‘Crying’ South Norwalk seeks answers, gets some

Olivia Dardy, who ran for the Common Council as a Democratic At Large candidate last fall, talks about the needs of South Norwalk youth Thursday in Columbus Elementary School.

NORWALK, Conn. – Concern for South Norwalk youth dominated Mayor Harry Rilling’s latest Mayor’s Night Out, from the lack of open gymnasiums to the lottery system used to gain entry to the neighborhood school.

While the four previous night-out events kept Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord talking in response to questions from the public, the questions asked Thursday at Columbus Magnet School drew responses mainly from Recreation and Parks Superintendent Ken Hughes, Norwalk Public Schools  Superintendent Manny Rivera and Deputy Norwalk Police Chief David Wrinn. Dissention between the South Norwalk Community Center and Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) factions was also a topic, while most of the ideas presented to help youth were not regarded as being helpful enough.

The information and brainstorming session was shortchanged, attendees agreed, as it was cut short. Rilling tried to keep the event to an hour because there was another event scheduled to take place. He apologized and said the next Mayor’s Night Out would also be held in South Norwalk, maybe at the police station, due to the interest level.

West Rocks Middle School Principal Lynne Moore said that, over the years, she has lost a lot of students to gang violence. Her plea of not enough activities for young people was met by an explanation of summer camps from Hughes, who admitted he was not well versed in the topic.

Moore said she was looking for innovative programming, something beyond the basics.

Wrinn asked Community Police Officer Hector Delgado to speak up. Delgado explained that he had just gotten approval from the Police Athletic League and the Recreations and Parks Department to run a program for sixth- to eighth-graders that combines basketball with mentoring workshops on varying topics, such as bullying or drugs.

“They have to go to the mentoring; the second part is playing basketball,” he said. “You can play but you have to attend the workshop.”

The kids will also clean up the senior center on Union Avenue, he said.

“I appreciate your enthusiasm and what you are putting forward, but I would like to see Norwalk … have some long-range plans,” Moore said, repeating the concerns about lethal violence.

“We are trying to do a city-wide youth council in collaboration with SAVE foundation,” said Corrine Weston of the SoNo Alliance. “We want youth to come together. As adults we have our own perspective. … We want to give the youth the opportunity, from middle school to high school, to voice what they want in this city.”

Councilman Travis Simms (D-District B) said he was working to establish a boxing program. In conjunction with that there might be a program with the SoNo record studio to start teaching kids about music, he said.

“There are various programs in the works right now we are going through the planning stages,” he said.

Rilling directed Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy to talk about the Fire Cadet program, which was inspired by the successful Police Explorer program.

McCarthy said it is so popular that the teens involved asked that it be held every week.

“It’s something other than sports for those kids who want leadership training, some exposure, professional development, career opportunity; I think that it is a great alternative. … I think it will be very effective,” McCarthy said.

Olivia Dardy, who grew up in Roodner Court, was recognized by Rilling as the highest scorer in Brien McMahon High School girls’ basketball history. Dardy said she was successful because there were facilities available when she was a child. But, having moved back to Norwalk a few years ago, she was shocked to see the gyms shut down.

South Norwalk children should not have to go to Ponus Ridge Middle School to play, she said. When she was a child, “We played hopscotch, we played with jump ropes, we played with board games and activities,” she said. “That kept us really busy and we didn’t find ourselves in trouble or on the street and doing things that we weren’t supposed to do. I guess I’m just trying to figure out can we open those gyms up?”

Rilling said there is money in the next budget to fund opening up some gyms, which will actually start happening in April.

Norwalk Parks Superintendent Ken Hughes answers questions at Thursday’s Mayor Night Out.

Hughes said the gyms will be staffed in the off hours, and will be free to everyone year round.

“It is a good idea, those kids need a place to go,” he said. “So I think it will end up being a home run by the city.”

Rilling credited council members David Watts, Sharon Stewart, Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman and Simms for making that happen. Volunteer helpers are welcome, he said.

Carolina Vidal said she lives within walking distance of Columbus and the Side by Side School, but her children are going to Cranbury Elementary. She had been unaware there is a lottery to get children enrolled in the neighborhood schools until it was too late, she said.

Rivera agreed it’s a problem.

“What I am doing right now administratively is identifying slots in five or six schools where parents will be able to place their children at kindergarten so they don’t have to wait until June, July or August after everybody else is placed,” he said. “In my view, it’s been a discriminatory practice and it needs to end. So we are doing that right now.”

A woman who declined to be identified said the South Norwalk community is crying because it is hurting.

“There is nothing here in South Norwalk at all. Nothing. NEON pretty much is gone. Housing closes at about six. You cannot go up to the Carver to participate there unless you’re going to the youth basketball,” she said. “I am coming from the youth perspective because they are coming to me all hours of night. What are we going to do? What’s going to happen? My mother just kicked me out 1 o’clock at night. There is nothing”

With the hot summer on the way, things are going to escalate, she said.

