Letter: ‘Shaken and Dismayed’ By Criticism of Outback Volunteers


Dear Editor,

I get it! The powers that be do not want a teen center in New Canaan and the building is being torn down. What I don’t get is why some also need to tear down the people who created and nurtured the organization.

As a 33-year citizen of New Canaan and a volunteer with several nonprofits, I really am shaken and dismayed that any elected official would choose to try openly in meetings and the press well-meaning volunteers for their efforts on behalf of children and their families. Why is it necessary to besmirch someone’s reputation because previous choices did not work and we face difficult decisions?

On more than one occasion, public references were made to “irresponsibility” on the part of Teen Center Board Presidents and members. In addition, there have been inferences by Town staff of poor Board management—fundraising, budgeting and now, maintenance.

As an Outback founding Board member, I assure the community that we intended to build and gift a solid facility and organization to service our community’s young people for many years. For the record, the First Selectman and a Town Council Representative were members, ex officio, of the Board of Directors from its inception. No building or management decisions were ever made without the individuals in those roles having had the opportunity to participate.

I believe that research would reveal that when the building was constructed the Board of Directors followed existing protocol and we were diligent about ongoing systems maintenance while the facility was functioning as a teen center. The original deed stipulated that the building was to become Town property if the nonprofit ceased to exist. It is no secret that the Outback faced challenges for years and the Town of New Canaan chose not to assist in any significant way; as a result the building has been closed for operations for over a year.

Rehashing history and blaming others for the shortcomings of a 15-year effort to enrich our community does not make the final decision to remove the building easier or more justified.

Catharine Sturgess

8 thoughts on “Letter: ‘Shaken and Dismayed’ By Criticism of Outback Volunteers

  1. Catharine, This is a wonderful letter and what you say is important. Thank you for speaking up and for the service of the Board and volunteers on behalf of the Outback. Christina Fagerstal also deserves thanks for speaking out as well in an earlier interview with Mike. You guys are great!! — Jane

  2. Yes, thank you Catharine for speaking out. While I was never a member of the Outback board, I did do significant fundraising tasks on behalf of the Teen Center over the years. My experience was always that the parents involved were genuinely focused on doing the best job possible on behalf of the Teen Center and their own participating students. Do you really think that they would allow a poorly constructed building to “house” their own children? My daughter also spent every night for 6 months painting a mural that hung until this July at the teen center.

    It is hard enough to get parent volunteers to assist with anything. There are so many demands on their time. If those who do step up have their reputations besmirched in this way, watch out! All the groups that are volunteer run, and there are many, will screech to a halt. As much as I respect the town officials, and I do, I caution you to proceed carefully in what you say and do when it comes to these hard working parent volunteers. They are worthy of our respect.

  3. Catharine, even from Texas I have followed the discussion on the Teen Center and have been stunned and frankly offended by the nasty tones from those who seek to eliminate the Teen Center.
    I also was in on the Teen Center at the beginning and a donor too. We had the support of the Town and of the community. Most all of us who were involved also had and have given so much to our Town both in volunteer hours and in dollars. We have helped continue to make our Town the next Station to Heaven.
    The Teen Center may have fallen out of favor with New Canaan now but how about a thanks for the contribution we made all those years ago and for all that we have done for New Canaan over many decades.

  4. Well said Catherine! The volunteers of New Canaan have always made New Canaan the outstanding community that it is, and none have been more committed to a project or cause than the Outback.

  5. It seems to me a simple matter of shrinking beams that everyone is concerned over. It’s pretty obvious from the photos posted that that’s what it is.
    If any wood is not dry before it’s used this is what happens.
    So to tear down a building that was built with good reason
    would be ridiculous and fault lies with the builder for using
    wood that was not ready for this purpose.
    Perhaps a solution to strengthen the beams which can be done
    be introduced.
    The money used for the tear down would be best used for a more worth while cause.

  6. That is an EXCELLENT point. What is the matter with Town Leaders? 1. Why isn’t the Town suing the construction company and architect liable for faulty building? Why would the Town pay to repair faulty construction – not the builder or architect? Who was the the Town building inspector at the time responsible for this mistake? The construction company used the attached WEB PAGES for 15 year to promote their business. If anything I think they would want to clear their name in quality construction. Same with the local architect.

    What to do with the building? Ask Real Estate agents what would make New Canaan more attractive to home buyers.
    a. New Canaanites Love their pets & love Strays and Others for example. This non-profits spends a lot of money on storage costs and could use the location if not to house pets – then to have pet adoption days and to store materials at no cost. Or a Cat Cafe?
    b. New Canaan Beautification Club plants all over downtown New Canaan – could this be used as a potting shed/storage area for New Canaan Beautification or Holidays – Something the Chamber of Commerce can use for their activities/materials?
    c. Basically could the building be used as an club house for town clubs, non-profit services as an adjunct building to help with storage of club materials? Could it be a clubhouse for Town Employees – maintenance and road workers?
    d. Put P&Z in the building. It is crazy you have NO space in the Town Hall – so you have to use a PHONE to CALL P&Z and someone comes out.
    e. Couldn’t social services use it as an adjunct building? Meals on Wheels, etc.
    f. Converted to living space and rented as a home or 2 apartments for critical Town Employees (emergency fire worker, police, etc.)
    g. Could it be used as part of the School System – to teach Cooking Classes or other specialty areas.

  7. The timing of all this unfair criticism comes into question. Just a few weeks ago the town used it during sidewalks sales as a restroom stop off. Now, all of a sudden, it’s unfit!?
    And the criticism of the volunteers, who had nothing but the best intentions with this project, epitomizes the saying “no good deed goes unpunished”.
    With the amount of times I have heard our town leaders cry this sentiment, I would hope they could employ a little more intelligence when pointing fingers.
    Perhaps the fingers should be pointed at the architect and builder and the town could try and hold them responsible before tearing it down. There are many ideas about this structure and how it can be used, perhaps the town leaders could be more open in their opinion.

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