NEON makes Norwalk grant request for fall program

NEON 050813 016NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) has submitted an application for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to run an employment training program starting in September at the Ben Franklin Center on Flax Hill Road.

The grant request comes despite talk of a possible bankruptcy filing and NEON’s loss of many of its programs in the wake of audits showing financial mismanagement and inability to cover payroll.

NEON is requesting $43,694 to cover the entire cost of the program that would serve 40 people, and is asking the city to waive the matching funds requirement.

“NEON has been through a difficult time and is in the process of reorganizing and restructuring,” the application reads. “A new administration is working to restore needed programs. In light of this, we respectfully request that the program match be waived this year for this proposed program.”

The application encapsulates the purpose of the program by stating:

“Empowerment Through Education and Employment will provide job preparedness, basic skills enhancement, computer training and job placement services to 40 unemployed and underemployed Norwalk residents. CDBG funding will support three part-time positions: an Adult Basic Skills/GED Teacher, Computer Teacher and Job Developer. This is in line with the ConPlan Strategy and supports the ConPlan goal of Creating Income Stability.”

NEON’s own instability has many of the agency’s clients concerned about what will happen if NEON is forced to completely shut down. Already, many former clients have had to find alternative programs to replace services that NEON has either lost or shut down to cut costs.

Still, no decision has been made on NEON’s future, according to Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, who is involved in discussions with the agency on a regular basis.

“NEON’s still a work in progress,” he said Tuesday. “They have working groups trying to figure out which way to go. There have been no decisions yet” whether that way might include some form of bankruptcy. “They are trying to consider their options.”

Earlier this month, Board of Directors Chairman Mike Berkoff said bankruptcy was a possibility, and that NEON was in talks with lawyers. Berkoff has not responded to more recent requests for information. Berkoff also said at the time that NEON only had “three or four” programs operating, and that would be reduced by one when NEON’s School Readiness contract ends Jan. 31.

However, NancyOnNorwalk was told by NEON spokesman Scott Harris on Tuesday afternoon that NEON has 10 programs still operating, including seven in Norwalk. They include:

Transitional Living Program, Norwalk: A 24-bed residential program with support services for homeless individuals and/or families for periods ranging from six months to two years, where residents receive case management services and other activities.

Energy Assistance, Norwalk and Stamford: Helps income-eligible people who have difficulty paying to heat their home by providing vendor payments for home heating through an intake and assessment process.

Human Service Infrastructure, Norwalk and Stamford: Provides pre-assessments and information to help determine client needs and provides referral information for area services and resources.

Emergency Shelter Services, Stamford: Provides outreach services to locate and serve individuals and families that are homeless and in need of assistance and links them with referrals to available services and resources.

After School Program, Stamford: Assists students to improve their academic performance, increase test scores and decrease incidents of at-risk behaviors by providing group and individualized support sessions during the school year.

*Summer Camp Program, Norwalk and Stamford: Offers a variety of academic, social and recreational activities such as swimming and field trips an strives to help students improve in their academic subjects, decrease incidents of at-risk behaviors and increase healthy behaviors… (Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling recently said NEON’s grant for this program is a placeholder in the budget and has not been officially issued. Other agencies are being sought to apply.)

VITA Tax Program, Norwalk and Stamford: Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program helps low and moderate income people prepare their tax returns at no cost and helps them take advantage of tax credits.

HUD Permanent Supportive Housing, Stamford: Assists people in their transition from homelessness through the provision of supportive housing and services.

Housing Mobility: Norwalk, Stamford and Lower Fairfield County: Assists people with Section 8 vouchers to find a rental unit of their choice. NEON staff provides support and references to smooth the transition.

In-Person Assister, Affordable Care Act, Norwalk, Stamford, Lower Fairfield County: Hands-on assistance to uninsured individuals seeking health insurance coverage via Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange, AccessHealthCT, during the open enrollment timeframe and the first year of the exchange operation.

A source recently said to NancyOnNorwalk that NEON still employs about 50 people. A member of NEON’s finance office said Tuesday that employees have been paid through Jan. 10.

Rilling said he is in frequent touch with NEON’s interim CEO, the Rev. Tommie Jackson.

“I usually speak with the Rev. Jackson every other day,” he said. “We have conference calls that I am a part of, or I get an update from someone that listens in if I am not available.”

Rilling said it would “not be appropriate for me to talk about what is said in those discussions.”

He said his top priority is not the agency, but the people it serves.

“We (city officials) are trying to figure out a way to proceed to get services back to those who are in need,” he said.


7 responses to “NEON makes Norwalk grant request for fall program”

  1. Casey Smith

    Just remind me again, how much does N.E.O.N still owe on the loan to replace the chiller units at Ben Franklin? Oh, and was the work on the Ben Franklin bathrooms that the Council approved with CDBG funds last year ever done?

  2. Piberman

    Only by ignoring basic rules of management and fiscal stewardship could Mayor Rilling grant funds to an organization lacking basic financial records. Then again elevating NEON’s former Board Chairman to the BET suggests Mayor Rilling puts politics well above financial competence. Finance isn’t the Mayor’s strong suit.

  3. Taxpayer Outrage

    I don’t think the city has the ability to waive the matching funds – this is a HUD dictated requirement. Besides, it would be unfair to the other non profits that are competing for the same funds who are prepared to meet the match requirements.

  4. WOW!

    WOW! How ridiculous is this? NEON lays off more than 100 employees, is in arrears as much as five weeks in paying its current employees, and is seeking CDBG funds to provide job placement services to 40 unemployed or underemployed individuals. In other words, NEON fires employees and then asks for government funds to help them find other jobs. Sure, let’s reward the employer for failing in the first place! Please, let someone else provide this needed service. NEON needs to get fired!

    And, how is it that NEON still has use of Ben Franklin Center? Are any of their programs currently being run from there? It seems most of their Programs are in Stamford. Wake up, Norwalk. Don’t put up with this nonsense!!! Enough is enough. Reward competent agencies, not corrupt and mismanaged ones!

  5. Considering Rilling’s “track” record almost 3 months into office, consider this a done deal.

  6. Taxpayer Outrage

    Ultimately, the council approves the CDBG awards after a panel scores them. The mayor has little to do with it. The Redevelopment Agency, not the City, oversees the program and is audited by HUD.

  7. The Norwalker

    NEON had a chance to retain these same State Funded Programs in 2013. All versions of NEON Senior Management including the present ignored State Funding requests for communication because NEON decided to make retaining the Headstart Program a priority.

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