HARTFORD – The very day, in October of 2013, that he announced at a press conference that he would be the new Hartford archbishop, then-Toledo Bishop Leonard P. Blair was treated to a complete tour of the Institute for the Hispanic Family (IHF), a Catholic Charities initiative at 45 Wadsworth St. Fourteen months later, as he prepared to bless the start of an ambitious IHF expansion effort, Archbishop Blair recalled that Catholic Charities’ CEO Lois Nesci told him she had plans for the building next door at 53 Wadsworth St.
“She had her eyes on that house, and something was going to happen with that. It was going to be greatly improved,” Archbishop Blair told a gathering of dignitaries, staff and clients Feb. 6.
When Catholic Charities purchased property to construct a new home for IHF about 10 years ago, the original plan called for the razing of all the existing property to make way for the 22,000-square-foot building that would house a child daycare, child guidance clinic, senior services and family counseling center. During the planning process, 53 Wadsworth St. was identified as historically protected.
“After the opening of the Institute for the Hispanic Family in 2008, Catholic Charities worked over the next six years to get funding to renovate 53 Wadsworth Street,” said Alyson Karpiej, Catholic Charities executive assistant to the CEO. “Catholic Charities has secured funding from the Department of Social Services, the City of Hartford and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. An application also has been submitted to the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office for historic rehabilitation tax credit funding. The renovations are expected to cost about $900,000,” Ms. Karpiej said.
Ms. Nesci told the Transcript, “We’re going to be providing more services to at least another 65 children and families, and we will adjust the staff accordingly.”
In her prepared remarks, Ms. Nesci recalled that before building the center at 45 Wadsworth St., “We were in another building for our school readiness program which was half the size of what we have now. We have 60 children come to this early learning childhood program every day.”
The soon-to-be-renovated building next door will provide for an expanded family center and additional space for the early learning childhood program, allowing the agency to offer more places for children in the nationally accredited program, she said. Renovation plans were drafted by Smith Edwards McCoy Architects of Hartford.
The IHF also provides programs to sharpen parenting skills and financial literacy, and it is a favorite gathering place for more than 100 seniors to socialize and enjoy healthy meals, she said. Many more people are helped through the agency’s behavioral health programs, she said.
Archbishop Blair said, “I am very much involved in the welfare of Hispanic people. We really need to provide whatever we can as a church, services that help them to be the productive and faithful people that they want to be in our country and in our church.”
Then, quoting Psalm 127, he said, “Unless God builds the house, in vain do the laborers labor.” He then led a prayer that the renovation effort “may serve to better our own lives and those of others.”
State Representative Edwin Vargas, representing the 6th District (Hartford), was on hand to show support for the Latino seniors in his district. “I love all the senior centers. I go to all of them,” he said. “I go to a lot of the nursing homes and senior housing, but a lot of the Latino seniors who are there feel very disconnected from the programs and the cultural activities because they don’t understand the language. Here, it is a core group of Latino seniors, which is great.”
Marek Kukulka, then chief of operations for Catholic Charities and now interim CEO, said, “The population of Spanish-speaking people is very large in Hartford, so expanding the services to that population obviously adds the number of times that we can serve and take care of them.”
Catholic Charities is one of the largest non-governmental providers of human services in Connecticut and has been the licensed, accredited social service arm of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Hartford for more than 90 years. The agency serves 24,000 people of all faiths annually and employs more than 500 social service professionals.