About 20 children from Ansonia’s Mead and Prendergast schools got off their school buses at the Tinney Community Center on Riverside Drive for the last time Thursday.
An after school program for 6- to 12-year-olds at the community center ended because a grant that funded the program ran out.
“We’ve been prepared for it. We knew the grant was running out,” said Naomi “Miss Ruthie” Wallace, the director of the program. “The buses know they won’t be stopping here anymore.”
It was disappointing day all around, but Wallace wasn’t about to let the atmosphere get too mournful.
“We’re just going to have a pizza party,” she said as children were filing into the building — and running up to kiss her cheek or greet her politely — about 3:30 p.m. “We don’t want it long and drawn out to make it sad.”
“I’m really proud of what they’ve done. They have progressed in so many ways,” Wallace added. “They’re well-versed in the niceties. This is important, that children have manners.”
After pizza, the kids played “duck, duck, goose” in the community center’s main room as parents and officials wondered what will happen next.
Malika Mosely, who worked in the program and had two daughters, ages 6 and 9, taking part, cast a sad glance at the children gathered there Thursday.
“I’ve known these kids all their lives,” she said.
Since Mosely lost the job she had at the community center when the grant ran out, she said she’ll be able to watch her children herself when they get out of school.
But other parents aren’t so lucky.
“It’s a shame that they’re closing this place,” said Keisha Nesmith, whose 8-year-old son took part in the program. “He loved it.”
“It’s fun here,” Nesmith’s son, Keyvon, said. “You get to go on the computers.”
Nearby, Nesmith’s sister, Ebony Thomas, was busy filling out an application to get her 6-year-old son into a similar program run by Ansonia Community Action.
Nesmith said that’s a possibility for her son as well, but that the loss of the Tinney Community Center program leaves a void for the community.
“It was a very nice program,” she said. “The staff was excellent.”
Sarah Maberry, a 15-year-old high school junior who has been volunteering at the community center since she was in eighth grade, helping children with school work and projects, agreed.
“It’s kind of sad. The kids have nowhere else to go after they go here,” she said. “It’s kind of depressing. It hasn’t really set in yet.”
City officials who stopped in at the community center Thursday echoed those concerns.
“It’s just time spent positively,” Police Chief Kevin Hale said of the program. “Miss Wallace has been doing this a long time and genuinely cares and has that community concern. It’s been very good for a very long time.”
“This is a sad day for the community,” said Carol Merlone, the city’s superintendent of schools. “It’s essential for kids to provide after-school programs. It provides structure and keeps kids safe.”
“They did their homework here,” Merlone went on. “It’s a safe haven until their parents came home. And that’s what’s needed in the community.”
The Ansonia Housing Authority, which oversees the Tinney Community Center, has plans to renovate the building and re-open it in January with services focusing on “family self-sufficiency,” its executive director told the Valley Gazette this month.
Wallace hoped Thursday that the relaunch would incorporate some sort of after school activities for kids, even if she’s not a part of it.
“You see the children here,” Wallace said. “They won’t be here anymore. Me, I can always be replaced. The children can’t.”