SHU’s Dean Of Students Highlights Economic And Volunteer Impact On City

Dean of Students Larry Wielk

Sacred Heart University Dean of Students Larry Wielk in the commentary that follows emphasizes the economic, volunteer and social contributions students make in Bridgeport.

During the past couple of weeks since we heard about the proposal from local politicians to limit the number of unrelated people who can live together in a house or apartment from four to a maximum of three individuals, we have been very vocal about why we think it is a bad idea. That is not what this letter is about. We have also talked about how we have continually worked with North End residents to help them solve their issues with our students living there. We responded to the characterization of our students living in the North End as “a college dormitory run amok.” This letter is not about that, either. This letter is about the incredible contributions that our students make to the Bridgeport community on a daily basis.

The first contribution is economic. According to a study by the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, direct spending in the state by our students last year was $99,440,463. Visitors to the University spent another $1,623,550. Much of that was spent in Bridgeport. Our students grocery shop, buy gas, dine out, shop for clothes, visit hair and nail salons and, yes, pay rent in Bridgeport. Their families also take them to dinner, take them shopping and stay in area hotels when they visit them here.

Even more important, though, is the contribution these students make to the Bridgeport community through their volunteerism. Our students volunteer more than 100,000 hours each year–many of those hours in Bridgeport. Just this past weekend a large contingent of young women from Delta Zeta sorority did a major cleanup at Seaside Park. Last week students raised funds for Habitat for Humanity for housing in Bridgeport, and another group participated in a read aloud day.

Student Government and Volunteer Programs & Service Learning have just kicked off their annual Thanksgiving turkey and food drive. Over the past few years, students have delivered Thanksgiving meals to St. Charles Church in Bridgeport to feed more than 700 families. They have set the same aggressive goal for this year, which entails raising more than $12,000 this year alone. These students have laid down a challenge to the North End political leaders who have been so vocal: Match us turkey for turkey. And match our community service hour for hour.

We could fill pages with the work that our students do–both weekly and as one-off events–but we will share just a few.

Every day of every week, students serve meals at the Thomas Merton Center. Several days a week, students help with homework at the Curiale School, Summerfield Methodist Church and Hall Neighborhood House. They provide enrichment activities for residents at the Northbridge Senior Center and do art activities for adults with developmental disabilities at the Margaret Daly Arts Cooperative. They read aloud in elementary school classrooms and present Project Strong–a female empowerment program for middle school students. Student-athletes serve as mentors to Bridgeport students.

In fact, the Princeton Review has named our students number 13 nationwide in its category “Students Most Engaged in Community Service.”

There will continue to be times of friction, and we will continue to work with residents and the City to find solutions. But we are asking that you also recognize the very real contribution that our students make in the Bridgeport community. Most of our students choose Sacred Heart because of its vision for social justice and mission to prepare them to make a difference in the global community. Each summer, a large group of freshmen spend a week immersed in Bridgeport learning the customs and traditions of its various residents and volunteering in a variety of programs–all before they have even attended a class. We ask that you appreciate them for the vital members of the community that they are. As they continue to feel disrespected by the leadership in Bridgeport, they are questioning why they should continue to volunteer in a city that doesn’t appreciate their work. Maybe the critics could fill that void should it occur.

Thank you,

Larry Wielk, dean of students



  1. I read the article on last night’s North End Community Forum.

    The President of Sacred Heart stated that over 600 Sacred Students have registered to vote and are planning to vote in November.

    What he doesn’t say is how many of those students are eligible to vote in Bridgeport.


  2. Well your opinion is to say the least remarkable! However, I am shocked that you would think the residents of Bridgeport should accept the outrageous behavior of certain groups of disruptive, irresponsible Sacred Heart students because of the benefit of the behavior of other groups of students. The economic benefit of the university being located next to Bridgeport does not ease the pain of the sleepless nights, property damage and worry for the safety of area children.
    I suggest that you personally live for a week with one of our violated families, and then determine if the district elected officials rushed to judgement by having an open community forum and demanding that the university, that pays no taxes in Bridgeport participate in finding a solution. Our elected officials are not being disrespectful to the responsible students of Sacred Heart University, they are doing the job that they were elected to do!

  3. This really highlights the need for civic leaders from Bridgeport,Fairfield,Trumbull to engage in a conversation with SHU. This letter that was posted was completely from the SHU side. However,there seems to be plenty of evidence of an exactly opposite situation. We need civic leaders from the communities affected by the expansion of SHU to come together and determine the parameters of his and where SHU will expand. That had simply not happened. My question. I thought the former GE headquarters were given to SHU. What is going on there?

  4. “Let’s make it tougher on the landlords. It’s one tool we’ve got in our toolbox.”
    That’s a direct quote from Mayor Joe Ganim.
    Unfortunately this has been going on for a couple of decades and Joe just realized that the city has this tool???
    Give me a break. He had been giving lip service to the residents of the North End and playing nice with the absentee landlords and developers and other moneyed interest all along.
    Come on Bridgeport. WAKE UP!!! He is giving lip service again and hoping to buy a couple of weeks and then be done with it for four Moore years. Write Moore.

  5. Michelle Lyons and Tom McCarthy had meetings in the past with SHU officials regarding the SHU students who rent houses in the North End. SHU officials *promised* to keep the SHU students who live off campus under better control. That has not happened.
    This off campus housing situation has been going on for the better part of 15 years. And each year the situation grows worse. Bridgeport zoning officials do not enforce the zoning laws ALREADY ON THE BOOKS about how many unrelated people may live in say a 3 bedroom house. What will it take for those zoning laws ALREADY ON THE BOOKS to be enforced? Will it take a fire to kill some of the say 5, 6 or 7 students living in that 3 bedroom house that is being rented to SHU? Will it take that same fire destroying not only that house where those 5,6 or 7 students live, but also other houses that are owner occupied on either side of the SHU rental??
    Mr SHU Dean of Students, do YOU live in the North End of Bridgeport where SHU students rent homes? Would you??

