Norwalk council committee deals Simms’ boxing program a serious blow

Correction, 5:52 p.m., next council meeting is May 13

NORWALK, Conn. – The Travis Simms Foundation youth boxing program was yanked out of the list for federal funding Thursday by Common Council members, who said there just isn’t enough money to go around.

Last month, the council Planning Committee voted to advance a draft Community Block Development Grant (CDBG) action plan that was $43,000 over the cap set by the federal government, keeping Simms’ program alive through the 30-day comment period, which ends Sunday. Thursday night, members voted to take out the boxing program, sending a balanced recommendation to the full council for vote May 13.

Last month’s overage was spearheaded by Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large), who said “The city in less than five minutes would figure out how to fund” the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program and the Neighborhood Improvement Coordinator if the committee did not provide the money. He took that back Thursday.

“Perhaps I spoke a little prematurely about the city’s ability to come up with the $43,000,” Kimmel said. “It’s a little more complicated because of the Head Start situation where the city will have to use a good portion of the funds that are available because we are under the cap to help the resumption of Head Start under the auspices of the Norwalk Housing Authority.”

Kimmel said he is not optimistic that the city will find the $43,000 Simms is requesting.

Minority Leader Travis Simms (D-District B).

The South Norwalk councilman, a two-time World Boxing Association super-welterweight champion, said his part of the city is routinely shortchanged.

“I’m kind of perplexed here because I am kind of sick of programs from South Norwalk that’s always getting stonewalled when it comes to the budget,” he said. “You guys, pretty much you have your way with every dollar amount that comes through the CDBG and far often too not, programs in South Norwalk never get funded.”

But another South Norwalk agency should not get funded, he said.

“I don’t feel that the South Norwalk Community Center should be getting this money, to be quite honest,” he said. “I have valid reasons for making that statement. OK? But to deny a program like this here that is good for our kids, and is good for the community, I just think is wrong.”

Councilwoman Sharon Stewart (D-At Large) echoed that sentiment, asking if money could be taken from the $100,000 SoNoCC is recommended to receive.

Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large), committee chairman, rebutted them both.

Hempstead told Stewart that the money SoNoCC is getting comes from a different part of the CDBG budget, that for physical facilities, not service programs. He told Simms that over the years South Norwalk has gotten plenty of money, through Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) and other programs, that even if a program is not run in South Norwalk it may be serving people in South Norwalk.

“Somebody may be on East Avenue in a facility but that doesn’t mean they’re not servicing the people,” Hempstead said. “… I don’t think there isn’t anybody here at the table that doesn’t’ wish there was more money to provide to organizations.”

The question is, “Who can provide the deliverables?” he said. “It’s not a judgment call on a particular program because they’re all worthy.”

Simms was asked at the March 31 meeting to come up with supporting paperwork for the program. Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Director of Community Development Planning Tami Strauss said Simms submitted the documents Thursday.

The new budget for the program was emailed Thursday morning. It is attached below and contains two versions: one with the assumption that space will be provided at the Ben Franklin Center for $1, and another assuming that space at the Ben Franklin Center will be provided for no more than $6,200.

Strauss said Simms had been asked to come up with a fundraising plan to fill the gap between what CDBG would finance and the estimate Simms had given as his budget figure last month.

“There was an adjustment to the number of youth rather than a fundraising plan,” Strauss said.

She said a letter of support from the Norwalk Police Athletic League (PAL) had just been handed to her.

Straus did say that the Simms Foundation is a 501(c)(3).

Kimmel said he would speak Monday to the Board of Estimate and Taxation.

“I am not pleased that we have been funding through block grants the summer job program and the community coordinator portions of those two programs because we have been doing it on a yearly basis and we have in the past, we have denied funding to non-profits that have been funded over a number of years and told them that eventually you have to get on your feet and stand alone without coming through the block grant program,” he said. “So I will probably, on Monday evening, talk to the Board of Estimate and Taxation, Mr. Hamilton and the mayor and say that I don’t think that next year that these two programs, these two city programs, should be part of the public service applications. I think the city from the get-go can handle that, which will free up money for some worthy public service projects that we have to deny because of the limited number of bucks that we have.”

The evening ended with emotional supporting comments from the public – out of order, due to an oversight.

Diane Cece asked Hempstead about the part of the agenda that included public participation for the regular part of the meeting (not the public hearing). Hempstead said she was technically correct, and allowed her to speak.

