Letter: Civic Action Needed in New Canaan

Type A commuters fleeing the city and beyond in search of superior public schools and the elusive small-town lifestyle flock to New Canaan. Our suburban outpost has everything they dream about from well-manicured yards to family events to a walkable downtown. Yet, even in New Canaan, we hear about bullying, domestic violence, prescription and illegal drug abuse, alcoholism, cutting, anorexia and misuse of guns. As a community, we have to stop coasting on our “Next Station to Heaven” reputation and deal with the issues threatening our village – and many other towns.

The stakes have never been higher. And, yet, we sit idly by reading about neighbors in crisis. We tell our children “If you see something, say something,” but we ourselves choose not to get involved. It is not fair (or effective) to rely on the same small group of people to write all of the letters, attend all of the meetings and sign up for all of the volunteer opportunities. This is our one chance to teach by example the value of being an active and informed citizen. To break the apathy that threatens our very quality of life.

Now, more than ever, it takes a village to raise a child. Our village. It is up to us to deal with these problems at the root cause by helping our youth to find and use their unique gifts. Isolation is dangerous. And so is the failure to make each individual feel important in his own right.

Our children are growing up in an age in which every choice is recorded for posterity. Mistakes and all. True friends are hard to come by. The intensity of school, sports and work has reached an all-time high. In this fifth wealthiest town in the nation (according to CNN Money’s 2013 list), time has become more valuable than money.

If we don’t take care of our health, learn how to relax and take time out for family, how will our children learn to prioritize better than we do? If we stop patronizing local restaurants and stores, lose our post office and our teen center and cut public school funding, can we truly claim to love our town?

In spite of the serious issues we face, I hold Rob Mallozzi, our Town Council, Dr. Mary Kolek, our Board of Education and our Board of Finance in the highest esteem. Having volunteered to work alongside these leaders, I understand that many of us expect too much. We demand lower taxes along with higher test scores, sports standings and property values. In the comfort of our family rooms, we criticize our leaders without getting close enough to understand the challenges they are facing. Then, we leave them in the lurch to make tough financial decisions while many of us do not even vote.

We are at the precipice of a tipping point as we approach yet another tight budget season. Do we allow our schools to crumble and our quality of education to falter as we put off necessary maintenance and crowd in more students? Do we maintain one-and-a-half school resource officers at a time when other towns are increasing the cooperative efforts between police, teachers and school administrators?

Do we give up on our investment in our teen center because of its previous shortcomings? Or double down our efforts to canvas the town and surrounding areas for the best practices, court investors and appeal to volunteers? What does it say to our teens if our town does not invest in a place for them at a time when so many of them need support?

Let’s get back to the basics and remember what made us fall in love with New Canaan in the first place. We make tremendous sacrifices to live here. After all, there are cheaper places and easier places, but not better places. Not if we direct the tremendous power of our collective smarts, connections and caring inward and collaborate to effect fiscally responsible change.

For example, Westport holds an annual contest in which they challenge teams of high school students to spend one day tackling a real issue affecting the town. Area businesses and families donate scholarship money to the team offering the most well-researched viable solution. What do you think of using a similar model to help our town leverage limited budgets, resolve parking shortages downtown, improve the health of our community and more?

New Canaanites, if not for you and me, then for our children and grandchildren, use your expertise to make a difference.  The action you choose can be as small as writing a letter or as big as saving our public schools, post office, teen center and even our village.  I challenge all of you to publicly respond to this letter with a promise to get involved.  Thank you, in advance.

Your fellow New Canaanite,

Cobie S. Graber

9 thoughts on “Letter: Civic Action Needed in New Canaan

  1. I agree in every way to what you say. We must be more involved with our town, schools and facilities, not only for the benefit of our own childern, but with a generous attitude that can result in a better life style for all of us. I am ready to help!

  2. Thank you! I look forward to working with town officials and school administrators to leverage our human capital. I hope that others will follow your lead and step up.

  3. Does anyone think the Westport model for getting high school students involved in solving town problems might work? If so, what problem should they tackle first? See some suggestions above… I really am hoping that this letter sparks some conversation, and, hopefully, action. Thank you, Lisetta and Matt for your feedback.

  4. Your property value is directly connected to the quality of our schools. Make your voice heard at the Board of Finance meeting tonight at 7:30 at the Nature Center. If you can’t be there, please write letters to the Town Council and the Board of Finance. Our schools are in a serious state of disrepair after budget cuts have forced deferred maintenance.

  5. Awesome letter, Cobie. We are all grateful to have someone like you who cares so deeply for our town. I really love the Westport model for getting High Schoolers to problem solve. Very creative!! Our teens are very smart and civic minded, I have no doubt that they would prove to be a very valuable asset. You know my area of expertise, so let me know how I can help!

    -Bar

  6. I am in favor of town hall style meetings in which we break up into small groups and tackle our problems head on. We need less consultants and more activists. More role models and less lectures. Action speaks much louder than words. To that end, please consider signing my petition for a School Resource Officer at Saxe Middle School. We need to increase collaboration between police, teachers and administrators. Early intervention is the first defense in the war against destructive behaviors.

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