SoNoCC ‘struggle’ continues

Reynaldo Romero teaches children Tuesday behind the South Norwalk Community Center. Romero said he is from Peru and played with the symphony there.
Reynaldo Romero teaches children how to play music Tuesday behind the South Norwalk Community Center. Romero said he is from Peru and played with the symphony there.

NORWALK, Conn. – There are sometimes hidden opportunities in chaos, Mayor Harry Rilling said Wednesday in reference to the South Norwalk Community Center.

“I am optimistic that we can start moving forward,” Rilling said, two days after the SoNoCC fired its volunteer interim executive director, who was largely responsible for brokering a deal to have Norwalk Public School use the center for after school classes in the fall. “I have started that process and, without getting into specifics, because I have had some confidential conversations with people, that’s going to I believe give us the opportunity to pick up the pieces, rebuild quickly and get up and running.”

South Norwalk mothers said they were appalled by the behavior of a family that left an empty bottle of alcohol sitting on the wall near them Tuesday when they left Ryan Park. A 5-year-old child was pushing their children, they said.

Rilling said his first priority is to find a new space for the free children’s music class that has been displaced and is now taking place in Ryan Park. He said he didn’t think the current situation would have any impact on the Board of Education’s plan to run the After the Bell program there.

Councilman Travis Simms (D-District B), a former SoNoCC board member who recently said “illegal activities” were going on there, expressed regret for the impact on the community.

“I just feel it was something that was going to come and surface at some point in time. I just think that there were individuals that were just there for the wrong reasons,” Simms said, referring to SoNoCC board Chairman Warren Peña, former executive director Marina Forero-Ferrandino and Pat Ferrandino, who was appointed as interim director a few weeks before being fired Monday. “Personally, I just feel bad for the community as a whole, the Latino community as well as the black community. It’s a struggle. We always struggle to try to get programs and services and funding for our community. To see people who are self-serving, that come into our community and just look out for themselves, I just think that it was distasteful and they’re struggling. … This is something I was trying to bring to the attention of everyone early on when it first started happening. Now that they are out and at war with one another, now everyone is paying attention to all of this. ”

Ferrandino said his wife was working 60 to 70 hours a week without pay for a year to try to make the center work. He said he put in many volunteer hours as well, and was expected by Peña to be available after hours to do supervision for events in the multi-purpose room.

“It’s been one year of a labor of love and trying to develop something,” Ferrandino said. “We had this vision, put it all together. You know, we did it for free but we always told them that when the community center was able to support compensating us, we certainly would not say no. We needed to and that we had to look at — we have always been entrepreneurial. We have run businesses our entire lives together. At that point we said, ‘Well this could be an opportunity to give back to the community, but at the same time create something that could earn us a respectable income and that we might be able to do it and carry out until our retirement.’”

Ferrandino said the Rev. Oscar Destruge, a SoNoCC board member, has temporarily stepped down from the board to become executive director. He said he didn’t know if that would include compensation. Ferrandino said Destruge abstained in the vote to oust him.

SoNoCC board Chairman Ed Camacho did not return a late Wednesday email asking for details.

Ferrandino said that, as executive director, Destruge would be overseeing the construction expected to take place over the summer, funded by $200,000 in Community Block Development Grant (CDBG) money. Ferrandino said that, while he was still director, the board had offered him $20,000 to oversee that construction. He turned it down, he said.

Ferrandino said there was a plan to oust him but no plan to do anything after that. The current “chaos” at the center includes having no one there to supervise as a party continued Monday evening after the board meeting, Ferrandino said. About 75 people, including children, were in the building alone, he said.

He said he has been in touch with the attorney general through a lawyer about what he said were irregularities and violations of rules governing the non-profit.

The relationship between the SoNoCC board and the Ferrandinos took a negative turn when the couple recently found a post card while cleaning the mayor’s room, he said. The card featured Peña’s photograph and his name in big letters as a “Get out the vote” advertisement, and was paid for by funds from the 501(c)(3), he said. It was distributed prior to the last election, when Pena was running for re-election to the Common Council.

A 501(c)(3) organization, as a tax-free charity, is forbidden from supporting candidates, political parties or causes.

warren pena card011
A card distributed before the 2013 election in a “get out the vote” campaign.
warren pena card 2012
A card distributed before the 2013 election in a “get out the vote” campaign.


Ferrandino said he had planned to resign, but his attorney advised him to stay as a gatekeeper. It was expected that Peña would step down, but there was a turning point in the ongoing discussions when an email was produced that indicated that the Ferrandino knew about the post card.

