The Day – The need for a child-centered community center in Newfoundland and Labrador is greater than ever

Former UConn player and coach Kevin Ollie on his strategy for giving constructive criticism: “First you bring the sugar,” he said, “then you bring the hot sauce.”

And so today’s metaphorical sugar begins with New London Mayor Mike Passero and his passion for delivering a new community center to the city. Passero has long recognized the power, potential and influence of such a project. He should be the first to put the scissors back when cutting the ribbon.

But he and the others must understand that the pinch of sugar here comes with a quart of hot sauce.

City officials must grasp the city’s dramatically changing circumstances and adapt the community center to their changing circumstances. Translation: Our children, for many reasons, are more rudderless than ever. They need something. They need a place. They need a reason. They just…need. And their needs are far greater and more urgent right now than anyone else in 06320.

To wit: Last month, Passero, Superintendent of Schools Cynthia Ritchie and Board of Education President Elaine Maynard-Adams wrote an op-ed here in The Day outlining the city’s budding children’s struggles. They have, however unwittingly, emphasized the need for a child-centric community center with perpetual transportation options and child-suggested programming that will hold their attention.

“In the fall of 2021, New London Public Schools (NLPS) welcomed our students back, and for some it was the first time in a classroom in nearly two years,” they wrote. “Entering a structured environment has presented many challenges as students and staff adjust to a new normal, a normal that for many is defined by the struggles and traumas they have experienced.

“The reality is that many in our community are struggling with employment, housing, food, isolation, mental health, and a deep fear of contracting COVID-19 and possibly dying.

“In our community, New London has seen the number of homeless families triple, reports of abuse and neglect increase, drug overdoses soar and physical violence escalate alarmingly. middle and high school students face physical and emotional growth while managing their studies in the classroom and the challenges that come with the flood of social media, misinformation, and bullying.

“To meet the needs of our students and staff, the school district has added additional guidance counselors and social workers, wellness workers and other mental health professionals who not only work with students in difficulty, but also provide support to families.”

Their words deeply conveyed the idea that a child-centered community center is a natural extension of existing efforts to both fuel the coping process and provide a systemic response.

The ubiquitous tentacles of COVID have punctuated every corner of society. But none bigger than children. This is why this project must be a refuge for the children, for the children and by the children. They need to be seriously sought out and consulted about what they want in the new building. It has to go from lip service and fake jostling to methodical and thorough. Talk to children. As much as possible.

My biggest fear: the children will be paid lip service. Their wants and needs will be dealt with superficially, drowned out by all the other noise surrounding the project. This is New London, remember.

Admittedly, there are a number of problems. Some factions don’t like the location of Fort Trumbull. Some wonder who will maintain the building, how much it would cost and who would pay for it. Some wonder if the initial price of $30 million is still plausible. Some question funding and whether the operating costs, estimated at $2.1 million per year, can be funded by dues and rental income. I wonder about programming: who creates it? Who runs it? Are they paid? By who? From where?

People want details and details. Understandable.

Except that the answers to all of these questions are irrelevant if that community center serves anyone other than the people it should. I am not saying that there is no place for seniors, professionals and other residents. But children must be the priority here. Must. Because they never needed it more.

I would suggest, for example, more basketball courts than the two offered. The ECC summer and fall basketball leagues have been nomadic in recent years (Gales Ferry, New London, Norwich). Here’s a chance to play all the games in one place, not to mention host AAU tournaments. They pay rent, you know.

I would also suggest a high school-like playroom, where competitive multi-user video games keep kids busy, engaged, and connected.

Bottom line: It’s easy to blather on the importance of serving our children in the best possible way. The fact is that children are almost always voiceless, more useful in rhetorical terms than in practice. It can’t happen here.

I beg the leaders of this city. You have questions to answer. But it has to be child-centred. Life becomes more difficult for them. The children need you.

That’s the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

Jill E. Washington