“Hope starts here” is one of the mottos of Connecticut’s first Family Justice Center, and that sentiment was on full display Monday, April 4, with the center’s official opening, a milestone in the way victims of domestic and sexual violence receive services in the greater Bridgeport area.

The center has completed the first phase of a $1.2-million renovation of its Bridgeport campus, which will make room for offices for a host of community partners, including police, prosecutors and attorneys.

The partners can now provide on-site assistance to thousands of women, men and children by offering a full complement of help under one roof, thereby streamlining the way victims engage with supportive services and the criminal justice system.

Cathy Malloy, Connecticut’s first lady, local legislators, mayors, first selectmen, and police chiefs attended the ribbon-cutting ceremonies at the center’s main headquarters at 753 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport.  Satellite offices are in Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull.

Recently, the State Bond Commission, under the leadership of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, approved an additional grant of more than $470,000 to pay for phase two of construction, including creating a safer, more secure parking lot around the center’s headquarters.

The center becomes one of more than 100 Family Justice Centers around the globe, following the nation’s first Family Justice Center, which was established in San Diego, Calif., in 2002.

“This has been a true, collaborative community effort achieved with the common goal of turning victims into survivors,” Debra A. Greenwood, president/CEO of the center, said. “So many people, from our local legislative delegation to our board members and local police chiefs, have played a critical role in helping us make this dream a reality.”

All services are free and confidential. The center works with an operating budget of approximately $2.7 million, derived from a variety of sources. About 44% comes from state and federal grants designated for domestic and sexual assault services.

The remainder comes from private foundation grants, fund-raising events, and private and corporate donors.  The center discloses its financial statements on its website, CenterforFamilyJustice.org.

Key features of the renovated headquarters include:

  • A renovated lower level housing offices for police officers and prosecutors and representatives from several local agencies that will serve as on-site community partners.

  • The lower level Bigelow Tea Wellness room, which will promote healthy lifestyle practices, including yoga and meditation for clients who’ve experienced trauma.

  • The upper level Verizon Empowerment Room, which will be outfitted with computer stations, serving as a training and technology hub for clients seeking to build employment skills to achieve self-sufficiency.

  • Renovated rooms for child care, meetings and client services.

  • Furnishings with a value of $40,000 donated by Patriot Bank NA for the 21,000-square-foot center. The office furnishings provide new professional workspaces for clients, nonprofit partners and service providers.

“The goal is always to transform victims into survivors who can lead safe, healthy and productive lives,” Greenwood said.

How victims find services

The center receives referrals from its close partnerships with law enforcement agencies in each of the communities it serves: Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford, and Trumbull. Often, the agencies directly refer clients to the center.

It also has a staff of advocates based at State Superior Court in Bridgeport, who work directly with victims to obtain the supportive services they need. Through the center’s work with local hospitals, it is also called on to support victims who come into their emergency departments for treatment following domestic or sexual assaults.

The center’s free/confidential hotline for domestic violence and sexual assault victims is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is the source of more than 1,200 calls per year.

Additionally, the center receives word-of-mouth referrals, often from community members who are familiar with its services, including some former clients. As it has evolved, it has been expanding its marketing efforts to make sure more community members are aware of the services.

Legal aid

Attorney Angela Schlingheyde, the center’s civil and legal coordinator, is a former prosecutor who guides clients to appropriate legal resources.

The center cannot represent clients in court, but Schlingheyde helps clients identify their legal needs and find solutions. A long-term goal is to expand these services.

A brief history

The center began in 1895 as a YWCA, and in 1995, became The Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County. About five years ago, officials believed it was time for its service delivery to evolve.

The role model was the nation’s first Family Justice Center, which opened in San Diego, Calif., in 2002. Since then, these independent centers, which now total more than 100 worldwide, have come to be viewed as the best-practice model for delivering services to victims of sexual and domestic violence. The Center for Family Justice Inc. brings all domestic, sexual and child abuse services — crisis intervention, police, prosecutors, civil/legal providers, counseling — under one roof, in it headquarters in Bridgeport.

With its partners, center staff works to break the cycle of violence by helping those in crisis restore their lives. Although its name has changed, the center continues with the work it has provided for 12 decades, providing free, confidential, bilingual crisis services in Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford, and Trumbull. It is the comprehensive services its partners are providing that are streamlining the road to healing and self-sufficiency.

For more information, visit CenterForFamilyJustice.org.