NORWALK, Conn. – Occupants of the first floor at 98 South Main St. have been assured that the lights will not go out next week, a South Norwalk Community Center spokesman said Thursday.
SoNoCC Deputy Director Pat Ferrandino said a talk Thursday with the new interim leader of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) yielded positive developments for the center, which is on the verge of remodeling its first-floor space in the building to accommodate an expansion of community service activities. Although it was revealed Wednesday that NEON must come up with $18,000 within a week to keep the electricity on in the building, Ferrandino said the Rev. Tommie Jackson was confident the lights will stay on.
“He assured me that the electricity situation will be resolved in short order,” Ferrandino said. “He has made arrangements already to assure everyone that the lights will not be turned off.”
NEON and SoNoCC share 98 South Main St.
SoNoCC is the recipient of a $100,000 Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant (CDBG.) Plans are to renovate the entire first floor of the building to create a secure space for a bi-lingual early childhood education program, three classrooms and a computer lab.
NEON still occupies part of the first floor, though. It needs to vacate before the center can begin the work and the relationship between the two co-occupants of the building has been contentious in the past year.
Jackson apologized for “all the nonsense” that had gone on between NEON and the center, Ferrandino said.
“He assured me that they will in no way get in our way of doing the renovation project,” Ferrandino said. “He will recommend that they vacate the space.”
Ferrandino said he had been told that NEON will not oppose any plan that might develop within the state Department of Social Services (DSS) to award SoNoCC with the Hispanic Human Development (HHD) grant, which had been awarded to NEON for decades. NEON has not filed any paperwork with DSS to explain how it has been spending the HHD money since April, Ferrandino said. That was when then NEON interim CEO and president Pat Wilson Pheanious relieved the center of the responsibility to perform the duties outlined in the grant, which was in NEON’s name.
Pheanious has said she needed to work out a Memorandum of Understanding between NEON and the center. SoNoCC workers were being paid by NEON, which had no supervision of their activities, although NEON was liable for their actions, she said.
Ferrandino said he had heard the grant is worth about $78,000. In a letter to NEON from DSS dated Nov. 6, NEON was informed it would not be offered a new HHD contract and that DSS plans to investigate where the grant money went between April 1-Oct. 17, when, DSS said, so services were delivered.
SoNoCC is also prepared to carry on the Energy Assistance program should NEON fail to overcome it’s tremendous difficulties. It could easily be accommodated in the center’s space, Ferrandino said. Clients would continue to go to the same building to get help if the center takes it over, he said. NEON’s contract to run the program was recently altered to permit the agency to sign people up for the program and conduct certifications, fuel delivery monitoring and invoicing, but it will not be handling the money, as paying vendors has been shifted to another agency.
NEON would, of course, like to keep the program but Jackson said it would cooperate with transferring it to the center if things come to that, Ferrandino said.
Jackson was appointed interim NEON CEO and president last week in a tumultuous series of events that included bounced employee paychecks and the placement of interim NEON CEO and President Chiquita Stephenson on unpaid leave. He said the mandate is to bring much-needed funds into the organization and assess its corporate structure.
What if Jackson is unsuccessful on getting the money NEON needs?
“I think they’re exploring all avenues on that,” Ferrandino said. “I know they are aware of remedies under the law for settling matters. It’s obvious to anyone that most if not all creditors are unsecured.”
Some South Norwalk residents are concerned that the center is strictly for Latino members of the community. Ferrandino said it may have been founded on that premise, but the mission has been expanded to include the greater South Norwalk community at large. He pointed out that Travis Simms and Faye Bowman, who both just won election to represent District B on the Common Council, are on the center’s board of directors.
Ernie Dumas of A Better South Norwalk is offering a Thanksgiving feast at the center, an annual event, he said.
The center is starting a capital campaign shortly, he said. Fairfield University is creating a website for the center without charge, at the recommendation of the Fairfield Community Foundation, he said.