“These kids are going to be off the chain. They really are. I’m just going to give it to you point blank,” she said. “Their trust, they feel like in South Norwalk, is gone. Nobody here to listens to them. They say, ‘Oh no, we’re working or something.’ If you’re going to do something, just do it. They are tired of hearing ‘we’re working on this.’”

Parents are working two or three jobs, she said.

Rilling told her the Police Explorer, Fire Cadet and PAL programs are already happening. There is a breakfast meeting planned to try to raise funds for the summer youth employment program, he said.

Ernie Dumas opened the can of worms everyone knows about, the situation at 98 South Main St.

“As I sit here I am hearing a lot of people talking about South Norwalk Community Center,” he said. “South Norwalk Community Center is on the bottom floor and NEON is on the top floor, which is also the CAP (Community Action Program) agency of this city. NEON has not as yet gone anyplace, as yet. People are trying to target the South Norwalk Community Center to be over this. My concern is it’s about black and brown. If you’re going to go into a community center – and use the word –  make sure it is a community center, not a Latino center. That center is for everybody and that’s what a community center is all about. This is what we want to keep it as. A community center.”

Dumas confronted South Norwalk Community Center spokesman Pat Ferrandino after the meeting in a frank and open discussion. Rilling intervened.

“We need to work together,” he said. “So when you’re upstairs, and you’re downstairs … you’re working together.”

Norwalk Mayor's Night Out 032714 131
South Norwalk residents discuss problems Thursday in Columbus Elementary School.


18 responses to “‘Crying’ South Norwalk seeks answers, gets some”

  1. Casey Smith

    “My concern is it’s about black and brown. If you’re going to go into a community center – and use the word – make sure it is a community center, not a Latino center.”
    Interesting comment. Apparently I was under the mistaken impression that N.E.O.N. & the South Norwalk Community Center were helping everyone in need, as was Briggs. But according to Mr. Dumas and Mr. Mosby, they are serving only specific groups. I guess the word “community” has come to mean something different than what I thought it meant.

  2. Bill

    The only people I ever hear referencing race are Mr. Dumas, Mr. Mosby, and other old south norwalk leaders.

    Mr. Dumas along with Mr. Mosby need to realize latinos are not going to sit down and shut up. We are people and we deserve respect. We are tired of being treated like second class citizens in our own community. If you do not like the demographic changes in our community, feel free to move to Bridgeport.

  3. Mrs. Ruby McPherson

    Mr. Dumas and Mr. Mosby are not-racist and the conversation was not about Latinos and Blacks, it was about the good old boy. Stop trying to make it seem that way. The conversation is about making everyone accountable and what this community need for everyone, not a community center that is only going to serve Latinos or Blacks, Whites. The community is filled with Black/Brown/Latinos/ Whites/ and a few others. Its not like a Rowayton or Darien, even the housing in Darien, how many and what income level live in the Heights? We want a better quality of life also and not just everything ,Shelter, Junk yard and Dirt yards surrounding us. Also Mr. Dumas is nothing like Mr. Mosby

  4. LWitherspoon

    In the first sentence of your comment, you note that the only people talking about race are Mssrs. Dumas and Moseby. In the second sentence, you proceed to make a comment about Latinos. Wouldn’t that make you another person who is talking about race?
    I’m troubled by recent comments suggesting that any part of taxpayer-funded services are solely for one race or ethnicity. The goal should be to help ALL people who are economically disadvantaged. Perhaps the answer is just one community action agency, with leadership that reflects the diversity of the community it serves. Kudos to Mayor Rilling for stating that each group must work together for the benefit of all.

  5. Bill

    @Mrs. Ruby McPherson, if you don’t like your surroundings, feel free to move to Iowa or some other state that costs much less and you don’t have to live next to junk yards and dirt yards. No one is making you have to live in this city, therefore, you shouldn’t ask the rest of us to have to pay for your community’s social services or subsidized “affordable” housing. We have limited budgets and limited pockets. What will you have when all the middle class of norwalk moves to Fairfield, Wilton, and Trumbull?

  6. Mrs. Ruby McPherson

    Thank you Witherspoon, and that’s all Mr. Dumas is saying and have said to both agencies. We have worked with Mr. Dumas on different projects and he includes everyone. His Thanksgiven feeding & Coat Drive(which Soncc claim it was their programs)/ Cleanups/ Secret Santa Delivery assisting Seniors. Use of the Multi-purpose room has always been used free of charge for these events,because they were for the South Norwalk community all peoples, lets see what happen this year?

  7. Mrs. Ruby McPherson

    @Bill, I am a democrate,not a tea party. I was raised in Norwalk and I am a taxpayer and my parents worked hard to have their own home considering that system didn’t what Black to have any thing, such as the school system that don’t work. But Dr Rivera is working on fixing. Every city has a social agency. By the way I am a middle class and most of them because of GOP/Tea party are using these social agencies also.If most was employed and could move Iam sure they would. Norwalk didn’t have much to offer minorities in the 60’s much less now. There is people who are really trying to make a change where they live,because everyone don’t have fund to jump and move. So just like you fight for what you want in your community we will also.