Ferrandino said the email was sent eight or nine days after the event. He said he has “zero recollection” of being told anything about it before Peña spent $1,600 on the evnt, including the printing.

“There’s been problems at the South Norwalk Community Center regarding the board for a while now,” Rilling said. “I have spoken with several people and have had at least two meetings in regards to South Norwalk Community Center, a ‘where do we go from here’ kind of thing, and you know, sometimes, something has to crumble to the foundation before you can start proper rebuilding. I think that sometimes, out of chaos, there are hidden opportunities where we can now say we’re picking up the pieces, rebuilding and put together a program that is going to finally start delivering services to the people without having the problems that we have experienced in the past.”

Carola Reyes said she asked
Carola Reyes said she was told by SoNoCC board members Monday that the children could not continue their music classes inside the center because it wasn’t secure for them. She said she asked why, if that was the case, was a party with children going on? She said she was given no answer, and board members avoided the mothers in attendance when they left their board meeting.


29 responses to “SoNoCC ‘struggle’ continues”

  1. LWitherspoon

    All sides in the SoNoCC controversy appear to agree that it was improper for Warren Pena to use SoNoCC money to produce a postcard bearing his photo and name during the last Common Council election, when Pena himself was on the ballot.
    The postcard avoids saying “Vote for Warren Pena”, but Mr. Pena’s name is displayed much more prominently than the card’s purported message of encouraging people to get out and vote, and the card contains Mr. Pena’s photo. As such there is clearly intent to promote Warren Pena with the walk card, which makes the use of SoNoCC funds all the more inappropriate, regardless of whether it was authorized by the Board or the Ferrandinos.
    Did the postcard specify who paid for it? If not, there may also be a violation of laws requiring that political advertising identify who is paying for the advertising.
    I remain deeply troubled by the news that in a time of financial scarcity for SoNoCC, with the NEON scandals making daily headlines, Mr. Pena thought it was ok to spend $1,000 of SoNoCC money on a dinner for the board and their significant others – nine people in total. Where in Norwalk did nine people spend $1,000 on dinner?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @l Witherspoon

      We were told late last night the restaurant was in Darien.

  2. Jermey

    Do they really care about the community?

  3. Don’t Panic

    If Destruge stepped down off the board to become a thing ED, does that now mean the SNCC board is down to 3 people?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Don’t Panic

      That would appear to be the case. A 501(c)(3) is required to have a minimum of 3 people on its board.

  4. Lisa Thomson

    I have hard time believing that the fall out at SoNoCc is over a card with Pena’s likeness from an election nearly a year ago and a Christmas party dinner or Mayor’s Ball six months ago, that in all likelihood all parties involved in this dispute attended. The fact that all involved (including Mr. Pena) are/were volunteers suggests that it wasn’t about money… At least for now. It sounds more like a disagreement over direction and personalities. However, given that the real tangible asset is the building and it’s location to the community, I certainly hope that a solution is arrived at, so that construction of the classrooms can begin and that NPS can begin delivering the much needed after school programs to the children of South Norwalk. After all, that was the original plan that I believe ALL parties at SoNo CC were involved in, including Mr. Pena.

  5. LWitherspoon

    @Lisa Thompson
    I agree that the personalities are more the issue. The personality conflict has revealed questionable and even improper behavior.
    For reasons that are unclear to me, conflict seems to follow Warren Pena. First there was Mr. Pena’s battle with NEON, then there was a conflict within SoNoCC, which led to rejecting the services of two talented volunteers who worked for the center for free on nearly a full-time basis and developed some excellent programs, including free music lessons and the ‘After the Bell’ partnership with Norwalk Public Schools.
    When a non-profit has scarce funds, and two skilled people willing to work for free on close to a full-time basis – something Mr. Pena himself wasn’t willing to do – what could possibly lead the non-profit to reject all that free help? Is SoNoCC and the community it serves suffering because Mr. Pena has taken a ‘my way or the highway’ approach?

  6. One and Done.

    When the former Chief of Police and current Mayor says let’s just move forward you know this will happen again and again and again.
    When will criminal charges be levied. It doesn’t get lower than stealing resources from the poorest in our society and our Mayor is going to stand by and say let’s just move forward?
    Is he covering for his DTC Chair and BET appointee who is trying to gloss over the fact that tens of thousands of dollars are being diverted from poor children so that a few politicians can be afforded lavish meals and parties?
    Does anyone care about these allegations, or is everyone just moving forward as Harry says?

