NORWALK, Conn. – Members of the Kiwanis Club of Norwalk believe their organization has the tools and resources to take over the role formerly filled by Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON).
NEON was an anti-poverty agency that operated in Norwalk since the 1960s. It filed for bankruptcy last June after years of financial problems, during which the federal government said it misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars . Earlier this year, the state Department of Social Services put out a Request for Qualifications, seeking agencies interested in becoming a new Community Action Agency that would provide the services formerly provided by NEON.
Three organizations sent in bids to the state and are now awaiting a final decision: the Norwalk Housing Authority, the Danbury-based Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut, and the Kiwanis Club of Norwalk.
Kiwanis is an international organization founded in 1915, and the Norwalk chapter was established in 1920. With a mission to “serve one child at a time,” the volunteer-led organization provides scholarships to Norwalk students, provides financial supports to a number of community organizations and programs, donates books to Norwalk Reads, provides bicycle safety information to kids and sponsors Key Clubs at Brien McMahon High School and Norwalk High School.
Kiwanis member Tommy LaRosa came up with the idea of the club taking over the old NEON role because he believes Kiwanis is a well-known organization that people trust.
“We think Kiwanis could do a lot more for the community and for the people of South Norwalk,” LaRosa said. “This would lift the community’s spirits up and give people back hope.”
“Kiwanis is a worldwide organization, with clubs all over the world,” said Paula Conte, president of the Kiwanis Club of Norwalk. “We saw it as a good fit because we have clubs all over, so we’re able to help poor families pick up improved or new skills and find jobs.”
Kiwanis and its members have deep ties to the community, and would be able to connect clients with jobs and training that they would need to become financially independent, Conte said. They would also be able to use their connections to other chapters to help people find jobs in other states, and then help them transition to new areas, she said.
Even though NEON had big financial problems, Conte said that Kiwanis has a strong track record of fundraising and would put money to use where it is most needed.
“People know our club. One hundred percent of donations go to service. We don’t have paid employees. Any dues go to pay expenses, but any money we raise goes to help people,” she said.
The three organizations submitted their bids to become the new CAA in late May, and are now awaiting word from the DSS.
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