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While a mostly young crowd was rocking out in downtown New London Saturday Sept. 7, one of the city's most diverse socio-economic annual gatherings was having its own good time at the Port 'n' Starboard ballroom at Ocean Beach Park and raising money for a good cause in the process.
The gathering, estimated at nearly 600, kept the dance floor crowded and raised $40,000 for the Homeless Hospitality Center and the The Covenant Shelter, the two facilities that provide refuge for the homeless in New London and work together on programs to help individuals escape homelessness.
The Homeless to Hopeful benefit marked its ninth anniversary this year. It was initiated by businessman and former city councilor John Russell shortly after he made an unsuccessful bid for state representative. Russell said he believes he has done more to address the problem of homelessness by helping launch this event than he ever could have as a state legislature.
To date the annual event has raised $350,000, with more than 90 percent of proceeds going to the shelters for programming.
It is also a heck of a good time. My wife, Kathy, and I have not missed one yet and count it among the favorite fundraising events we have the good fortune of attending in the region. There is nothing quite the like the diversity of the crowd at Homeless to Hopeful, a true cross-section of the community - lawyers, construction workers, businesspeople, the homeless or recently homeless, college students, bank executives, doctors, Wal-mart cashiers, teachers, you name it. Attire is notably casual and comfortable, the failure to spend time on the dance floor considered a bit of an affront. The Rock & Soul Revue once again did a great job cranking out the classics.
Robyn Wolman, wife of developer Len Wolman, chaired this year's event. Admission was affordable, $20 ($15 for students, seniors and military), with the bulk of the revenue derived by raffling and auctioning off a variety of prizes donated by local businesses and civic groups.
Next year will be a big one - the 10th anniversary - don't miss it.
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Last week I wrote about the need for New London Public Schools to reduce the number of special education students it sends out of district, often at great cost. Steven Adamowski, the state-appointed "special master" appointed by the state in an effort to help improve academic performance of students in the district, stated in his recent report that keeping more students in the system would be better for them as well save money for other instructional programs. The $6.8 million spent on out-of-district placements represents about 17 percent of all spending.
After the column ran I received more interesting information from Superintendent Nicholas Fischer. Three emotionally handicapped students who have been brought back created savings in excess of $500,000, with plans to return to the system another 20 such students, for an estimated savings of more than $2 million, he reported.
A few students have such serious needs that they can only get the help they need in specialized, out-of-district facilities, said the superintendent.
All told there are 45 students in special education out-of-district-placement. In one strange technicality, keeping some students out of district saves money, said Fishcer - those placed by Department of Children and Families. The state pays 78 percent of the cost for the placements. There are 23 such students.
"If we bring them back, we pay," said Fischer.
That is something the legislature needs to look at.
Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.