  7. DistrictBDem

    Have any of you taken a look at Mr. Pena’s letter responding to these accusations? How about why the Ferrandino’s were ultimately fired?

    • Mr. Ferrandino has lied to the board about the LULAC activity indicating he had no knowledge, but after due diligence, we now know that he and Marina had a conversation with me that detailed the activity.
    • Members of the board have lost faith, trust and confidence in Mr. Ferrandino. He has made members uneasy and uncomfortable. His actions have caused chaos within our board and some members have fallen out of normal routine because they have been negatively impacted.
    • Patrick is not putting the needs of the community first, but rather his needs ahead of the people we serve.
    • This is an unhealthy relationship for all parties involved. Patrick has engaged in insubordination.
    • Conflict of Interest with NPS, delivering a non-approved partnership to the After the Bell coordinator, positioning his personal Non-Profit and his wife before SoNoCC’s interest.
    • Mr. Ferrandino manipulates and pins board members against one another when he sees fit.
    • There are client files, personal client information and SoNoCC materials missing from our offices. He and Marina have deleted files off staff’s computers and are copying SoNoCC’s client files and personal information, confirmed by staff member.
    • His personal attorney has contacted our Attorney and Vice-Chair, looking for ways to remove me as Chair. Accusing me of malfeasance and improprieties.
    • Mr. Ferrandino shut out a Latino organization that was created under the umbrella of SoNoCC and also AA meetings hosted by former board member Guillermo Pino this past week.
    • He has not demonstrated the ability to bring resources, specifically funds that will sustain the center short, medium and long term. There are no tangible services that can be reported through real activities generating income for the center.
    • Patrick conspired with Marina to create anarchy among us accusing in a dishonest way targeting me as Chair.
    • Board Chair and Executive Director relationship has been tarnished due to ED’s actions internally and externally.

    I personally experienced the Ferrandino’s dismissing members of the African American community when they came in for services. They only served Latinos that they got along with.

    These people are bad news for Norwalk.

    Let us turn the page, finish construction and begin the after school programs.

  8. Bill

    I’ll trust the word of 2 people who worked full-time for FREE for a year, over a guy who found almost no time to volunteer and who has used community resources to enrich his career time and time again. Pena should be ashamed of this behavior, but he won’t be.

  9. Lisa Thomson

    LWitherspoon I have a different take on Pena. Just like there are those of us challenging the status quo in the BOE and succeeding, despite the noise and rhetoric, (I refer to the latest Mike Lyons’s attack) there are those challenging the status quo in South Norwalk – Pena being one of them. Therefore, he takes a lot of heat – as the political machinery goes into high gear, contacting the papers and posting anonymous comments that border on libel. NEON is/was a disaster in so many ways – So I can’t begin to hold any of those disputes with that organization against Pena. I suspect that when the dust clears, there will be a cast of players in Norwalk who are aligned or conspiring against him and are using the Ferradino situation for their own political revenge. After all it’s ALWAYS election season in Norwalk.

    It’s unfortunate that the SonoCc Board have parted company with the Ferradinos – but that happens every day in the business world. Again, the important thing is to ensure that the construction of the classrooms goes forward with the block grant money and that the BOE is able to put certified teaching staff in that building, so that South Norwalk kids will be able to benefit from the same after school programs that kids attending neighborhood schools do. That is the genesis of SonoCCs rebirth. If the education component is successful, the other social services will follow. The rest, as they say is just noise.

  10. Pat Ferrandino

    Attorney Camacho made a remarkable admission yesterday in acknowledging that Warren Pena was aware of missing funds dating back to when Warren Pena’s aunt was the Executive Director at South Norwalk Community Center:

    “Within 30 days of becoming Chair of SoNoCC, Mr. Peña discovered that $25,000 in multipurpose room rental fees had never been deposited in SoNoCC’s accounts,” Camacho wrote.

    Warren Pena became Chairman of SoNoCC in October 2012. That means that from November 2012 he was aware of the missing $25,000. Yet, no action was taken to recover the funds, dismiss the responsible individual, to initiate legal action or to report the incident. Only 8 months later, when Marina Forero-Ferrandino discovered that funds were missing and demanded that Pena take action, were the funds returned.

    Why did Pena wait eight months? Could it be that during this time, precisely in February, 2013, South Norwalk Community Center had applied for CDBG funding of $100,000 claiming in the application, under the heading: Sufficient capacity to manage funds: “The Board of Directors and its Executive Director have experience in dealing with the management of money…?”

