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Popular Program For Teens Halted

Official Cites Lack Of Funds

March 18, 2005
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer

A popular evening program for teenagers offered at the Trinity College Boys & Girls Club has been suspended because of a lack of funding.

Families learned of the change last month when a flier appeared on the front door of the center saying that it would close at 6 p.m. rather than 10 p.m., and that teenagers would be transported to another Boys & Girls Club for similar programming.

The change took some parents by surprise and disappointed some of the students, said Mayra Esquilin, who hoped her children, aged 6 and 11, would continue to attend the club on Broad Street as they got older.

"The kids I've talked to, the older ones, they had a site, it was their place, and now they can't understand why it's gone," she said. "It's like standing in front of candy and not being able to purchase it. Why have a Trinity College Boys & Girls Club that kids can't go to?"

Although the club building is owned and maintained by Trinity College, the programming is, and has always been, overseen and financially supported by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford, said clubs President and CEO Ken Darden. Cuts at the Trinity site are temporary, he said, and are a result of unexpected expenses created by the agency's new Asylum Hill neighborhood site, which opened in the fall of 2004.

"The new center and its operation have put a strain on the Boys & Girls Club," said Darden, who has also decreased the agency's administrative salaries by 10 percent.

"There is more staff needed because of the number of kids going there ... about 300 a day, and there's gas and electricity to pay for."

As a solution, teenagers who attended the Trinity site on Broad Street were offered transportation to a similar program at Southwest Boys & Girls Club on Chandler Street, Darden said. He has also agreed, at the request of the teenagers, to keep the Trinity Club open until 10 p.m. on Fridays, but without official programs, he said.

Darden is also working with Trinity on fund-raising solutions and has appealed to the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving for support. About $60,000 a year is needed to reinstate teenage programs at the Trinity site, he said. Parents pay about $3 a year for their child to participate in club programs, which include tutoring, computer time, sports and personal growth opportunities.

"I met with the kids being transferred and told them it would be short term, not long term," Darden said.

Esquilin said only 15 of the 45 teenagers who took part in programs at the Trinity site have agreed to the transfer.

"What happened to the other 30 kids? What are they doing?" Esquilin said. "I'm sure they're not just sitting home doing their homework, and every morning I'm waking up and reading in the paper that there is another kid in that age bracket that has been shot or killed."

When she attended community forums on the Learning Corridor project back in 1990s, Esquilin said it was her understanding that the Trinity College Boys & Girls Club and the Aetna Family Learning Center, both located in or near the corridor, would be perks for neighborhood residents.

So even if her kids were not selected in the lotteries to attend the Learning Corridor magnet schools, they would still have unrestricted access to programming at the club, she said.

"They tooted their horn and brought Colin Powell out to get involved. ... They said it was a state-of-the-art center, the only one of its kind in the country," Esquilin said.

"For the last couple of years, that program at the Boys & Girls Club has been operating at full time for the older kids and now they have consolidated it with the Southwest site."

Hartford resident Brenda Morales has three children who participate in Trinity and Southwest Boys & Girls Club activities. Although she said her 16-year-old, Jonathan Figueroa, isn't too bothered by switching from one club to another, Morales is upset because this is not part of the original plan.

"The club was built for these kids to go to, and now, because of funding, they have to close the club and send staff and children to the other club," she said. "Where is all the support they had in the beginning? Where is Trinity College in all of this? I think they are getting credit for that club being part of them, but they are not really doing anything."

Jackie Mandyck, director of community relations at Trinity College, said the college has not reduced its funding to the club since it opened in 1999. Trinity raised $1.2 million to tear down the existing building on the site and then raised the funds needed for the new club building, she said. The college continues to provide money toward operation expenses, maintains the building and shares information with the club about grant opportunities, she said.

"Our commitment has not wavered. Our partnership has not changed. It is very strong," she said. "Ken has made a commitment to us to find some money to continue the programming. ... It's really back to the Boys & Girls Club at this point."

Esquilin and Morales said they want a community meeting between local parents and representatives from the Boys & Girls Club and Trinity College for some clarification as to who is responsible for the club and its programs.

"When there is a problem, all the institutions and people involved figure it out together," Esquilin said.

"If my name is on the door, I'm abreast of what's going on. You can't just give the building and that's it," she said of Trinity.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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