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NEON employee: Last day is Friday; city seeking camp alternatives

Update Saturday, May 10, with Mayor Rilling’s response about the cancelled NEON summer camp.

NORWALK, Conn. – Almost no one was home Thursday at Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON), in stark contrast to the happy sound of children downstairs at the South Norwalk Community Center.

A NEON employee who declined to give her name said Friday is her last day on the job, after seven years. NEON is declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy, she said. Downstairs, three women said they didn’t know what they would do with their children this summer as they had been depending on NEON’s summer camp, and no one had yet offered them an alternative.

Mayor Harry Rilling said the camp problem is being addressed.

Rilling, responding Friday afternoon by email, said  he is working on finding an alternative camp.

“We are currently being approached by several organizations interested in running a summer camp,” he said.  “I am working with the Finance Department to determine what legislative action would be required to reallocate the funds.  It is important we find the right program in order to ensure the summer camp is run properly and the children are not left without.”

A NEON employee said they would get their money back – in cash – and waved a 2-inch thick stack of manila envelopes, which he said was their payments that would be given to them soon. One of the mothers appreciated that, saying that last year she had been given a money order as a refund, which her bank would not cash. She was out $50, she said. Rilling confirmed NEON was refunding the deposits.

The Rev. Tommie Jackson, named as NEON transitional leader in October, has not responded to recent emails from NancyOnNorwalk inquiring about the status of the agency. Neither has board Chairman Mike Berkoff. Sources told NancyOnNorwalk earlier this month that Berkoff told people at a non-NEON event that the agency would declare Chapter 7 on May 5. Reports now peg the filing to early next week.

The seven-year NEON veteran said Jackson informed them last week that NEON was taking the bankruptcy route that involves closing and liquidating its assets, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. She didn’t know when that would be.

“We don’t know anything other than what we read in the paper,” she said.

She was one of three employees in NEON’s second floor space at 98 South Main St. Offices were empty, except for desks that were obviously not being used. The entire thing was sad and depressing, she said.

“It’s sad on all levels,” she said. “The clients are left up in the air.”

NEON announced in January that it was considering bankruptcy. Yet the agency in March advertised a summer camp for 5- to-13-year-olds that would run June 30 through Aug. 8 at a cost of $200 for a family’s first child and $100 for each additional child.

Carolina Vival signed up her 10-year-old and 7-year-old children.

Norwalk 050814 054
From left, Tiffany Martinez, 7, Camila Martinez, 10, and Dayrin Soto Ochoa, 10, were enrolled in NEON’s summer camp. The older girls say they are sad because they have have been in the camp before and it was fun.

“I don’t know what I am going to do with the kids,” she said. “… I’m sad now. I won’t be able to work. My salary is not big.”

Giving all of her salary to a baby sitter doesn’t make sense, she said, explaining that she works for a dry cleaner.

Andrea Lopez, who said she makes curtains, agreed. She had looked around and found summer camps that cost hundreds of dollars for just one week, she said, which isn’t the “something affordable” that she needs.

Comments

10 responses to “NEON employee: Last day is Friday; city seeking camp alternatives”

  1. So tired of all this…

    What a shame this is happening here in Norwalk. these families need to have their children in a safe place so they are able to work and help stay in Norwalk, What can be done?? Norwalk is a great City lets help the people here in our state and stop helping everyone else for a moment!

  2. Ms Ruby McPherson

    Someone answer me this question, with in a years time SoNCC served over 4,000 community people with events and workshop, name the workshops and events. Not counting Thanksgiving. Also they name monies for phase 1 (200,000.00) which they already received 100,000.00 which should have been used for renovations? But not yet
    and how much is left if so what renovations, and phase 2 another 200,000.00? They only monies generated is from the renting of Multi purpose room for parties. So not everyone volunteers, who gets a paycheck and from what funds.How can Norwalk Redevelopment
    office approve such CBDG(federal) monies. Someone should call for an audit before these guys fix their book since accountant have changed and submitting papers with board members who aren’t on this board any long. By the way when do they have board meetings in English. Look out for your people but community should come 1st and they do live in the community, Post in all language (English, Spanish and French) that’s South Norwalk

  3. Casey Smith

    “They said they thought Mayor Harry Rilling should help them, but had been unable to reach him.”

    Once again, why is this something the Mayor should be involved in? NEON was an independent agency. The City gave it grant funding, that’s it.

    Also what ever happened to the woman who was running a summer camp there last year and got locked out by NEON?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Casey

      You are correct that NEON’s programs are not a Norwalk mayor problem per se, but what to do with a large number of Norwalk residents who are in need of services that NEON will no longer provide does become a problem for the mayor and council. Mayor Rilling has spoken publicly about this, and his desire to make sure there is a summer program available for the kids who will not have NEON’s program. We quoted him in January and at least once since about a $92,000 grant to NEON for the summer program, which he said was a placeholder to make sure the money remained available. He did not expect it would be going to NEON, but it was set aside. So the funding is apparently available, but the question, as time grows short, is what organization, if any, will run a program. We have been trying to contact the mayor about this, but he has not yet responded.

  4. Joe Espo

    Wonder if the bankruptcy court will force the city to cough up the $92,000, placeholder or not.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Joe Espo

      We are told the money was never released to NEON, which is why it was called a placeholder. Taking deposits for a summer camp that has no funding is another story. People are being told they will receive a cash refund, and NEON is blaming the mayor — Rilling this time –for not funding the camp.

  5. Joe Espo

    Mark: You may have a point on the $92k (although if it was authorized but not distributed, the trustee might apply to the court to compel Norwalk to release the funds) but I doubt anyone is getting a refund on summer camp deposits. That’s now up to the trustee, not NEON, and the camp depositors are creditors with same standing as Thurston Foods ($168k, SNEW and everyone else. But I doubt the deposit money still exists. It would be quite a leap of faith to presume that NEON would have set aside the deposits in some sort of trust account and not spent it.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Joe

      I updated with story Saturday afternoon with information from the mayor. Just guessing here, but it would appear the deposits were kept out of the bank and maybe under a mattress somewhere. I wonder if there will be questions about that during the bankruptcy hearing…

  6. Casey Smith

    Mark – I’m not trying to argue with you, but NEON has been slowly imploding for the last year and a half, if not more. It’s been in the news, paychecks have bounced higher than a rubber ball and there have been endless discussions about whether NEON was going Chapter 7 or Chapter 11.
    .
    And still, after all this, people are looking to the City to do something about the summer camp? I understand that there are residents who need the services but at the end of the day, once again the City is left holding the bag.
    .
    I don’t know if the Housing Authority could step in and help out, but the residents who are in a jam had better considering what to do simply because the same issue is going to happen next year, too. I guess the biggest question we need to ask is whether the City should be in the summer camp business at all.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Casey

      Bingo.

      The mayor is trying to make sure this year that the kids have a place to go by facilitating another organization’s efforts. It would be better for all if a social service agency could do this in the future, maybe with private donations.

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