    1. lisawhite, again you and others keep missing the whole picture, the late Andy Fardy and Nick Novia have for years given the way to correct this problem but nobody is listening, again, here’s what Nick Novia stated before.

      Nick Novia says:
      October 16, 2019 at 1:24 pm
      It’s not only the zoning laws that are being broken. There are established building and fire codes that regulate residential occupancies, who, and how many, is just the beginning. I suspect from the statements here, the codes are being subverted all over! These occupancies just need to be inspected by the City Departments!

      1. Ron….so when are the inspections going to be done?? who in the fire department is willing to step up (and risk job and pension) and do the inspections? what is YOUR solution? building department won’t inspect anything because the building department is beholden to someone/something other than the law. these are all pieces of the puzzle that when put into place as they should be would go a very long way to correcting the problem.

          1. “someone” has complained. there is a house on the corner of Old Town and Frenchtown Roads – obviously rented to SHU students _ where 7 cars were parked on the lawn. a complaint was filed.. a circular driveway was installed. and there are now *6* cars parked on the lawn, 3 bedroom house, 6 or 7 cars on the lawn…..and no one in Zoning or the BPT FD can do an inspection..

          2. What City department did the complain go to and was there a follow up? I’m sure that the Fire Marshall, Henry Polite, and the Fire Chief, Richard Thode will act immediately once they are notify.

        1. Lisa your exactly right. No one wants to touch this because many city elected people past and present have properties that they rent out but don’t live in themselves. The press should ask some of them like Mario’s bartender, councilman, landscaper, and prospective LIQUOR store owner Michael Defilippo how many properties he owns and rents to SHU students. The same students that purportedly vote using absentee ballots collected by certain property owners.
          Speaking of LIQUOR stores, the appeal hearing for Defilippos’ liquor store is being held in Superior Court on Halloween morning. Michael of course received the “approval” from zoning after years of manuevering by his attorney Willinger with the aid of Lynn Haig of OPED. Maybe he’ll be finally open for business by Thanksgiving or Christmas. Or maybe not if enough citizens write protest letters to the state liquor board asking them to not issue him a liquor permit. We’ll see…..

  6. Lisa you are correct about the lack of enforcement of the current zoning laws. We don’t need to change the laws we need a proactive zoning administrator willing to enforce the existing rules. Mayor Gamin appeared to be deeply concerned about the residents of the north end at the forum the other night. If the Mayor and City Council members would request the immediate resignation of Zoning Administrator Dennis Buckley I believe this would show a commitment on behalf of our elected officials to improve and secure the quality of life in the north end.

  7. Michelle Lyons and Tom McCarthy. What a couple!
    Every couple of years they roll out the dog and pony show, have city department heads tell everyone they are sorry and they are going to fix the problem. Then they go back to sleep 😴 and wait for the next showing.
    If the residents of the North End accept this nonsense then they deserve it.
    If the residents don’t, then vote them out. Out with Joe Ganim. Out with Lyons and Panicia. Out with the whole group of them.

  8. Lisawhite, the Bridgeport Fire Department doesn’t inspect single family dwellings, just multi‐family dwelling. I’m sure that if a complaint is made that these single family dwelling are needing used as a rooming house then the Fire Department would be obligated to inspect.

  9. Jeff Kohut says:

    October 16, 2019 at 4:55 am

    It is interesting that there are local and state laws in all US states/counties/municipalities, covering all human-needs areas, regulating the creation and occupancy of planned communities/housing subdivisions/multi-family complexes that specify what the developers of such planned human habitat must have in place before occupancy is allowed (e.g., the number of parking spaces, square-footage per occupant, number of bedrooms, bathrooms, availability of utilities, heating and air conditioning, etc….). In this regard, wouldn’t it seem that learning “communities” (e.g., universities) that are actively working a plan to expand the student body of the community to include non-local students, would be legally required to first secure/create adequate living space/services — prior to accepting any number of “transplanted” students to their learning community campus and the larger, surrounding, “host” community(ies)?!

    Indeed; shouldn’t any plans for recruiting non-local students to a “learning community,” such as SHU, be shared for “input” (for state-required, local approval) with the larger community, in which the learning community is situated, as a matter of routine — given the need/prerogatives of the larger community to create/enable appropriate habitation regulations/restrictions that would be logically applicable to the “planned”/proposed population (student body) growth of the learning community?!

    Enabling legislation, per state statute (if it doesn’t already exist), for this type of requirement(s) for learning communities that recruit non-locally would seem to be overdue for Connecticut such that communities, such as Bridgeport, might be better able to defend themselves against parasitic damage inflicted upon them by avaricious, unscrupulous institutions such as SHU. If SHU were forced to share their plans and submit them for host-town approval prior to actual student recruitment, the SHU assault on Bridgeport neighborhoods and the Bridgeport budget could have been avoided.

    Truly, in light of the SHU-effect on Bridgeport, Connecticut should pass legislation that would be retroactively applicable, such that such institutions as SHU would have to reduce their student bodies to conform with to the ability and willingness of host communities to accommodate the residential needs/effects of the presence of the student body on the given community…

    Therein, some work for the up-coming GA session and the returning Bridgeport, GA delegation (in conjunction with the new, Bridgeport City Council)…


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