Letter: Diane Thomas has selflessly served NEON Boutique

By Maryteresa (Missy) Conrad

To the Editor:

The NEON Boutique at 24 Haviland St. in South Norwalk benefits us all. Clients of our Open Door Shelter can walk over there for free clothing. The shelter’s own distribution site on South Water Street never reopened after the flooding of Hurricane Sandy last year. The shelter’s home site on Merritt Street is short on space, and huge bags of donations present a safety hazard. The NEON Boutique is a good place for us to bring donations that will be accessible to the locality and are without any cost.

After Hurricane Sandy, the staff at NEON provided meals and clothing to those affected. Chiquita Stephenson asked her mother, Diane Thomas, who has raised foster children but was then looking for a paid job, to volunteer. Mrs. Thomas did: She cooked, served and took it upon herself to organize the jumble of donations. Her attractive and systematic result impressed the staff at NEON. Diane Thomas was offered the task of obtaining donations, sorting and displaying them, and even keeping the place clean. Have you ever been to the boutique (careful of the Parking Authority man who tickets the area)? Mrs. Thomas changes the displays often. I have seen her gently handle people who try to take too much. She has had to console people from our neighboring municipalities who are down on their luck, but do not want to ask for charity there. Now, for months, Mrs. Thomas has not been paid, but she has continued to keep the NEON Boutique open.

Do you remember the Welfare Reform of the 1990’s? One of the promises not yet honored is to provide child care for working parents. At least some people do have family to fill in. I have been at the boutique a couple of times when Diane Thomas’ grandchildren were there; the children were very well behaved. Many clients come with their own children.

Once, when I asked one of our long-serving legislators why, to save taxpayers’ money, levels of our government could not set a limit for the pay of executives of companies with whom governments do business, his response was, “Hey, this is America.” Executive pay is now a sign of prestige and respect; so, although it was not fiscally prudent nor good for management-employee relations, nor good for our public perception that ignores the excesses of some businesses but expects such purity and austerity in civil servants, Ms. Stephensen did take an untimely raise (I cannot believe that Mary Mann, who had so much responsibility at NEON for so many years, had been paid only $50,000 before; of course, the raise was double and also untimely).

An idea to cut costs at the NEON Boutique would be to rent out the apartment upstairs, instead of using it to sort and store donations. The planned training for people to learn how to work in sales could be done elsewhere or on site before opening hours (Tuesday to Friday, 12:30 p.m. until 6 pm). Perhaps one of our local groups such as Homefront or Builders without Borders could make the separation. Our Parking Authority, now private, could wave the fee at the meter outside ($7 per day for Mrs. Williams because the spot in the Haviland Street Parking Lot has never been there when she arrives at lunch time).

Of course, NEON needs restructuring. I myself had had a blessed Life and have not had to struggle to make do. I cannot imagine how our poorer people survive. We who are so fortunate can be patient and understanding. Our poor people will not really benefit from the newest attack submarine that costs $2.6 billion. Why should we at the local and state levels be fighting over pennies; why is not military spending and its effect on the rest of humanity with whom we share our one, beautiful Earth not truly discussed?

Maryteresa (Missy) Conrad



5 responses to “Letter: Diane Thomas has selflessly served NEON Boutique”

  1. Lifelong Teacher

    Hmmm, why is it that DSS, in its many visits to the ‘store,’. never found it open?

    Why is it that they found Chiquita’s mother not working at running the store, as she was being well paid to do, but rather babysitting her grandchildren?

    And as far as renting out the apartment above for revenue, excellent idea. NEON management, however, gave it for FREE to Joseph Mann’s ex wife. Again, would probably still be going on today but for he fact that DSS found this out. All while Chiquita was CFO.

    The writer/friend above has a convenient slant on history.

  2. Rob

    I have no affiliation to Neon but I have been to the Haviland Boutique when I was having rough times. It is very well kept the best example would be it is like the boutiques running through Fairfield on post road it does have off hours but MsThomas takes care of the boutique as if it is her own.It is very difficult to except criticism from people who have probably never visited the boutique before. While I can except the criticism of neon it is very difficult for me to accept the way the Haviland boutique and Ms Thomas who runs it has been portrayed.

  3. WHAT?

    @Lifelong Teacher, your point is accurate and correct. Also in this letter, you see the same misdirection that is always thrown out there by the NEON shills.
    For example, they keep saying the city yanked a away 2.6m like it happened in one shot last week. In fact the city stopped giving 1.3m per year TWO YEARS AGO, but NEON keeps adding it up over time and stating the figure like it still belongs to them. With NEON being local and the city knowing the organization better than anyone else, the city did what DSS, Dept. of Corrections, and Headstart finally figured out two years later and pulled their money.
    The fact that the city realized two years ago that NEON couldn’t be trusted with money does not pass for an explanation as to why, for instance, Chiquita Stephenson thought it was ok to hand out 100 checks that anyone with even a high school diploma knew would bounce and thought they could just say it was actually the bank’s fault — just another major organization that was lying about NEON if you ask Chiquita.
    And anyone with a nose working well enough to smell a rat should be concerned about anyone named as CEO by this current board — these are the people that backed Chiquita through all the obvious problems that caused half the board to resign in October.
    Lastly, I thought it was NORWALK Economic Opportunity Now — so, why is the whole show being run by Stamford from Berkhoff and O’Dea to now the new CEO — but they keep saying this is all because two years ago our city stopped blindly handing over money.

  4. Oldtimer

    There was a merger between Neon and a similar organization in Stamford to keep the Stamford group from going under from the weight of it’s financial problems. The State strongly encouraged the merger.
    Much of the leadership[p now is from Stamford, in part, because the board members from Norwalk keep resigning.

  5. Oldtimer

    Lifelong teacher
    Missy Conrad’s letter makes it sound as if Ms Thomas was working as a volunteer, not getting paid. Do you have other information, or, are you misreading the letter ?

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