Editor’s note: This story responds to a reader question through the Record-Journal’s Voices initiative, an ongoing effort to cover the news that matters most to you. If you have a question you’d like us to report on visit Myrecordjournal.com/Voices.
MERIDEN — Growing up in West Haven, Kim Fisher has fond memories of going to the roller skating rink every Friday night with her friends.
“It was the thing that everyone would do, and it was fun, parents dropped their kids off and we’d have a really good time,” she said.
But Fisher, who now lives in Meriden and serves as executive director of the Meriden-Wallingford NAACP, laments that kids growing up in the city have less to do than she did.
“We had so many things around West Haven that the kids could go to,” Fisher said. “We don’t really have anything like that here for the kids … just something positive to keep these kids busy.”
Fisher understands that coronavirus pandemic restrictions limit what can be done for now, but long-term, she’d like state and local leaders to think about offering more for local youth.
The Record-Journal asked nine candidates running for seats in the state legislature to answer via email Fisher’s original question:
"We need youth programs started up in Meriden to keep our youth age kids busy. I know with COVID it is hard right now, but once we ever get through this pandemic we need to come up with activities for the youth ages 10-16 to get involved in. It will help keep them busy and do more positive things."
Candidates are listed in ballot order.
13th Senate District Race
Democrat Mary Daugherty Abrams
"You’re absolutely right that COVID-19 has unfortunately made that more difficult but we must remain committed to providing activities for our youth. The impact of youth programs on our children is evident in positive school performance and community involvement. In addition to school-based programs, Meriden has fantastic organizations that provide youth activities; YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, Girls Inc., Girls & Boy Scouts, Youth Sports, to name a few. Many of the faith-based communities also offer youth programs. I am impressed with the innovative ways that organizations are working to provide safe activities to our youth especially during this pandemic.”
Republican Len Suzio
“I personally know Larry Pelletier who runs the "Beat the Street" Program in Meriden. It's a terrific program that Larry's been running for years. It focuses on teaching kids self-discipline, self-esteem and developing skills, staying in school (read their "guiding principles") and being exposed to career opportunities. I can't say enough about this program and Larry. This is a good example of how great citizens like Larry Pelletier can make a difference. I have contributed financially to the program a number of times and I've helped them get grants from banks who have been impressed with the good work BTS does in the community. This also is a good example of a non-government program initiated by a private citizen that can be very effective without relying completely on government funding. I encourage the entire business community to get behind this fantastic program. Parents should check out Beat the Street for their kids too.”
82nd House District Race
Democrat Michael Quinn
“Several Meriden organizations are already doing a great job providing programs for youths in this age group. Both the YMCA and the Boys and Girl's Clubs are leaders in this area. But if these programs are not being fully utilized, then we need to analyze why and make sure that the availability of these programs is known to everyone.”
Republican Michael Skelps
“Youth programs are so important for our community. When I was a young teenager, youth programs, and having good adult role models as mentors helped guide me to a better path. As your state representative, I will support programs that give our youth positive, creative outlets and opportunities for wholesome recreation and learning. Parents, teachers and youth program leaders are vital to raising our youth and I will do my best to support all of them.”
Independent candidate Ernestine Holloway
“As a candidate for state representative, my intentions are to start programs for our youth to assist them in their career paths and bring more attention to the importance of youth programs with each branch of the military. I would like to create a youth advisory board for each branch of the legislature such as the city council, state reps and senators so they can learn how each of the legislative branch runs. This will also include them going to public hearings and expressing their views and/or opinions before each law is passed. In addition, I would like to build up youth boards for public housing, a community board for young people to voice their concerns and share opinions for summer programs for younger children and start a junior program and team up with hospitals and other local businesses to offer opportunities for our young adults to see and learn about different career fields while utilizing the summer youth employment program as a stepping stone into the career path that our youth is interested in.”
83rd House District Race
Catherine Abercrombie: “I'm not sure if the person asking the question is aware of the youth groups we have in Meriden. We have the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, Girls Inc., Beat the Street and many others including Meriden’s Parks and Recreation Department. I would want to know more about what she is looking for. Is she looking for more of a centralized youth center, that’s a central location for kids to hang out? I would be more than happy to have that conversation to see if we need to revisit the youth center idea, which we had plans for in Meriden before the 2008 recession. At that point we decided to take a different approach by funding various programs through the (Community Development Block Grant) and other sources.”
Republican Lou Arata: “There are numerous youth programs already established and active in Meriden and our surrounding communities, covering a wide range of activities. Once we break the stranglehold of COVID-19 and we open up society again, youth ages 10-16 can again take action to join these various organizations.
Keeping youth busy and active is an important component of our communities. Whether that activity is a part-time job, karate, dance or robotics, or some other interest, analyze first what interests the child has and search for your best option of existing entities.
If you can’t find one, consider starting up your own group or joining with other like-minded people and do it. I don’t believe we necessarily have to always look to the City creating yet another program. Ingenuity is individual and empowering. Whatever the interest, strive to be the best at what you want to do. If there is a will, there is a way and you can make that happen.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed comments from Lou Arata and omitted comments from Catherine Abercrombie.