$2.4 million headed to community center in Stratford for expanded programs and renovations
Renovations will soon begin at the South End Community Center in Stratford, months after the state originally announced in March it would set aside $2.4 million for the long running center.
The money will be put to good use, according to Christine Dina, the chair of the South End Community Council.
“This grant is phenomenal. I am so overjoyed. We are going to be able to provide more and additional programs,” Dina said.
Dina spoke at the center on Monday, where Gov. Ned Lamont stopped by to meet with residents and local officials.
The money is a state grant, which will be paid out of the $875 million Community Investment Fund 2030. The grants are targeted to historically underserved communities throughout the state. The renovations, officials said, will allow the center to serve more people through its after school and food pantry programs.
The center will get an exterior and interior renovation, first with the roof, according to Rep. Joe Gresko, D-Stratford, who said it should not take long.
“We're hoping that about this time next year we'll be doing the ribbon cutting,” Gresko said.
The governor’s office said the renovations will expand usable space within the center. That will result in more services being offered to more residents.
Gresko said the center had to make do with a small footprint, which ended up hurting its programs.
“There was a point here, where we ran out of space where the seniors used to come here all the time, and then the food pantry expanded, and then pushed the seniors out. So they didn't have enough space,” Gresko said.
Dina said the center also has a food pantry, which serves a vital need.
“As I said to the governor ... my pet passion right now is [the] food pantry. Don't let anyone tell you the food pantry has gone away," Dina said. "It has not, if anything, it has increased.”
Democratic State Senator Herron Gaston, who represents Bridgeport and Stratford, said there is a serious food crisis in the area. According to Matthews, just over 4,000 meals were handed out per month to adults and children in 2021 and 2022. The area is also considered a food desert, which is when an area has a comparative lack of fresh food options.
The center serves the South End, a moderate income and racially diverse community. Gresko said the area is labeled an opportunity zone by the state. Opportunity Zones are areas where the state is incentivizing economic revitalization.
One of the biggest needs in the area is child care and the center is a vital resource, according to Stratford Chief of Staff Sarah Matthews.
“During the 2022-23 school years the program was open from September 7, 2022 – June 9, 2023 with an average of 17 children enrolled,” Matthews said. “Of those, 97% of the families were low income and eligible for Care4Kids or scholarship assistance.".