Milford’s Boys & Girls Village breaks ground on ‘life skills’ center

MILFORD — Boys & girls Village broke ground Friday on a new Life Skills & Vocational Training Center for at-risk older youths, or as community college President Paul Broadie II put it during the ceremony: “a center of dreams.”

“Every person who walks in that door is going to exit different,” said Broadie, president of Housatonic and Gateway community colleges.

The community colleges are partnering with Boys & Girls Village to bring the center to success, giving older youths transitioning into adulthood the “opportunity for economic prosperity and hope for their future,” Broadie said.

Broadie said the partnership is a natural because Boys & Girls Village and the community colleges both are in the business of transforming lives.

“Everyone who walks in our door exits better, different. Our missions are closely aligned,” Broadie said.

The center is funded by a $1 million state grant and other donations.

Boys & Girls Village CEO Dr. Stephen Kant said the center’s goal is to help at-risk older youths gain skills to successfully enter adulthood. He said the center will provide introductory classes in culinary management, automotive repair, computer programming and manufacturing, as well as life skills and financial literacy.

Some students may earn an associate degree, certificate or just experience taking college classes, Kant said.

Kant said BGV students are a disadvantaged population and without a leg up can fall into patterns that don’t work toward their success. Learning through the center will help them move forward, Kant said, praising the partnership that makes the center possible.

BGV board of directors Chairman Greg M. Fenn told the group gathered for the ground-breaking that driving there he began thinking about some of the simplest beginnings of adulthood: opening his first bank account, buying his first suit.

Fenn said he turned to his parents with questions, but many of those served by BGV don’t necessarily have the same resources.

He said the new center wouldn’t be possible without the financial and other support of the state and community of donors.

A young man, James, who attended both school and a work-to-learn program at BGV, said it has made a world of difference in his life.

James said he already applies skills he’s learned to work activities and is considering a career in culinary work in addition to business training.

James said he has learned a lot about anger management, money management and team skills. James once loathed working with others and now finds value in working with peers, he said. He’s also learned to relax by cooking and cleaning, he said.

“I’m excited for the new vocational program and how it can grow,” James said.

The new center also will provide opportunities to help students “advance with the tools they need to avoid the dangers of substance abuse, legal involvement, unhealthy relationships, and financial mismanagement, which so often derails the future of at-risk youth as they enter early adulthood,” a release said.

Boys & Girls Village serves students statewide by providing mental health treatment, permanency planning and educational services to Connecticut’s most vulnerable youths and their families.

The organization has served an estimated 30,000 at-risk children and families over 77 years, according to a release.