Boys & Girls Village celebrates ‘dream’ expansion in Milford

Front row, from left, Dr. Steven M. Kant, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Village; Kimberly Shaunesey; state Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz; U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal; and Carol Smith Harper, chairwoman of the board, with, back row, from left, Ben Florsheim, representing Sen. Christopher Murphy; Gregory Raucci, Bismarck Construction; Gino Pelaccia, facilities manager; John Wicko, architect; and Joseph Tramuta, vice chairman of the board, cut the ribbon for the new program services building at Boys & Girls Village in Milford.

With all the heart and enthusiasm that goes into serving students at Boys & Girls Village, the ribbon was cut Wednesday, Oct. 17, on a new, 15,000-square-foot program services building at the facility, and parents, students and dignitaries also celebrated the expansion of the Charles F. Hayden School serving grades K-12.

Carol Smith Harker, chairman of the board of directors, told an audience of about 100 that when she looks at the new building, she remembers when it was a dream.

“The building behind me is a physical reminder of our growth,” Harker said. “We appreciate all the love, all the support that’s been given to our children.”

Boys & Girls Village, which has a partnership with the state Department of Children and Families, serves at-risk youths from Fairfield and New Haven counties. As a therapeutic school, the program focuses on special education, emotional, behavioral and academic growth, with the goal of returning students to a mainstream setting. The physical expansion allows for expansion of programs to help children and families, officials said.

Attorney Joseph Tramuta, vice-chairman of the board and chairman of the facilities committee that oversaw the expansion, said “children and families” are the reason so many gathered Wednesday to celebrate. Tramuta managed through his personal connections to secure two, four-year University of Bridgeport scholarships for graduates of the program.

“When I think of all the good we do here, it gives me heartfelt warmth,” he said.

Boys & Girls Village has rapidly expanded in recent years as the demand for services grows, and part of the physical growth has been to add eleventh and twelfth grades to the high school.

DCF Commissioner Joette Katz was among the honored dignitaries who helped make it all happen. Katz has said when she took office eight years ago, she was contacted by Dr. Steven M. Kant, a psychiatrist who also is president and CEO of Boys & Girls Village, who called her to ask, “What do you need?”

Katz told him almost 400 children in need of therapeutic and special education services were being sent out of state. Katz said she didn’t like that, because Connecticut is one of the richest states and rather than be sent out to other jurisdictions, those children should have the opportunity to be treated and educated in their home state where they would likely naturally settle and raise their own families.

Boys & Girls Village made it happen by expanding services, she said.

Katz, who received a hat from Kant labeled “BOSS,” said the facility is “an incredible asset” in Connecticut and its success shows just what a partnership can do. A $2 million grant from DCF funded expansion of the therapeutic day school.

Katz said when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy asked her to take the job eight years ago when she was a state Supreme Court judge, he prefaced it by saying he knew she already had the job every lawyer wants and he was offering her a job you couldn’t pay most people to take.

Katz called him the next day to accept the DCF position. On Wednesday she said she had no regrets because there’s “nothing more important” than children.

Katz said the agency receives 110,000 calls to its hotline annually, can have 20,000 cases at a given time, and that she can be the statutory guardian for 4,300 children at a time. She said the number of children now being treated out of state has been reduced by 97 percent.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., attended Wednesday, along with 119th District Republican state Rep. Pam Staneski, who is running for the state Senate in the 14th District.

Blumenthal said that when he visited Boys & girls Village years ago, it was so small, the word “village” didn’t seem to fit, although, he said, it was always a village in its dedication and purpose. He said the expansion of the community/facility is a “reaffirmation of the principals and values” that make Connecticut great.

“We leave no one behind,” including the vulnerable, the needy, he said.

“Boys & Girls Village has always been a beacon of hope and opportunity,” he said.

Construction of the new program building was funded, in part, by a $2.16 million state grant. Boys & Girls Village will match that grant, drawing on capital support from its donors.