It took Gael Strack and Casey Gwinn 13 years to open the first Family Justice Center in San Diego, Calif., in 2002. Last week the pair, now the leaders of the Family Justice Center Alliance, came to Bridgeport to lead a two-day strategic planning session for Connecticut’s first Family Justice Center, which will co-locate all services for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault at The Center for Women and Families’ headquarters at 753 State St., Bridgeport. It will be called The Center for Family Justice.

The more than 200 participants from the community, including potential service providers, heard a few recurring messages throughout the two days:

• Dream big and create a community where all the needs of victims are met; children are protected; violence fades; batterers are held accountable; economic justice increases; and families heal and thrive.

• Whatever you accomplish, be the best.

• Innovate, innovate, innovate.

• When all services for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault work together, it changes the world for victims and their children.

• Always remember: You are in the hope business.

In the opening remarks, Cathy Malloy, first lady of Connecticut, said that she is looking forward to getting The Center for Family Justice off the ground and pledged her support to make it become a reality. “We hope this is a beginning to making dreams come true for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault,” she said. “Once this is up and running, we want the rest of Connecticut to use this as the model.”

Debra Greenwood, president and CEO of The Center for Women and Families explained that The Center has officially begun its 18-month transformation into The Center for Family Justice and applauded all the community members and prospective partners who attended the strategic planning. “It is no longer just us,” she explained. “It is now about ‘We,’ all of our partners who will now be joining us in The Center for Family Justice. We have all always worked toward one common goal, to help victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault become survivors. Now we will be doing it in one place, streamlining the process and making communications easier between the partners.”

Domestic abuse survivor Patty Collins would agree. “If I could have visited one center and been given all the resources I needed in one place, it would have helped,” she said. “It is my belief that The Center for Family Justice will empower victims by providing resources and hope. It will make all the difference in the world.”

Judy Stevens, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney, Domestic Violence Unit, and head of the steering committee of The Center for Family Justice, said all participants were engaged and eager to help with this initiative. “There has been an overwhelming groundswell of approval for The Center for Family Justice,” she said. “It is a logical approach to alleviate the scourge of violence within families and in sexual assault cases. The long-term goal will realize the dream that victims become survivors who do not return to abusers, and who can sustain themselves and their families.”

Greenwood added, “Although The Center for Women and Families is transforming into The Center for Family Justice, I want to be clear that none of the services we currently provide are changing. In addition to advocacy and shelter, we will still be operating our satellite offices in Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull, and educating our children about building healthy relationships.”

For further information about The Center for Family Justice, visit cwfefc.org.