated, Mayor Marty Small remains ahead in the city’s Democratic mayoral primary with more than 64% of the vote.
Kennedy said there was not a disproportionate number of poor MVC signatures in the mix. That’s probably because his office routinely examines signatures provided with new registrations from the MVC and takes steps to get better signatures on a daily basis, he said.
“If we get a signature we can’t decipher, on a daily basis we send a letter (to the voter),” Kennedy said. More than 90% of people respond and provide an updated signature.
“Any correspondence we get, we update the signature from the correspondence,” Kennedy said. “Over the years, signatures change.”
He said each office staff member has oversight of 12,000 to 14,000 voters, and has the responsibility to keep their signatures up to date.
“What the cure letter really did was help that process,” Kennedy said.
Editors Note: This story was updated on Monday, July 27 to clarify that 2019 was the first full year of automatic voter registration at MVC. The service was previously available on an "opt-in" basis.