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NESS a victim of stereotyping from those who abhor stereotyping

New London — A more optimistic, trusting fellow might dismiss the words of a recent Op-Ed piece here in The Day as a simple mischaracterization. Yes. Mischaracterization. Innocent enough sounding word. Except that we cannot allow folly to fester into fact.

And so what to do when folks who rail on about stereotyping are guilty of stereotyping?

Educate them and pray they're actually altruistic about New London's needs more than they are enamored with their own bluster.

Such is the case with opponents of the recent proposal to unite New England Science and Sailing with the New London Recreation Department. A recent Op-Ed piece from three Green Party candidates for the City Council dismissed the endeavor as "$2 million for sailing lessons for a Stonington-based non-profit."

Rather trite and dismissive. They wouldn't be suggesting that the city's waterfront opportunities and the lessons of self-sufficiency sailing teaches aren't realistic, suitable or obtainable for New London kids, are they?

Or are they just being proprietary about American Rescue Plan allocations?

Perhaps they — and other city residents — would read on and learn a little more about NESS, its history with the city and act accordingly at Monday night's Town Hall Meeting on the subject.

"Stepping back, it is far too easy make a quick judgement because we have 'sailing' in our name and DNA," said Spike Lobdell, NESS's founder and Chief Executive Officer. "But over the years we continue to prove that the outcomes achieved through NESS programing have transformed students' lives — both academically and personally. This proposal takes a giant leap forward in supporting the city's youth in a comprehensive and collaborative way not seen before."

This is another example of a perpetual bugaboo that afflicts the city, its residents and its hierarchy: We should support only organizations physically located in New London because others are somehow less committed to the city's needs. It's far too provincial and shortsighted for our little hamlet that needs all the help available. And doesn't apply to NESS.

NESS has a physical presence at Ocean Beach Park and State Street. It has run the New London Community Boating program for more than five years. It had a wonderful relationship with New London Public Schools, showing kids from Bennie Dover the cool and bright clear waters for several years. Its programs have been a highlight for city kids at Camp Rotary in the summer. During COVID, NESS sponsored a student/parent support program called "Shore Support."

And this deserves a dismissive wave?

"This proposal is created in full partnership with the New London Recreation Department," Lobdell said. "Many have commented that the Rec Department should receive more of the ARPA funding. This proposal does exactly that — and provides a platform to deliver programing more directly to New London kids and where they live.

"The proposal also includes working with other youth and family service agencies and programs throughout the city. We intend to deliver standards-based programing and build social and emotional skills and qualities to help meet youth and family services needs right in their own neighborhoods. It's called going where the kids are."

And under the category of money — which, let's be honest — is the pachyderm in the palace (elephant in the room):

"The headline cost is approximately $2 million paid out over four years," Lobdell said. "But it's subject to review annually to ensure that performance benchmarks are met. This funding includes support for other partners to engage students."

We're big here in the 06320 hollering on social media about not enough opportunities for the kids. Then we fail to explore them, particularly if they don't sound traditional enough.

The aforementioned Op-Ed alluded to a public forum held Oct. 4 on potential disbursement of APRA funds:

"Many call(ed) out an opaque process and push(ed) for the funds to meet the needs identified by the People's Budget, a coalition of community groups formed after the 2020 summer of protests in response to police brutality," the Op-Ed read. "Their community needs assessment polled nearly 1,000 New London residents, especially reaching out to those who are Black, Brown, Indigenous, Immigrant, and poor or working class."

According to the Op-Ed, 75 percent of the respondents said teen and youth programs must be a priority. This is exactly what NESS will deliver. Know why? Because NESS has delivered to the kids here in the past.

NESS is hardly "sailing lessons for a Stonington-based non-profit." It is significantly more. It would allow access to water and other parts of the city from which many of our kids and families feel isolated and unwelcome.

Hmmm. Some here in the city rail about those who stereotype that which they don't understand. Sound familiar here?

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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