Monday September 3, 2012

NORTH ADAMS -- For 28 years, the Church Outreach to Youth or COTY Youth Center has been offering an after-school place for young people when they have no place to go.

Now, the COTY Center is looking for some place to call home.

As of today, the center will no longer operate out of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish Center (formerly St. Anthony of Padua Parish).

Caitlin McConnell, who has been executive director of the nonprofit COTY Center since 2009, said while the center looks for a more permanent home, its office will be located nearby, at the First Congre gational Church at 134 Main St.

McConnell said the center has been planning a move since last Dec ember at the request of the parish, but did not know where exactly it would be relocating to until this week.

In addition to McConnell, the center employs one other full-time program director and a part-time assistant.

Mark Dupont, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, which has funded the center and parish, said "there were many reasons" and ongoing discussions regarding the relocation of the center.

"The parish did not rush into this decision and knew it would be a difficult one. No doubt there is great value that COTY has demonstrated over the years, but it also required an ongoing need for parish space, restricting any possible other use, and with some significant wear and tear on the building," Dupont said in an emailed response at the request of The Eagle.

"We're grateful for what the church has supported us with all these years," said McConnell.


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She also announced that COTY will continue to offer services.

The COTY after-school program will begin on Sept. 10 in the community center of the Mohawk Forest apartment association, located at 201 Mohawk Forest Blvd. in North Adams. The program will include homework help, a snack, and a recreational activity for students in grades 1 through 6. COTY is looking to revive its community service curriculum and also its science day program.

This year, COTY has also partnered with the Berkshire Dream Center to offer community services like free clothing, household goods and personal items, as well as coffee and conversation. The Dream Center typically offers hours with COTY on Friday eve nings, and will continue at the new COTY office at the First Congregational Church in North Adams.

For the time being, drop-in hours, and the cooking and dinner program will not be offered due to lack of a kitchen, but will resume, McConnell said, if and when the center finds an appropriate permanent space.

Once under the auspices of COTY, the Haiti Plunge program has separated from the center and is still operated by former COTY Center director, Eunice Tassone of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

The director said COTY served an average of 20 to 30 youths from elementary through high school ages five days a week through the drop-in center, and 20 to 25 kids through its feeding program.

She said that the COTY program -- which aims to support underserved youth and all the educational, social and emotional issues they face --had indeed increased the volume of program participants coming into the center via the parish in recent years. She said that in addition to general wear and tear, the parish sustained some other damage, like broken windows.

"But we've had so many successes, for example, with kids from places like the juvenile probation program going on to re-engage with their schoolwork and their community," McConnell said.

The parish did permit the COTY Center to host its summer drop-in hours and the Kids Upward Bound (KUB) Academy through August, and is also offering some temporary storage space for the center's pool tables, recreational and computer lab equipment.

McConnell said COTY Cent er staff and board members will meet with members of the local interfaith community, city officials and other community agencies on Wednesday to further discuss the center's future.

"Now the community is really coming behind us in a huge way to figure out how it can support us in finding what medium- and long-term solutions could possibly look like," she said.

"Given that COTY has been hosting a public after-school program, it's appropriate and heartening that city officials have expressed a desire for helping find a new location," Dupont said.

McConnell said the Annual Catholic Appeal and Northern Berkshire United Way have been the COTY Center's primary funding sources. In addition to finding a permanent space, the COTY Center and its board will have to redefine its budget and developing programs within its capacity.

"This is a temporary move and we are looking for a space that offers the kids a gym space and room to work," said COTY Board President Alex Daugherty.

"We intend to keep moving forward as time and money would allow us to," he said.