The Board of Alders’ Youth Services Committee left vacant its traditional City Hall meeting space yesterday. Instead, the group convened at a community center in Fair Haven in order to observe firsthand its progress in improving youth resources in New Haven.
The meeting was the culmination of the group’s long-term project to strengthen the network of youth services in the city. Last year, the committee, chaired by Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12, distributed nearly half a million dollars in city grant money to four community organizations across New Haven so that those organizations could make necessary building improvements and renovations. A quarter of that money went to the Farnam Community, a center that runs after-school programs, a summer day camp and a popular youth basketball league. In addition to the grant to the Farnam Community, the committee has also funded renovations at the Boys & Girls Club and LEAP; negotiations with the YMCA are ongoing.
In the second-floor boardroom of the Farnam Community, seven alders on the committee sat alongside five neighborhood residents — three of them teenagers from the area — as Bob Lane, president of Farnam Community, and Operations Director Frank Redente detailed the renovations they have made with the committee’s grant.
Chief among the renovations, Lane said, is the installation of a gas-based heating system, a switch from the oil system the building previously used. Redente said the oil system cost the organization about $12,000 a year; he expects that the gas system will cut the bill in half.
“In this economy, it’s tough to get money,” Lane said. “So we get money from the Board of Alders, that means a lot for us, and we really appreciate it.”
In addition to the heating system, Farnam Community has also installed a new security system, which Redente pointed out as he led meeting attendees on a tour of the building. He said the need for an updated security system became apparent after what Redente called a “violent incident” occurred on the organization’s property a few years ago.
The updates include 24-hour cameras on all sides of the building, improved exterior lighting in the side parking lot and a fingerprint-operated lock system.
Alders at the meeting said they hoped the renovations facilitated by the grant would allow the Farnam Community — called the Farnam Neighborhoood House until a recent rebranding — to meet the needs of the community.
Ward 29 Alder Brian Wingate was particularly outspoken in his support. He played basketball in the organization’s Biddy League as a child and teenager. Now that he is older, he said he has noticed that his friends have begun to enroll their children in the league and after-school programs.
But the Farnam Community is not yet finished with its renovations. Redente and Lane said the next priority for the organization will be the paving of the side parking lot, which is currently just dry dirt. The project is expected to cost at least $100,000, which will largely come from state grant money, they said.
Redente also wants to install a roof over a stair leading to the basement from the parking lot. Currently, he said, rain pours down the walls and forms a “lake” in the stairwell, which periodically leaks into the building’s game room.
Eidelson said holding the meeting in the Farnam Community gave committee members an opportunity to see the physical impact of the work that it has accomplished.
“It’s really wonderful to see the money the committee has fought to get into our budget to do things like this is going to such important things,” she said.
Youth issues have been a focal point in the race for the Ward 1 seat, contested between Eidelson, fellow Democrat Fish Stark ’17 and Republican Ugonna Eze ’16. With the Democratic primary only two weeks away, Stark has made youth policy a prominent part of his campaign. Last month, he launched the #NHVYouth4Fish campaign to highlight youth support across the city.
In her capacity as chair of the Youth Services Committee, Eidelson has fought to reopen the Q House in Dixwell, organized the first student elections to the Board of Education and led the creation of the New Haven Youth Map, a website on which users can find youth programs across the city.
The Democratic primary will take place on Sept. 16.