Simms’ wife, Sandra Stokes followed her, saying the boxing program run by the late John Harris probably saved her husband’s life.

A contemporary of Simms echoed that.

“I can honestly say I would probably be dead or in jail had I not came through the boxing program,” Fred Kitt said. “Because it was more than boxing, as Sandra said. He taught us about integrity. Boxing taught us life lessons. … I believe with this program, it would deter not all of the violence but it would deter a lot of it. Because you figure once the kids go to the gym and work out and do what they have to do, by the time they go home and take a shower they’re too tired to go out and hang out.”

Terrence Williams, 23, said he takes the train to Stamford every day to practice boxing.

He lives next to Woodward Avenue and Lincoln Avenue, he said.

“Where I live it’s a lot of nonsense,” he said. “It’s just sickening to see the youth have nothing. … They took away the last thing these kids had, which was the YMCA, and I think it’s horrible. The kids out there have nothing to go to. The NEON program is really not holding up to what it used to be. I just think it’s sick. I just think boxing can test a lot of valuable lessons in life even if you don’t turn professional in boxing. You can learn hard work and dedication and that can carry on into other people’s careers. No matter where you go in life. I just think we’ve got to push. There’s no time to be wasting.”

Travis Simms Foundation 050114002


6 responses to “Norwalk council committee deals Simms’ boxing program a serious blow”

  1. Casey Smith

    “The city in less than five minutes would figure out how to fund” the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program and the Neighborhood Improvement Coordinator”
    I must admit that I was very surprised when Mr. Kimmel made that statement the last time. Last I knew, there were a number of companies donate to the Summer Youth Program or have interns.
    “…far often too not, programs in South Norwalk never get funded.” Really? I’d be interested in seeing a breakout program of the programs. I’m sure the Redevelopment Agency would have that information.
    “I don’t feel that the South Norwalk Community Center should be getting this money, to be quite honest,” he said. “I have valid reasons for making that statement. OK? But to deny a program like this here that is good for our kids, and is good for the community, I just think is wrong.”
    Mr. Simms is entitled to his opinion, but aren’t the CDBG applications reviewed by a number of staff and Council Members? Don’t they have to meet certain criteria for whatever project they are proposing? Also, since these are Federal funds, doesn’t the Redevelopment Agency have to report back to the Feds about the programs? If these programs weren’t appropriate or “good for the community”, I find it hard to imagine them being approved in the first place.

  2. Lisa P

    Unbelievable…a council person trying to line his own pockets by providing a program that might help a handful of people and he is shouting that all the money going to south norwalk organizations isn’t going to south norwalk?

  3. Bill

    Councilman is trying to profit from a non-profit.

  4. Truth Hurts

    First off, let us not forget the several, yes several, times Simms has been arrested in his own community!! It is still mindblowing that someone who has an arrest record like his should be serving the community.Threatening a police officer? Yea that sounds just like someone I want to represent my community and be around my kids at his boxing program. Why would anyone think it would be a good idea to give someone with an arrest record money like this? All this would end up being is a one man NEON operation and we all know to well how that ended up. Get with the program people and wake up.

  5. Youths in Need

    Some days, it is really embarrassing to have neighbors like the commentors above. Ever notice the ones that have no clue about any subject, always speak the loudest? Ya know, like the person at the bar or gathering that has had way too much to drink? Travis, ignore the noise, they no not what the hell they are talking about. Follow through. Wide community support for any programs that help are youths. As for those keyboard critics, that rarely if ever contribute anything worthwhile in discussions and never ever actually stand up and do something like contributing there own time or efforts, perhaps its time for a new plan.
    Attacking others, that are standing up, are trying, is so lame and reeks of racist bigotry. Try pitching in and helping out. Knocking a guy for trying makes you feel superior? How pathetic. Try doing something positive with your lives with the time you have left. Help someone. it is a great feeling to help someone and make a difference. Maybe it might make you feel better about your own life, so you don’t have to knock down others to feel better. Keep at it Travis, make it happen.

  6. Bill

    Here is an idea, Mr. Simms can sell more hamburgers or do a fundraiser out of his food truck to fund his own program. We have limited money, so blame the other “special interest” groups like NEON who wasted the money. Also, on the YMCA, it would still be around if people were not listing their cousins, aunts, and uncles as immediate family members. Abuse the system and it comes back to bite you.

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