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Letter: Dream for NEON, SNCC dissolved into nightmare

By Mimi and Bobby Burgess

To the Editor,

SNCC, NEON: The beginning

The co-location and coordination of these two agencies was the brain child of myself, as executive director of NEON, and Jaime Aguayo, executive director of SNCC, with input from Monsignor William Scheyd, board member of both NEON and SNCC, the Rev. Henry Yordon, board member of NEON and SNCC, Marina Rivera, representing Bishop Curtis of the Bridgeport Diocese, and Mimi Burgess, then chairperson of SNCC.

The idea was the result of the following problems: My desire to find larger space for NEON, which was located in a storefront at 33 South Main St., to enable NEON to create a one-stop location to serve all of the needs of the disadvantaged families in Norwalk and the surrounding areas, including the growing Latino community, and Mr. Aguayo’s desire to find space for the SNCC, whose building had been the site a fire that totaled the building at the corner of South Main and Monroe Streets, and which was subsequently located in two small storefronts on South Main Street. Another reason was our desire to forge a closer relationship between the African-American, disadvantaged white citizens and the Latino community.

The planners

Both the NEON and SNCC Boards of Directors had an active part in the planning process.

At that time, NEON had a 33-member Board of Directors consisting of 1/3 appointed by the mayor, 1/3 duly elected representatives of the identified, state-approved areas with the greatest concentration of poverty residents, such as the Carver area, Colonial Village, Roodner Court/Springwood area, West Main Street area, East Norwalk, Meadow Gardens/Monterey and South Norwalk proper, and 1/3 representing area service agencies and the private sector such as Legal Services, Norwalk NAACP, the Fairfield County Labor Council, the IMF ministers association, the Clergy Association, Red Cross, and the Senior Citizens Coordinating Council, and one appointee from each of the NEON delegate agencies; and the SNCC Board of Directors was 1/3 Latino, 1/3 white and 1/3 African-American.

The players

The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency and mayor’s office (Bill Collins) were interested in the removal of a junkyard in the area of 98 S. Main St. I approached the city and suggested that if I was able to secure the sale of the junkyard to the city, the city would allow the construction of a multi-purpose center at 98 S. Main St. The city agreed to relocate Ryan Park to the rear of the parcel and allow NEON to build on the 98 South Main parcel. A building committee was put in place with representatives of both NEON and SNCC and residents of the South Norwalk area.

The contacts and agreements

I then approached Gov. William O’Neill, who was receptive to the plan, and Mimi Burgess and I approached his commissioner, Ron Manning. We were able to get their agreement to grant NEON $650,000 in state funds to be added to $100,000 in NEON private fundraising and some city funds toward the building costs.

At the same time Jaime Aguayo, Monsignor Scheyd and Marina Rivera appealed to Bishop Curtis to be allowed to use the $90,000 from the sale of the prior SNCC site for construction costs. The city administration and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency agreed to the plan and Roderick Johnson, Michael Lew and Alan Lo became welcome additions to our planning team.

The opening

In 1984 the building opened with NEON providing job training, housing assistance, day care, criminal justice programs, legal aid, senior volunteer placement, family planning and more, and SNCC providing a host of programs benefitting the South Norwalk area, referral to the NEON programs, translation services and immigration assistance. NEON also provided their services at the NEON delegate agencies such as Carver, Roodner Court Center, Colonial Village, East Norwalk Center, SNCC and the Meadow Gardens Center, which operated as a subsidiary center to SNCC. All NEON delegate agencies were the recipients of state and federal grants which were administered by NEON Inc. It was agreed between NEON and SNCC that the multi-purpose room be free for NEON events and community meetings but that any fees as a result of the rental of the room by SNCC for dances, parties, weddings, etc. would be the property of SNCC

The end

From the opening of the building in 1984 until my retirement in 2003, our plan for a joint venture to service our disadvantaged residents worked as planned. I, as executive director of NEON, was able to work well with Daniel Maldonado, who succeeded Mr. Aguayo, and Josie Castillo, who succeeded Mr. Maldonado, as was Mimi Burgess, who remained the chair of SNCC until late 1995.

Following my retirement, NEON had a succession of inept, if not corrupt, management teams in place who promptly changed the makeup of the NEON board to exclude both the duly elected community residents and the private sector appointees and became a self-appointed board, and almost immediately NEON moved to annex space reserved for SNCC activities. The SNCC board apparently became a venue for the political gain of a self-proclaimed Latino leader. Questions have also arisen as to the legal ownership of the building and the two agencies seem to be on a collision course.

These problems, along with the widely reported fiscal woes of NEON, and the subsequent obstacles faced by the NEON line staff, are of great concern to me as I had hoped to spend my retirement celebrating a job well-done on behalf of the poor, Latino and African-American communities. This seems not to be the case, and I can only pray that the dream of mine, Jaime Aguayo, Marina Rivera, Daniel Maldonado, Rev. Henry Yordon, Monsignor William Scheyd, Bishop Curtis and my wife can be salvaged, so that the African-American and Latino communities can work in harmony on behalf of their disadvantaged members and that the NEON line staff will be adequately compensated for their dedicated work.

Mimi and Bobby Burgess

Comments

4 responses to “Letter: Dream for NEON, SNCC dissolved into nightmare”

  1. dawn

    A voice of intellect and reason.
    .
    would this person like to come out of retirement.
    .
    someone wo understand the purpose, who was behind the purpose and is saddened by the abuses.
    .
    a while ago i posted a comment that NEON needed to aim high.
    this is what they need to aim for.

  2. Tearful Humble One

    My prayers go out to the community. Nicely said Mr. Burgess. Let us fight together for this cause.

  3. LWitherspoon

    A lot of interesting background information here. How did NEON’s “inept, if not corrupt, management teams” change the makeup of the NEON board?
    .
    Usually boards appoint management teams. How did NEON’s management team succeed in changing the board to which it reported?

  4. loveforthecity

    A completely disingenious letter. Mr. Burgess has been part of the problem. Does he not recall spending $300,000 of NEON money to get out of his legal troubles? Hence, why he was forced to retire. Does he not recall that he has put State Rep Bruce Morris to work behind the scenes and on the forefront of that corruption that has gone on there? What a joke? Burgess and Morris have been running the place into the ground for years. Ms. Stephenson was their pick for CEO and look at what she did. It is clear that Morris does not know what he is doing. Isn’t this the same person that has a job with the BOE with a high school diploma when he is supposed to have a Master’s Degree. Wow! Sounds familiar, no wonder he was defending Ms. Stephenson. Two pees in a pod! Real leadership is keeping all the “old” players out of the hands of NEON. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Enough of the nonsense! Close this place down, move on and rid the same old folks of the opportunity to step back into something they have run into the ground.

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