BRIDGEPORT, CONN. — The Hall Neighborhood House, a modern stucco structure, occupies one corner of a large open lot. Off in one direction are street after street of dilapidated 19th-century brick dwellings. In another direction stands a block of brand-new town houses - visible evidence of a city's attempt to rebuild.
An even more impressive building project is under way inside the neighborhood house - a program helping young mothers build self-reliance. The program, run by the worldwide relief agency, Save the Children, and funded by the state of Connecticut, helps young mothers deal with the demands of parenthood and pursue their educational and career goals.
As the mothers attend workshops and lectures, their children participate in a Head Start program in the same building.
Jayda Groves earned a GED (general equivalency diploma) here last year. ``Now I see myself better,'' she says. She hopes to go on to college courses, perhaps at the state community college being built in a defunct downtown shopping mall in Bridgeport.
The sense of direction she has gained will help her children, too, she says. ``It's important for them to see that mothers have something to do other than sit at home and wait on a state check.''
That view is strongly seconded by Tanya Harvin. ``I want a job where you don't have to depend on the state,'' she says. She says the program here has taught her how to calm down in stressful situations and ask herself, ``Is this what I want to do with my life?'' She wants to be a model of self-reliance for her children. ``I never want to hear the word `can in my house,'' she says.
Both young women have lived in Bridgeport all their lives, but their views of the city vary, just like the cityscape outside Hall Neighborhood House.
``Where I live, in the South End, there's no kind of community -
no place for kids to go where they can be safe,'' Ms. Groves says.
Ms. Harvin, by contrast, says her East Side street is a haven. ``Everybody on that street gets along with each other - Jamaicans, blacks, Puerto Ricans, whites. This is how we should have it everywhere.''