  11. Lisa Thomson

    Pat, I like you and Marina but if things were so bad at SoNoCC and you knew about it for all of this time…why is it coming out now and moreover…playing out in the blogs? Sadly, Nobody looks very professional in all of this.

  12. Pat Ferrandino

    @Lisa Thomson:
    Marina and I did everything we could to make a change for the better at SoNoCC. We’re not politicians, we’re hard working volunteers who were booted out for calling out the Chairman of the Board through an internal document that he then made public. We’re suffering character assassination, even being labeled as racists. Quite frankly, we’re disgusted. For that matter, so are those families at SoNoCC that we served faithfully. That’s why they came out en masse to stage a protest.

  13. LWitherspoon

    @Lisa Thomson
    I have great respect for the work you have done to advance reform on the BoE and I will be the first to agree that SoNo needs new leaders, but let’s not gloss over poor judgement, inappropriate behavior, and violations of law.
    Warren Pena used $1,600 of SoNoCC money to promote his political career, which is inappropriate on many levels, not to mention illegal. Spending $1000 of a charity’s limited funds on dinner for himself and the board is also highly questionable, especially at the same time that malfeasance and poor management at NEON were making daily headlines. So too is Mr. Pena waiting eight months to take action after learning that his aunt was responsible for $25,000 missing from SoNoCC’s bank account, if Pat Ferrandino’s comment above is correct. If true, then at the same time that Mr. Pena was launching broadsides at NEON, he was failing to address $25,000 of missing money at SoNoCC!

  14. DistrictBDem

    Pat Ferrandino is feeding the community lies. Pastor Oscar is not the Executive Director and he has not stepped down from the board. This gentleman continues to feed the public information that suits his self interest and are complete frabrications. How does he know what SONOCC’s next moves are? He’s out!

    I do commend him on his tactic of creating a poor public image for the community center, Norwalk’s leading Latino Leader, Chairman Pena and the Ferrandio family. The reality is no one benefits from their tactics and the community overall is happy to see them go as they divided the community in more ways that one. When the smoke clears, Mr. Pena did not do anything wrong outside the course of normal business practices. Okay the picture on the card was not good. Either way, most people in Norwalk that are rational see exactly what the Ferrandino’s did. Burn the house down on the way out!

    My experience is that Marina began to serve only the people that she felt comfortable serving. Pat enjoyed trying to be in the know of the politicans and was also Chairman of the Board of Nancy on Norwalk, another conflict.

    Pat Ferrandino has been working to manipulate the board over the last several months. Once he knew that he and his wife would not get what they want, they blew it all up.

    The biggest question is that I heard they need a lot of money, why volunteer for a year for free?

    Makes no sense???

    1. Mark Chapman

      @District B Dem

      Mr. Ferrandino was not chairman of the board o NoN. We do not yet have a board. There has been no establishment of a board, thus no election of officers. Mr. Ferrandino did attend meetings and was under consideration, as were others. He is no longer associated with the effort. In the iinterest of complete transparency, others currently attending meetings who may become members include Lisa Thomson, Dede Farnsworth and Jeanne Hard. Rick McQuaid and Darlene Young accepted our invitation but have not attended meetings. We approached several others from around the city and on both sides of the political aisle, most of whom declined to avoid conflicts of interest. We will be talking with some others soon, and when we do have a board, the names will be made public on the site. I do hope your other information/accusations are more accurate/less exaggerated. How about some transparency from you, District B? Come out from behind your mask?

  15. New Era

    This is sick just seeing people’s ego in the way of helping the community.

  16. Lisa Thomson

    LWitherspoon – Thank you for acknowledging our efforts of reform in NPS and the BOE. It has been hard fought…and as the current headlines reveal in other articles, will always be a vigilant “work in progress.” I am not privy to all that is going on at SonoCC, suffice to say that nobody looks good in any of this. Sadly, the lines do get very blurred for politicians-activists-volunteers or mgmt of government funded community agencies….at least in Norwalk! I think folks should have choose the role they will play…particularly if money, accounts, connections, contracts or potential contracts that they might benefit from are involved. More frustrating is when the battle cry is “for the good of the children or the poor. I just think that there are two sides to this story and somewhere in the middle lies the truth. Only time will tell.

  17. One and Done.

    DistrictBDem. Some people just chose to volunteer. Believe it or not. And others, (seemingly those you know and associate with), choose to enrich themselves on the backs of the poorest in our society. I would give the benefit of the doubt to the volunteers every single time. If any of these allegations are true, prosecutions are in order.