  8. Bill

    @Mrs. Ruby, feel free to roll up your sleeves and volunteer your time in south norwalk, just don’t ask the rest of the city to keep throwing money at problems that money can’t fix. Broken homes, children out of wedlock, and drugs are problems money cannot fix. We have been throwing trillions at these problems for years, and yet they magically keep continuing. Time to limit the dollars going to these programs until our economy gets better. In the mean time, your community needs to look for self sufficiency. The Tea Party might hate the Black Panthers, but you know what, they managed to feed, educate, and build businesses for their own communities in the 60’s. Why can’t south norwalk attempt that model?

  9. Silence Dogood

    End bussing now. These families and communities need neighborhood schools. The city’s districts are integrated. It is racist to put children on school buses for hours a day to take them out of their neighborhoods in the name of fairness. This experiment has had 3 decades to play out and has been a huge failure. Time to end it. Re-open Franklin asap. Consolidate Wolfpit into Naramake, Tracey, and Cranbury to pay for it. The money you save off of buses would be huge not to mention better for the environment and most importantly the kids.

  10. Bill

    @Silence Dogood, maybe this is something we can all agree on. Time to end the busing and let us have true neighborhood schools.

  11. Cantwejustgetalong

    AGAIN, why do you think Latinos are trying to take over the south Norwalk community center? Because some people organizing it or directing are Latinos? Because the majority of the people who rent out the rooms at Sonocc are Latinos? Seriously get over it. Latinos don’t have a secret agenda. Feel free to join and help them. Work together as Mayor Rilling suggested. Stop making it a Latino vs African American thing. I have yet y hear a Latino public figure say anything negative about another race.

  12. tired of negativity

    Bill, you are totally out of control, you sound like your stuck in a time warp. Please stop labeling the people in South Norwalk. South Norwalk is a very diverse neighborhood and we would like to keep it that way.
    Please note everyone in South Norwalk are not a product of broken homes or uneducated, some wonderful people reside in South Norwalk.
    Secondly Mr. Dumas was merely letting everyone know a cap agency is a community agency, and everyone who calls them self a community agency is not. NEON Services and will continue to service the WHOLE LOWER FAIRFIELD COUNTY. While the other center seems to only care about serving the Latino population, this is wrong and is not something we wish to see in our community. I have no problem standing with the people within the community to make sure we maintain unity!!!

  13. Casey Smith

    @ Ms. McPherson –
    Just a couple of points –
    1 – “Mr. Dumas and Mr. Mosby are not-racist…” Okay. Then explain Mr. Mosby’s comment ““We are the majority in this school system. You trying to put the Hispanics against the black, right there in Briggs High School. … That was a black school once. Now you loading it with all Hispanics. You setting up the blacks. I’m not going to let it happen,” he said.” Sounds to me like Mr. Mosby is staking a claim that Briggs should be exclusively a black school.
    And as I quoted earlier — Mr. Dumas’s words “My concern is it’s about black and brown. If you’re going to go into a community center – and use the word – make sure it is a community center, not a Latino center.” If it wasn’t about minority communities, all that needed to be said was “If it’s going to be a Community Center, it needs to be a community center for all of Norwalk.”
    Okay. Now, “I am a democrate,not a tea party.” How did the Tea Party get pulled into this story? Just a quick point of information. Just because someone is not a Democrat does not mean they are automatically a member of the Tea Party. And if you are using the phrase “tea party” as a term for all Republicans, please be aware that not all Republicans are conservatives and not all conservatives are members of the Tea Party or even Republican. And it’s also important to mention that there are many, many people in Norwalk who are either Independents or unaffiliated.

  14. Dawn

    how do people find out about the mayors night out. i would love to go but never heard about one. How are they advertised.
    why doesn’t the mayor send out a call to every one in that area to let them know.

    1. Mark Chapman


      Usually you can find out on NancyOnNorwalk, by reading the Once Around The City roundups that run once or twice a week as needed. Unfortunately, I fell down on the job and missed the Mayor’s Night Out this time. We will run the April date as soon as we have it.

      You can also find it by checking the city website calendar: http://www.norwalkct.org/calendar.aspx Go to the calendar and click on the MONTH tab to see what is happening. If you don’t see it, keep checking back. But we’d really prefer you to find it here! 🙂

  15. Amazed

    I suggest that you walk into South Norwalk Community Center and take a look at the participates in all programs…. There will be question in your mind as to who is served by SNCC.

  16. Don’t Panic

    You can also sign up on the city web site to receive email notifications.


    There will always be a race issue in any community whether its said “in words people dont understand or just right out call it like it is as Dumas/Mosby bring it” This is the time to just do something about it and look at the families and youth that are being affected by the non-support from not only community leaders and community centers. “Let’s just Do It” but do it together. It is what it is. JEESH!!

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