Following intervention by the state, a local community service agency is attempting to rebuild its damaged reputation and focus on its mission to serve New Haven’s families.
The Connecticut State Department of Social Services replaced the leadership of the Community Action Agency of New Haven this month with John E. Richardson, Jr. as interim chief executive officer and Phillip Gutt as interim chief financial officer following alleged mismanagement of money by the agency’s former executives, said T. Reginald Solomon, Yale’s representative on CAANH’s board.
The agency’s former executives could not be reached for comment Thursday.
According to Solomon, CAANH has a history of alleged mismanagement of funds that has tarnished its public image. Immediate goals for CAANH, which provides meals to the elderly and energy assistance, include contacting major local organizations such as United Way to help restore the agency’s public image, Richardson said.
Bringing two decades of experience in the for-profit sector to his new job at the CAANH, a nonprofit group, Richardson said he has already begun a public relations campaign to restore relationships with the community of New Haven by meeting with major players in the community.
“We want to build that type of support, that type of network that has eroded over the last few years,” he said.
Solomon said cleaning up the agency’s finances is a top priority for the interim executive staff. Progress has already been made in organizing CAANH’s finances, Richardson said.
“We want to reintroduce ourselves and demonstrate our ability to manage,” he said. “That alone will build credibility.”
Richardson said that in the upcoming winter season CAANH will focus on helping local families get benefits from the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program, which provides money to help pay for fuel costs. He said CAANH has already received 15,000 applications for such financial help. The state Senate recently expanded the program by increasing benefits for low-income families while adding benefits for moderate-income families, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
Barbara Tinney, executive director of the New Haven Family Alliance, said the energy program will be vital to the community this winter. She said community organizations should work together to make their services more accessible to local families.
“Given the current climate it’s a pretty lean funding environment,” she said.
Hart Caparulo, the president of United Way of Greater New Haven, which holds a seat on the CAANH board, said the efforts begun by the interim leadership to turn the organization around are vital because the community is in need of a strong agency like CAANH.
“We have high hopes that these recent management changes will reinvigorate this organization,” Caparulo said. “We are encouraged by the work and efforts being made.”
CAANH’s interim staff will remain in place until permanent executives are found, Solomon said. He said the board hopes to have hired new permanent staff by May of next year.