Letters: Support Trackside Funding in Wilton’s Budget

We received two Letters to the Editor asking Wilton officials to refrain from cutting funding for Trackside Teen Center in the FY2021 budget, being debated tonight by the Board of Finance.

Vital, Not an ‘Extra’

To the Editor:

I am writing to express support for town funding of Trackside Teen Center. Trackside is an invaluable community for this important and vulnerable age group. It is part of what makes our town a great place to live. It is not an “extra”; it is vital.

The budget for this gem is already very small, as a percentage of the town’s budget. What we get in return for this small financial investment is priceless–a place for middle schoolers and high schoolers to spend time where they are safe, respected, and able to have fun with friends. Some students who go to Trackside have many other activities, and Trackside is a break from the intensity that they feel at school or competitive activities. For other students, Trackside is a community and a safe space, a chance to connect with peers when they don’t have an already-identified passion. For both of these groups and those in-between, Trackside is a place to go outside of their home that is supervised, alcohol- and drug-free, welcoming, and fun.

It may be easy to look at Trackside and say it is an “extra” or that it should be self-sustaining. Yes, Trackside could be a fun place to go, where students (who can afford to pay enough admission money to fund the whole budget) get together and have lots of fun. Such a place might be nice for some students. But to do that is to miss the basic point–that by its existence, its flexible attendance structure, and its no-fee access, it is for everyone in middle school and high school. For it to serve its higher purpose of being a safety net, a place for high-risk as well as low-risk students to be equally at home, to literally save the lives of our teenagers, it needs to be fee-free, open-access, and town funded.

Considering the numbers, I have three comments:

First, the return on investment of the town’s grant to Trackside is very high. In other words, for a small amount of money (as a percentage of the town’s budget), this program provides an important outlet and safety net for our teens. To reduce it is short-sighted and does not reflect who we should be as a community.

Second, the scale of the proposed reduction of Trackside Teen Center’s budget grant is disproportionally high compared to other reductions. Using dollar amounts rather than percentages is misleading to the citizens who are reading the budget explanations. In other words, to say that the Library budget grant is being cut by $100,000, while the Teen Center budget grant is being cut by $10,000 makes it sound like the Library cuts are way bigger than the Teen Center cuts. But as a percentage (using round numbers), cutting a $2 million grant by $100,000 is a 5% cut. (Our library is a treasure, and I’m not saying this cut doesn’t matter!) But cutting the Teen Center’s $70,000 grant by $10,000 is more than a 14% cut. If cuts must be made that directly affect quality of life, (which I don’t agree with), then cutting them by the same percentage gives at least the appearance of fairness, rather than personal bias.

The First Selectwoman stated that the library was prioritized because it is for everyone, while the Teen Center is only for a “small segment” of the population. Does the same apply to programs that support Wilton’s senior citizens? Or each of Wilton’s schools? The Teen Center does benefit everyone, just as the Library and other Town programs benefit everyone, even if a person doesn’t fall into that age group at that time.

Third, if Trackside’s grant from the town was about $100,000 a couple of years ago, and the current proposal is to reduce its grant to $60,000, that’s a 40% reduction over two years. The reduction of the budget grant to $69,000 was already harsh. Given that Trackside’s main fundraiser has been canceled due to COVID-19 and that there was already a harsh grant reduction in the budget plan, a further reduction is not only cruel, it does almost nothing toward balancing the town’s budget at this time.

We all understand that there are hard choices in these times. But let’s make choices that we will look back on with the confidence that we did our best for our people, including our teenagers.

Sincerely,

Ellen Dickinson
Wilton resident, Parent of children at Cider Mill and Middlebrook
Founder and Artistic Director of Wilton’s Music on the Hill

 

Please Continue To Fund Trackside!

To the Editor:

I am writing to express my support for Trackside Teen Center and the importance for the Town of Wilton and Board of Selectmen to continue meaningful funding for this valuable entity and service for our children.

It is not an accident that my daughter, Ava Rose Moya Herbstreith, has been thriving in Wilton since the age of 2 years old. You know the adage:  ‘It takes a village.’

Ava, now 11 and in the final quarter of 6th grade, has had help along the way–namely, the support of family, many caring educators and people who go beyond, like [Trackside programming director] Dr. [John] Priest, that help and take time to develop wonderful programs and services at Trackside Teen Center. Through the past several years, Ava has enjoyed Summer Camp Programs and STEM, Friday’s Movie Night, Open Stage Night, after-school programs, [and] Wednesday’s Go Live Girl Programs!

Please see the long view. Wilton is a community that cares and those that dissuade you from supporting Trackside Teen Center are missing the mark:  we all know that COVID-19 has caused a ripple effect of suffering. We are all affected. But why would you decide to cut off one of our children’s PPE’s? It is one of our youth’s personal protection essentials for today and tomorrow. Please do not sacrifice this.

I am not being overly dramatic:  taking the pulse of our children’s mental and physical wellbeing right now is just as important as caring for our elderly, who we love and respect, and wish to stay safe.

I am back in Wilton for my mother, Aurora Moya, a resident of Wilton since 1975. She has been an active part of the community since then, successfully raising four children when she was widowed, in March of 1976. We plan to be here to support and oversee her wellbeing through the rest of her 80’s, 90’s and beyond.

I realize many of you participated in supporting Trackside Teen Center at its inception. This is a program that is intended to grow, not diminish:  the pre-teen programs have been growing and blossoming there as well as other important programs for our younger set.

Do any of you remember Wilton during the 70s to early 80s? The only youth-safe zone programs were private (like the Walter Schalk School of Dance) or through our local church/parish (OLF’s Father Palmer). Though amazing programs, that was not enough. After-hours, teens hung out by the tennis courts or various unknown spots. Some got into serious trouble.

If you can understand, from this historical perspective, the town has always needed something like Trackside Teen Center and it needs your continued support, especially during a crisis such as COVID-19.

Thank you for your kind attention and consideration.

With hope and gratitude,

Patricia Moya