New Opportunities director to retire after 25 years of service

Monday, September 22, 2014
Meriden Record-Journal
Meriden, CT

After 25 years of service, one city leader who spent most of his time trying to bring the community together is stepping down.

The Rev. Larry Elliot, 62, has tendered his resignation as director of New Opportunities of Greater Meriden, effective at the end of this month.

“This is hard,” he said. “It’s a leap of faith.”

Elliot, who also ministers at Bible Way Church Worldwide on South Colony Street, said that over the years he’s “been blessed to be able to make the two work together.” He is now looking forward to spending his retirement focusing on family, and ministering his faith.

The Virginia native, father of seven daughters with 15 grandchildren, was at the helm of numerous community outreach projects still taking place today.

He undertook the city’s Black Expo, and spearheaded the Walk for Warmth, an annual fundraiser to defray heating costs for families in need.

“I remember thinking, ‘This is a real need,’ ” Elliot said of the charity drive to cover heating costs. “When we were first starting out, I went to all the heating and oil companies in the area. About 10 or 12 donated 200 gallons of oil each, right off the bat, and at the time, our sign of whether we should continue or not was the success of that. The next thing I know, we’re on our way to raising substantial dollars.”

This year, the Walk for Warmth marked its 25th anniversary, and for the first time added a 5-kilometer race.

“Really the success of it,” Elliot said, “was in bringing the community together; in bringing everyone together.”

The drive to bring people of different backgrounds together would turn out to be one that informed almost everything Elliot did at New Opportunities.

One of Elliot’s major victories was in helping to unite city leaders, police, clergy, and neighborhood leaders after the 2012 stabbing on Kensington Avenue that killed teenager Deandre Felton and injured DaShawn Jones. Following the incident, the group met monthly to assess safety concerns in the city, and develop new strategies for youth.

“I’m very glad that committee was started,” Elliot said. “We got to know each other better, and got the chance to get past some of those stereotypes that everyone has when they think about certain positions or people. Plus some of the results were phenomenal.”

Former Mayor Michael S. Rohde, who worked closely with Elliot on events such as the Black Expo and the Walk for Warmth, said Thursday that it was a “bittersweet” change.

“He’s someone who really cares about people,” Rohde said.

Rohde related an instance where Elliot received a phone call at 2 a.m., some years ago, from someone who needed his help. “He just jumped into his car and went,” Rohde said.

He added later that Elliot “certainly deserves to kick back a little bit.”
Kicking back isn’t a priority yet for Elliot, however. Elliot said that all his newfound time will be put to use “ministering to others,” whether in a physical church or elsewhere.

New Opportunities of Greater Meriden is one branch of a larger statewide organization headquartered in Waterbury. While the board of directors there searches for a permanent replacement for Elliot, Donna Ditrio, the director of regional and employment programs, will take over on an interim basis.

“My overall effort has been to let the community know that we were here, we’re part of the community, and we care about the people here,” Elliot said. “I feel like I’ve fulfilled a role in this community that I was meant to come here and fulfill.”

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