Community services

Stratford Community Service Program is looking for a new home

STRATFORD – A nonprofit that acts as a one-stop shop for South End residents for services ranging from childcare to rental assistance, finds itself looking for a new home.

The Alliance for Community Empowerment, a regional 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency that has a location at the South End Community Center, received notice from the city on Jan. 24 that it should move. Monette Ferguson, executive director of the alliance, said the advisory came as a surprise and at the worst possible time with the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting the community.

“We were created in 1964 from the war on poverty with Lyndon B. Johnson,” Ferguson said. “Obviously, we are still fighting this war. But that’s not one of the obstacles I should fight now; not on the eve of a pandemic. Like, come on.

Ferguson said 52 local families use the alliance’s services. Now she said she has to figure out where the alliance will go, she said.

The notice itself indicates that the city needs the space for other community needs.

“The city is reclaiming the space to deliver essential programs at the South End Community Center. Simply put, we cannot meet these growing and pressing community needs and meet your space requirements. says the notice.

The letter did not specify what basic needs the space required. Ferguson said she has always viewed the alliance as part of efforts to meet community needs.

“I have no idea what they are talking about. I thought we were part of this group and this plan until now,” she said.

Greg Reilly, who manages public affairs for the city, said in response that the city needs space to expand its own services to nearby residents, including expanding the community center pantry.

He said there is a possibility the alliance could stay in the center, or possibly move to the Birdseye Municipal Building or expand its space at the former Holy Name of Jesus School.

“Discussions are ongoing to determine what space may be available for the alliance,” Reilly said.

Relocating the alliance is tricky because the group operates an early learning program, which is tightly regulated, Ferguson said. Additionally, her clients live in the South End, and some lack vehicles and would struggle to get to another location, she said.

Ferguson learned the city had other plans for the alliance space last week when chief administrative officer Chris Tymniak told him the city would not be renewing the lease. The organization has for years renewed its lease every year, most recently over the summer, she said.

“I’m just super disappointed,” she said. “The whole conversation was a shock to me. And I was super emotional in the conversation. Some might describe it as anger, but that’s what we do.

Emma Brooks, a South End resident and former council member, said the decision was highly disrespectful to the community.

“I went to South End, as did my son, and they take away one of the few things we have a deep connection to. Shame on them,” Brooks said.

State Senator Dennis Bradley, who represents Stratford, said the decision was tragic.

“It’s heartbreaking to see this happening in a community that desperately needs these services and is faithfully providing these services south of Stratford,” Bradley said.