Peña: SoNoCC seeking CAP status from DSS

A plastic barrier isolates the second floor of 98 South Main St. from the first recently as construction transformed the South Norwalk Community Center and ABCD of Bridgeport operated the energy assistance program in the now vacant space of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON).

NORWALK, Conn. – The competition to provide social services for the greater Norwalk area is in the future. For now, with Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) in the bankruptcy process, the Department of Social Services is only looking for a letter of interest.

That’s well behind what’s going on in Stamford, as DSS is requesting applications.

Two things:

• South Norwalk Community Center (SoNoCC) board Chairman Warren Peña said his group will announce its interest in becoming the area’s new Community Action Program (CAP) agency, even if he’s not sure what that would entail.

• The Rev. Tommie Jackson, the last NEON interim CEO and president, said a group of elected officials is looking into forming a CAP agency, but he will absolutely not be involved beyond his current role as an adviser.

The DSS website states, “The Connecticut Department of Social Services has issued procurement notices to support the formation of new Community Action Agencies serving the Greater Stamford and Greater Norwalk areas.  DSS encourages local non-profit and government organizations to review the procurement documents and consider responding as we work with service partners to help build a strong anti-poverty service infrastructure in lower Fairfield County.”

Applications to serve the greater Stamford are due Nov. 3.

The deadline for “organizations interested in responding to a future competitive procurement to select a Community Action Agency for the Greater Norwalk catchment area” is 2 p.m. Oct. 27.

“It’s really a kind of an unknown situation in terms of the CAP situation,” Pena said. “DSS has put kind of an open call for parties that are interested in obtaining CAP status. So we intend to give them a letter of intent that we intend to file for CAP status and then understand what is available under the program or the status. What are the plans, what are the services that are available that we can obtain.”

The Rev. Dr. Lindsay Curtis said in June that he was looking to form a CAP agency, which would be called “The Community Action Agency of Norwalk.” Nancy On Norwalk has not been able to reach Curtis.

Jackson was helping at that point. Jackson said Monday that he has been serving as an advisor to the group, helping them to understand the criteria and processes involved in forming and running a CAP agency.

“If they said to me tonight, ‘Will you come and be our executive director, we’ll pay you $1 million?’ I’d say, ‘Heck no,’” Jackson said.

Jackson described his experience at NEON: “We went into what we thought was a recovery mission and it became a rescue mission,” he said, although, he added, “I was glad to be able to help the people of Stamford and Norwalk and I would still do it.”

He said, like Curtis did in June, that a group made up mostly of elected officials was working to form a new CAP agency but declined to elaborate. “The forces that are in place, we’re just going to have to deal with them, we’re going to have to overcome them,” he said.

Mayor Harry Rilling, state Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) and state Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) did not respond to inquiries. State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) said he had been to one meeting and didn’t know what was going on.

Sheriff Anna Duleep sent out a Tweet regarding a new CAP agency Sunday: “ONLY ppl w INTEGRITY, NO $$ greed, exp, & NO previous dealings @ 98 S Main St need apply!”

Told that Jackson reportedly will not be involved, Duleep said Monday that the South Norwalk Community Center situation involving Peña’s aunt troubled her.

Peña recently confirmed that his aunt had stolen money from the center before he became involved. She was allowed to stay on to make payments toward repayment and then pay the balance in full from her retirement fund when she retired, he said.

Duleep said if that happened elsewhere, such as the town clerk’s office, the person who had done the embezzling would have been arrested.

“If that’s the track record, how are my constituents supposed to have confidence in this organization to take over what NEON used to do?” Duleep asked.

“Just because people at NEON allegedly did horrible things doesn’t mean that it absolved the South Norwalk Community Center of this troubling situation,” Duleep said. “I mean, we’d better have confidence that whatever agency heads up to fight poverty in Norwalk and to administer state and federal grants to fight poverty in Norwalk it’s got to be people who are in it for the right reason, for people who are not looking to make a profit, who are not happening to have 501(c)(3) that made them executive director or whatever and have some sort of sweetheart gig with the agency. People who maybe their experience allows them to command a high salary, that’s fine, that’s remuneration, that’s one’ thing, but people who are trying to help the citizens of Norwalk who need help the most, not people looking to get rich off a social service job.”

Regarding the situation with his aunt, Peña said there’s an entire new board and entire new staff at SoNoCC.

“I think her argument is really a moot point today,” he said.

Peña said SoNoCC is not looking to replace NEON.

“I think what we’re looking to become an agency that provides programs and services to the community at a much greater rate than we’re doing today,” Peña said. “I think that because there is an open CAP situation we’re looking at it as a viable option to be able to work with DSS and others to receive grants in order to provide the services that those grants offer…. We’re not looking to be the new NEON. We’re not looking to, frankly, replace NEON. South Norwalk Community Center is its own entity and we intend to continue under our mission and our vision.”


4 responses to “Peña: SoNoCC seeking CAP status from DSS”

  1. mollyB

    Sheriff Duleep is trying to get some publicity by using her vanity office to score some cheap political points. Hey its, politics!

  2. Anna Duleep, City Sheriff

    To clarify: here is the quote from Chairman Pena that I found so troubling: “She needed time to get the money, he said. Firing her would have been counterproductive because she would have lost her only income. Plans were discussed to pay it back over time.” This is from Mark Chapman’s editorial: https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/07/opinion-sonocc-debacle-just-more-trouble-for-people-who-dont-need-more-trouble/

    I do not support SNCC’s decision to allow a person to stay on payroll so SNCC could pay her money, thus providing her with the means to repay (allegedly) embezzled funds to SNCC! That is not sound policy. That is not the type of leadership that makes me think SNCC is the best agency to take over an incredibly important social services program in Norwalk. I do not know who should take over. All I want to see is an agency with no preexisting baggage in Norwalk and staffed by the very best qualified caseworkers Norwalk can attract. That really shouldn’t be too much to ask for!

  3. LWitherspoon

    I agree with Anna Duleep. Pena was one of the loudest voices attacking NEON’s shoddy practices, meanwhile he let his aunt stay on payroll so she could pay back money she stole! What benefit did SNCC derive from Pena’s aunt being on payroll during that period? I believe SNCC had no programs until the Ferrandinos became involved.

  4. Bill

    Anyone who has seen Pena in action would not trust him with their tax money.

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