Center for Women and families gets new name; mission stays the same

As of Tuesday morning, Jan. 21, the Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County officially changed its name to the Center for Family Justice.

The move is not simply a name change but rather the start of an 18-month transformation into Connecticut’s first family justice center and the 82nd in the world. Officials of the organization held an informational session at its facility at 753 Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport Tuesday to explain the change and its work in the community.

The organization currently serves the communities of Fairfield, Trumbull, Stratford, Easton, Monroe, and Bridgeport, and that will not change. Among the services provided by the center are a 24-hour crisis hotline (203-384-9559), emergency shelter, court advocacy services, domestic violence and sexual assault support groups, and prevention education and outreach.

In welcoming the nearly 75 guests and dignitaries, including U.S. Rep. Jim Himes and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, board Chair Andrea Goodman said, “This is an incredible time for our organization and we are transitioning more services under this one roof. These services will make victims of abuse self-assured, stronger and safer, and our six towns will be safer.”

Essentially, the Center for Family Justice will become more involved in the legal system, working with prosecutors and police to help ensure the culprits who commit acts of domestic violence and sexual abuse are prosecuted. Deborah A. Greenwood, president and CEO of the center, thanked the police officers in the room for their support of the organization’s mission.

“I’m excited and have a lot of joy and support from the police presence in this room,” Greenwood said. “I’d like to thank Bridgeport police Chief Joe Gaudett, Fairfield police Chief Gary MacNamara, Easton Chief [James] Candee, Monroe Chief [John] Salvatore, and Trumbull Detective Kevin Hamell. Stratford police Chief [Patrick] Ridenour could not be here this morning, but you did hear his comments on the video.”

In his remarks, Blumenthal pointed out what he considers to be a viable solution of the crisis of domestic violence.

“I am always inspired to be here because I know this crisis of domestic violence can be solved,” he said. “We need to start with the men, as 94% or 95% of men are the perpetrators of domestic violence, and 74% of the men who commit these actions are victims of domestic violence themselves. We need men talking to younger men and telling them, ‘It isn’t cool. It isn’t acceptable.’ We need positive male role models and not necessarily politicians.”

Blumenthal brought up a personal anecdote about his past experiences with victims of domestic violence.

“You’ve probably heard of Interval House in Hartford, which is the largest provider of these kinds of services in the state,” he said. “One of the most moving experiences in my life was watching women move into Interval House with their children and a black garbage bag filled with all their possessions. That’s all they have — their children and a garbage bag. And it was painful and difficult for them to move away from the problem. That’s why your support is so crucial.”

“First and foremost, there are few issues more pernicious or more devastating than domestic abuse, and a main problem we see is this intergenerational carry-through that takes place with the perpetrators,” Himes said. “That being said, if you can raise up and empower women, our communities will all be stronger.”

Himes added that the approach of government at all levels plays a role in the problem of domestic and sexual abuse.

“The delivery of social services needs to be integrated and holistic to be really successful,” he said. “Too often, we elected officials think only in terms of budget lines and funding streams. This is a real flaw of government in that we tend to look at systems rather than the people themselves who benefit from their delivery.”

Himes also referred to the Violence Against Women Act, which was held up in Congress for several months, saying he was “stunned” that the bill got caught up in the Washington “vortex.”

Greenwood also announced that the state has bonded $1.2 million to much-needed improvements to its facility, and thanked state Sen. Andres Ayala by presenting him with a purple tie for his efforts.

“This is a great day for the city of Bridgeport and the region,” Ayala said. “I didn’t really know as much about this issue as I should have, but I do know this is an issue about humanity. This saves the state money and provides all of these much-needed services under one roof.”

MacNamara spoke about the state’s Ten-by-Ten campaign, of which he is the chair.

“The program is very simple,” he said. “We get 10 men to talk to 10 other men and we get the dialogue started. Educating the men costs zero.”

The first meeting was held in Wethersfield and the next is slated for the Bridgeport office.

Other legislators who were in attendance at the session were state Reps. Tony Hwang and Brenda Kupchick from Fairfield, state Rep. Tita Ayala from Bridgeport, and Bridgeport City Councilmen Michelle Lyons, Trish Swain and Anita Martinez-Walker.