Atlantic City Local 661-708 Expands “We Care” Program

Volume C, No. 2February, 2000

The Atlantic City musicians’ union’s “We Care” program will ring in the 21st century by opening its doors on a daily basis for outreach to the community of Atlantic City and southern New Jersey musicians who are in need of health care and emergency social services.

We Care has functioned as an ad hoc project since its inception in 1992, when a small but committed group of local rank-and-file members tracked down fellow musicians who suddenly “went missing” to determine if they were in poor health, or needed help with living expenses.

Case by case, help was provided for medical bills, utility bills and the like. To date, We Care’s shoestring budget has included donations (usually in the name of deceased loved ones) from modest-income earners among the rank and file who learned about the drive through word of mouth.

“We’re still operating on a shoestring, but it was decided unanimously at our January meeting that the time has come to be available at the other end of the phone on a round-the-clock basis,” said We Care co-founder Bernie Terrence, the respected pianist and a lifelong resident of Atlantic City. Terrence pointed out that “our fund raisers, so far, have been humble efforts. We’ve done what we can, as fast as we can. Thankfully, our We Care volunteers have increased in number — and we’re now working with musicians as well as community leaders to expand both our fundraising activities and the scope of our services.”

The Rev. Clancy Wilson, who produces the popular Sunday Jazz Vespers at Trinity United Methodist Church, has been a key We Care founding member, providing accommodations and supplies for the group’s meetings and events.

It was Terrence — a former president of Local 708, the segregated local of Black musicians in Atlantic City which merged in the 1960s with the white Local 661 — who originated the concept of We Care. When he noticed that a trumpeter and friend, who had played with the Bernie Terrence Orchestra at the Paddock Club in Atlantic City, was “missing in action,” he solicited the assistance of rank-and-file fellows in a search for the trumpeter — who, indeed, had run into hard times. From this experience the “Sunshine Club” was born and run by Terrence, who sent hundreds of get-well cards, birthday cards and other greetings of good cheer to South Jersey rank and filers.

Rev. Wilson recalls, “Several of us took note of Bernie’s tireless generosity. He is a wonderful man; both he and his wife are all about service. With the example of the Sunshine Club, Bernie Terrence planted the seeds that caused We Care to emerge.”

In addition to providing funds for health care and emergency living expenses, We Care will offer counseling on alcoholism and drug addiction. Any local member who requires and requests treatment for addiction and alcoholism will be guaranteed such treatment through We Care’s tenacious networking efforts with bonafide health facilities and support groups.

We Care will soon announce the details of a fundraising event and direct mail solicitation, scheduled for next month. It also hopes to forge a relationship with the New Jersey AFL-CIO Community Services program.

“We are developing plans to establish a full-blown Musicians’ Assistance Program, like the ones founded by the Los Angeles and New York musicians’ locals,” said Rev. Wilson. “As we enter the new millennium, we see this MAP program enhancing the camaraderie among our members in the spirit of our most honored organized-labor tradition — to care for each other.

“Even a cursory review of the deeds of our labor heroes and civil rights pioneers reminds us that the greatest motivator for spiritual growth and union strength is service to others. When we’ve got that straight, everything else falls into place,” he said. “We all are indebted to Bernie Terrence for planting the seed.”