New Britain Herald Article on Community Central
New center hopes to connect CCSU with NB community
Wednesday, November 9, 2011 11:14 PM EST
By Liz Newberg
NEW BRITAIN — Central Connecticut State University is seeking to expand its reach into the community with a new center created by one of its students.
Called Community Central, the center aims to connect CCSU resources and students with New Britain students and community groups.
The opening of Community Central is scheduled for today at 6 p.m. at 117 W. Main St.
The brainchild of entrepreneurial student Eric Francis, Community Central embodies his hope to create a hub where other CCSU students can gather to reach out to New Britain youth.
“I’m a dreamer and I look at the bigger picture. I want to see CCSU being at the forefront of solving some of the issues in New Britain,” Francis said. “Five to 10 years from now, I want to see New Britain students going to CCSU and leading the programs that they may have grown up with.”
When CCSU’s Office of Continuing Education and Community Engagement secured an AmeriCorp VISTA position for three years, the journey to turn one student’s thesis into a reality had begun. AmeriCorps VISTA, or Volunteers in Service to America, is a national service program designed to fight poverty. The first person to fill the VISTA post, Andrew Froning, orchestrated efforts among a variety of university departments to get the plan up and running and secured funding for the center’s mentors and tutors beginning this year.
The center has begun tutoring New Britain students, with 10 mentor leaders and 10 tutors as well as a group of about 30 CCSU volunteer mentors to provide free services for New Britain elementary schools and the high school.
VISTA participant Hannah Hurwitz is tasked with building capacity at Community Central, starting programs and building relationships within the community.
“My biggest challenge will be matching the organizations with the university volunteers effectively and finding ways to benefit both sides equally so that it’s a satisfying relationship on both sides,” Hurwitz said. “There is so much need and so much that people want to do, we have to choose and focus and that will be hard because I want to help everyone and create long-lasting partnerships without leaving anyone out.”
Located in office space next to Hurricane District on West Main Street in the heart of downtown, Community Central is already in a position to be accessible and approachable for many in the city.
Froning, a former CCSU student body president, said he hopes Community Central will provide avenues for CCSU students who want to engage with the greater community — something that rarely existed when he was a student there.
Community Central’s efforts will be focused on three areas in the first year — education, arts and culture, and economic sustainability.
“We want to push students to think ahead to building their businesses in New Britain,” Francis said. “We need the community to identify an issue and we want the CCSU students and the New Britain community to find a solution. There are sure to be failures but we need to push students to create more. After a few failures there will be a success in the mix.”
According to city Board of Education President Sharon Beloin-Saavedra, “Our students need these mentoring and tutorial programs to help narrow the achievement gap, but in return those who work with our students receive cultural enrichments and social/emotional relationships beyond the doors of academia.”
While CCSU has reached out to the New Britain community, it is only recently that efforts have become more targeted and purposeful, acting Superintendent of Schools Ron Jakubowski said.
While Community Central will be of benefit to New Britain youth, the program also stands to be a “resume builder” for CCSU students that may even help them decide what they want to do after college, Jakubowski said.
CCSU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Carl Lovitt said he was excited about the idea of Community Central from the beginning, as it was a way of supporting the university’s local community while teaching valuable lessons to the CCSU population.
“Community Central enables students to further their education while helping to improve the quality of life for citizens of New Britain,” Lovitt said. “It affirms the university’s commitment to support our local community and to educating responsible citizens.”