Sterling House embraces community service role

Sterling House celebrated 80 years of serving Stratford in 2012, and according to Executive Director Louis D. Perno, efforts to fund the community center remain a top priority for the non-profit.

Perno says that the challenging economy and recent events have stymied fund-raising efforts so far this year.

“Storm Sandy has definitely impacted us,” Perno said. “We hear from people that ‘we would have given you what we normally have given, but we have contributed to Sandy instead.’”

Perno says that along with Storm Sandy, the understandable outpouring of giving to victims and causes related to the shooting at Sandy Hook has also contributed to a shortfall in Sterling House’s fundraising.

“Our food pantry donations are lower than last year at this time,” said Perno. “Monetary, food and other contributed items are tapped out. And we understand that our donors want to give to other causes as well.”

A fundraising pinch is being felt throughout the non-profit community in general Person says.

“I’ve talked to other agencies who do fund-raising, and they’re all experiencing the same thing,” Perno said.

Sterling House is located in the heart of town and has provided Stratford and surrounding towns with much needed social and recreational services.

According to Perno, some of those program services include: Child Development Center, Positive Youth Development Services, Adult Programs, and the Resource Connection Program.

“It used to just be called our food pantry,” Perno said of the Resource Connection Program. “But it’s more than food that we give out. We give out school supplies, diapers, Thanksgiving meals and holiday gifts.”

Over the last handful of years, Sterling House has seen an increase in demand for its services. Perno says that even dual income households are struggling to meet their financial obligations and are finding it difficult to afford the moderate fees that Sterling House charges for youth sports and other programs.

“I definitely have to say that as a result of the economy, there are more people living in our community who just can’t afford some of the basic things and they need help,” Perno said. “They are working people. Stratford is a working town and it’s tough and going to get tougher.”

He says that simply turning away those families is not an option and that a solution was needed to offer continued access to Sterling House services.

“Four years ago we established the Youth Program Assistance Fund for families that cannot afford our programs and we sought donors to fund that,” Perno said. “So when a parent comes in and wants to sign their child up for pre-school or day care, or day camp or basketball, we give them scholarships to help them out a little bit.”

Perno says that last year approximately $13,000 was given in scholarships for children wanting to attend day camp at Sterling House.

The Town of Stratford continues to help fund Sterling House, but most of the funding still comes from membership fees, grants and donations.

Perno credits Development Director Diane Sheridan with engaging the local business community. He says that her efforts to seek corporate and business support have paid dividends by opening up new avenues of funding for Sterling House.

“Diane has been great. She’s the one who goes out there on the road and into corporate offices to sit down with companies,” Perno said. “She’s selling the Sterling House organization and we have some wonderful corporations in the area that are funding us at the $10,000 level.” 

A level Perno said was unheard of before Sheridan took on the role.

“We’ve been here 80 years, and thanks to our donors and the support of the Town of Stratford, we’re into our 81st year,” Perno said. “And we’d love to be around another 80 years.”

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