  18. William Williams

    The Ferrandinos, especially Pat, ran around the State bragging of the super relationship with their “friend” Harry Rilling. The Ferrandinos touted their so-called relationships with decision makers at the State level including the assertion that Ferrandino’s brother was the former State Commissioner of Education. Pat Ferrandino majored in name dropping. He talked about growing up in South Norwalk and being the only white player on a basketball team of Black athletes at Brien McMahon High School.
    The entire Ferrandino, Pena and Rilling matter should be exposed. There is much more to uncover. When Norwalk gets the truth as the whole truth then Pena will never hold elective office again; Rilling will not get elected Mayor to a second term and go back to a cushy state job and Pat Ferrandino will be relegated to cutting his grass in New Canaan.
    If the South Norwalk Community Center had so much money, why is it that Mayor Rilling never told his “friend” Ferrandino to contribute to bills at 98 South Main Street? Why did Rilling let Ferrandino and Pena use the building like squatters while NEON carried the load? Hey Rilling why did you according to NoNO tell Ferrandino to break locks and doors, in violation of the law, on the 98 South Main Street building? Hsrry Rilling is like Ferrandino and Pena tied together in collusion and nothing good will come out of what they have done under the fake of helping and caring for the community whether Latino, Black or white.

  19. Kathleen Montgomery

    Something to think about: I have found that people who use their real names carry on more engaging, respectful conversations. People who use pseudonyms tend to just keep singing the same old out-of-tune song, “People Bashing”. Thanks to all posters who have informed us on this difficult issue and for using your real names as you do so.

  20. Carlos Rodriguez

    WOW! Mr. Ferrandino knew what was going on all this time? He was at the Mayor’s ball enjoying dinner on behalf of SoNoCC’s dime. He and his wife enjoyed dinner with the board on behalf of SoNoCC’s dime. He and his wife brought LULAC to SoNoCC and approved expenses and now deny it. So why did he and his wife decide to blow the whistle on small petty expenses by the Chairman, which are valid.

    Pena has salvaged that center, Pena has brought in the money and if he had to spend a few bucks to do it, so what it’s called business people.

    The Ferrandino’s are disingenuous and now they point the finger at Attorney Camacho and Warren Pena? There are many that knew what was going on there and the cleansing that happened under Pena’s leadership.

    I am personally glad to see them “terminated”. They deserve it after everything they have done. They have never been about the community, they do not understand the needs of the community, they do not know how to community build and bring people together. If they divided the Latino community what makes anyone think they can help in bringing other communities together which is needed.

    I say good riddance and I’d like to see them do what they did in our community in New Canaan. They would be ousted.

  21. Jeremy

    What a mess!,
    I can’t believe that exist people that manipulate the community’s to get VOTES,
    Personal benefits, and political recognition.
    It is sad to read fernadino’, Pena’s, and the rest comments.
    It looks like a political campaign to me.
    And next week, they’ll be friends again having lunch together and laughing about what just happened.

  22. loveforthecity

    In the coming days you will have proof of all the lies by Pat and Marina.

    Let’s start with these two

    Allegation: Board Christmas Dinner Party $1,000

    Truth: $598

    Allegation: $485 dinner for help w grant application

    Truth: $114.07

    Stay tuned!

  23. Pat Ferrandino

    @loveforthecity a/k/a Warren:

    Dude, get your enemies straight… Travis Simms alleged the $485 dinner for help with your grant application, not me.
    Oh, yea, that’s the grant application where you claim 30,000 visitors to the Center when your Aunt’s internal report shows only 266 new clients from October 2011 through September 2012. 30,000 visitors… REALLY?
    You even charged an ice cream back to the Center. Pathetic.

  24. One and Done.

    Love for the city wrote “In the coming days you will have proof of all the lies by Pat and Marina.”
    In other words…..”I need time to get my stories straight.”
    It would be funny if money wasn’t being stolen from children who need it.

  25. Michael Williams

    Marina denied free coats in the winter time to African Americans that walked into the South Norwalk Community Center and ever since then the community knew she was no good.

  26. Pat Ferrandino

    “Michael Williams”, are you related to “Carlos Rodriguez”? Both are made-up names spreading ridiculous trash. By the way, no one was ever denied a coat and there were plenty of coats left over. Unfortunately, not enough gloves were donated. It sad that these false accusations may negatively impact precisely those who may be in need of a coat next winter. Donors tend to run away from controversy.

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