NORWALK, Conn. – The Head Start program at Norwalk’s Ben Franklin Center and Nathaniel Ely School will reopen Wednesday, state and local officials announced.
“This is going to be a relief to many people in the community," State Sen. Bob Duff said at a press conference with local and state officials Tuesday.
The federally-run Head Start program has not been in operation in Norwalk since October, when the federal Administration for Children and Families withdrew management of the program from Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now, Inc. The federal report cited NEON’s financial standing as the reason for the move.
NEON has been running its own childcare program since then. The anti-poverty agency has also brought on a new chief executive officer, the Rev. Tommie Jackson, to restore NEON’s services.
“We’re happy to be able to provide families with needed services in this community and that the children get the benefit of the important education at this time in their lives,” Jackson said Tuesday.
The Community Development Institute (CDI) will take over management of the program, using NEON’s staff and facilities. Norwalk’s congressional delegation — U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy — pushed the federal government to allow CDI to take over now, rather than in January.
“I am pleased that the Administration for Children and Families has announced that Head Start services in Norwalk will resume shortly, providing much needed relief to the hundreds of Norwalk families that rely on its programs,” Himes said in a statement.
Jackson said that he expects about 80 percent of the staff NEON laid off last month to be re-hired. He also said he intends to stick to his plan to restore all back pay owed to employees by Dec. 20.
He added that NEON is also still working to restore its other services. For example, the agency is still taking requests for its home heating assistance, through help from Bridgeport’s ABCD, Inc.
“There are so many services that have to be replaced and we have to find the proper way of doing that because there are so many people out there that are affected by this whole problem,” Mayor Harry Rilling said. “So we can’t stop until we make sure that we get all of those services back up and running.”