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Campbell Awarded for At-Risk Youth Support [Update]

Selectman David Campbell, president and CEO of Ring's End Lumber, is being honored by the Carver Center of Norwalk with its annual "Community Builder award at a June 15 fundraiser.

Editor's note: See update beneath this story:

When the hundreds of kids, many of them at risk for various social problems, walk through the doors to have fun and learn at the inner-city in Norwalk, they'll be doors donated by of Darien.

So will the windows they look out of, many of the ceilings they play and study under, and the paint on the walls (inside and out) at the center, which aims to give kids not only a safe environment to have some fun and improve their studies, but also an inspirational one to keep them doing well in school and out of trouble.

Officials with the nonprofit say that Ring's End has played such a crucial role in a campaign to refurbish the worn, 48-year-old George Washington Carver Center building that David Campbell, president and CEO of the company, will be given this year's "Community-Builder Award" at the center's annual fundraiser this June in Darien.

"He deserves it," said Dick Whitcomb, a former headmaster of St. Luke's School in New Canaan and now an active volunteer with the Carver Center. Whitcomb started a fundraising campaign for the organization to improve the building.

The project

Whitcomb has been asking donors to give $5,000 to refurbish various rooms in the center, and he was able to set the request lower because Ring's End was furnishing much the materials. A total of 25 donors have given to the campaign.

"He has never refused me anything," Whitcomb said of Campbell, whom he first got to know when one of Campbell's children attended St. Luke's. "I tell you, he's a saint. [...] He loves the underdog. He's really for the people who are disenfranchised. He's just been wonderful."

Campbell, a member of the Darien Board of Selectmen and a former first selectman, said he's contributed to the Carver Center in the past, "in a bigger way in the last few years."

He got more involved when Whitcomb asked for help with the renovation project. Much of the project will be done over the summer. "I don't know how much it comes to," Campbell said when asked how much he and Ring's End had donated.

Whitcomb said Ring's End has already contributed $47,000 worth of windows alone, and he estimates that with all the materials requests, the business will "probably end up giving us over $100,000 in gifts in kind."

The event

The Carver Center's "Child of America" fundraiser takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. June 15 at . Television talk show personality Joe Scarborough, now a New Canaan resident, will be on hand, along with his "Morning Joe" co-host, Mika Brzezinski.

Gov. Dannel Malloy attended the event in previous years, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal is expected this year, said Janine Smith, a member of the Carver board and chair of the gala committee. Another honoree at the event will be Alberto Carvalho, the very successful superintendent of the Miami-Dade school system.

The gala has been going on annually for 11 years. Attended by about 300 people each year, it raises about $300,000 for the Carver Center, Smith said.

Whitcomb: From St. Luke's to Carver

Whitcomb, 77, retired from in New Canaan 11 years ago, after 41 years with the school, 22 of them as headmaster. A desire to help at-risk children with their education and direction led him to become more involved with the Carver Center several years ago.

Since then, he says, his wife has told him he's spent more time over there than he did at St. Luke's as headmaster. As a "special advisor" to the governing board and head of the foundation's "Strategic Planning Group," he's engaged in various projects and raised funds for them.

One is a $40,000 program to get Norwalk to offer Scholastic Achievement Tests (SATs) on weekdays at schools, so that kids don't need special transportation in order to take them on weekends.

The number of students taking SATs in Norwalk more than tripled.

Broader horizons for the Carver Foundation

Since Novelette Peterkin became executive director at Carver, the organization has expanded its efforts by organizing after-school programs in the city's schools, usually working with teachers who already know the students. The Carver Foundation now serves 4,000 students each year, Smith said.

A major goal for Peterkin has been to close the achievement gap between poor and minority students in poorer school districts as compared with relatively well-off students in more affluent communities, Smith said.

Peterkin said the Carver Foundation has been serving the Norwalk's children (at every middle school and high school in the city) with a lot of different after-school programs. The basketball program just produced the state's winning fifth-grade basketball team in an Amateur Athletic Union competition.

Peterkin said she is now hoping to finance a trip to the national competition for not just the fifth-graders, but also the eighth and ninth grade team, which won third place for that age level.

Update: 4:23 p.m.:

Editor's note: Janine Smith, a board member of the Carver Foundation and chair of the upcoming June fundraising event, interviewed David Campbell about why he gave so much to the foundation. She provided these quotes:

Smith: Congratulations on your upcoming award on June 15 of the Community Builder Award at the Carver Foundation of Norwalk’s Annual Gala! How did you get from Darien First Selectman and a Connecticut-wide business-owner to a supporter of Carver Foundation of Norwalk?

Campbell: I have known about Carver’s good work for a long time and, with hundreds of my own employees at Ring’s End from all different backgrounds from around the state, I see a real need for strong adult support and leadership of kids in education. Since I have become a business owner and talked to many of my employees, I have seen firsthand the results of a lack of adult supervision and encouragement and how this leads to dropping out and a lack of direction and goals. Carver is filling a need that exists in many cities and providing a clear path and focus on education.

Smith: What makes Carver a particularly meaningful cause to you, as I imagine you are approached to support many charities?

Campbell: We do support many charities in the Connecticut, but a motivating factor is certainly ensuring that kids know that they can achieve and be successful in life. Carver helps kids become competent and successful adults with its after-school programs.

In addition, my son runs after-school programs for inner city schools in Boston, so I know how important after-school programs are for kids to gain new confidence and interest in their academics and envision a productive future for themselves.

Smith: What aspects of closing the achievement gap in Connecticut do you see as “fixable” and how do you see Carver as being part of the solution?

Campbell: The biggest area of need is to teach kids that they can achieve and Carver provides a support system and a safe haven to meet this need.

Smith: What do you envision as your continuing involvement in Carver and what message would you send to other corporate and individual donors about Carver and its after-school programs?

Campbell: I will continue to support Carver in any way that I can. All businesses and corporations in the Norwalk area should support Carver because Carver is creating a better and more well-educated workforce long-term for Connecticut’s future.

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