‘Once you choose hope, anything’s possible’

Kristin O'Gorman, left, with her sons, from left, Ethan Dubrosky and Declan O'Gorman, at The Center for Family Justice's annual dinner at the Trumbull Marriott Shelton June 20. Both sons won awards for their contributions. Photo by Julie Banks

TRUMBULL, CT — Support for The Center for Family Justice has grown so much over the years that its annual dinner meeting moved from a conference room at its headquarters at 753 Fairfield Ave. in Bridgeport, to a bigger room, to the parking lot, to Housatonic Community College and then to a large dining room in the Trumbull Marriott Shelton hotel.

And as the caseload of domestic and sexual violence and child abuse has increased, so has the effectiveness of CFJ’s free and confidential services.

“We had a 91 percent increase in hope and positive outcomes for our clients,” Debra A. Greenwood, the nonprofit’s president and CEO, said of the feedback received from those the center serves. “I want to give our staff a big round of applause.”

CFJ served 5,179 clients in need of its services last year.

Debra A. Greenwood, president and CEO of CFJ, speaks at the annual meeting. Photo by Julie Banks

To illustrate the optimism of CFJ’s mission to end abuse, Greenwood shared a famous quote from Christopher Reeve, the late actor known for starring as Superman, who became paralyzed after a freak accident: “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”

Many residents, police and public officials from the six communities CFJ serves — Monroe, Easton, Trumbull, Stratford, Bridgeport and Fairfield — attended the annual meeting on June 20, including Monroe First Selectman Terry Rooney and Monroe Police Detective Nicole Buckley, who has worked closely with the center over the years as the town’s youth detective.

It was a night to celebrate the hard work of the staff members and volunteers in attendance, as well as some of the strides made in treatment, education and prevention of abuse.

Camp Hope continues to help children affected by abuse to overcome their trauma and lead productive lives, the center has expanded pro bono legal services for abuse victims and Empower House was built to provide a safe haven for those who need it.

In the past year, 5,709 emergency shelter and hotel bed nights were provided.

Matthew Reale, the outgoing chair of CFJ’s board of directors, receives gifts from Debra Greenwood. Photo by Julie Banks

Greenwood said the center’s previous 3,200-square-foot shelter was too small to handle increasing demand over the years, adding it had no indoor play area for children.

“With a lot of hard work, a lot of great donations and a lot of support in this room we were able to open Empower House, now named after our largest donor,” Greenwood said. “We call it Patti’s Place,” she said of longtime volunteer Patti Masarek.

Greenwood showed the audience a video of Patti’s Place, which is over three times the size of the previous shelter, with 16 beds. Rooms have a TV, wifi, large closets, desks and a private bathroom.

Common spaces include a kitchen, large enough for parents to store food and beverages and to prepare meals for their families, a common dining room, laundry areas on two floors, and a recreation room for kids with toys, arcades, a TV and more.

Later this year, an onsite safe kennel will allow residents to bring their pets.

The shelter is staffed 24/7, 365 days a year and includes a private office for one-on-one sessions with clients, and a wellness room that can also be used for individual counseling and support services, as well as activities like yoga and meditation.

A training center provides space for support groups, meetings, self sufficiency and empowering services such as financial literacy, resume writing and more.

Debra Greenwood crowns Sofia De Carvalho as the new chair of CFJ’s board of directors. Photo by Julie Banks

Patti’s Place offers up to a 60 day stay in a secure, comfortable environment for those in imminent risk of harm from domestic violence, trafficking and sexual violence.

“It is a step to success. It’s a step in recovery,” said Matthew C. Reale, the outgoing chairman of CFJ’s board of directors. “Though a home for a short period of time, it’s just a home to get to somewhere else — one more step toward recovery, one more step toward success.”

Reale, who served on the board for 12 years, the last two as chair, thanked everyone who supported him and said he was honored to serve with so many wonderful people who dedicate their time to helping others in need.

Sofia De Carvalho, the bilingual vice president of M&T Bank, is the new chair.

Goodbye to an old friend

Mark A. Antonini, left, with Debra Greenwood. Photo by Julie Banks

The Center for Family Justice’s longtime chief financial officer, Mark A. Antonini, who recently announced his retirement, was honored with a lighthouse painting by children the center serves and with the establishment of the new, Mark A. Antonini Award, for someone who “exemplifies the integrity and heart demonstrated over Mark’s decade of service at CFJ.”

“Mark — you were not only great at your work, but your kindness shone through, whether as Santa Claus for our holiday kids’ party or as Count Dracula for the Halloween Boo Bash,” an article in CFJ’s annual report says. “We wish you all the best as you travel and spend more time with loved ones. We are honored to have worked with you and look forward to your continued part-time involvement with CFJ.”

The first to receive their award was Ethan Dubrosky, an alumnus of Camp Hope America-Bridgeport, in recognition for his powerful speech at the 2019 Speaking of Women event and hard work through the COVID-19 pandemic, collecting food and other supplies for fellow campers and their families.

Recognition given

Tobenna “Toby” Ugwu, a counselor at Camp Hope who led the Pathways to Hope STEMgineers mentoring group, and Matt Devito, who helped raise awareness about men’s role in ending domestic violence as former president of Sacred Heart University’s Delta Tau Delta Fraternity and now as its alumni advisor, and participated on the Culture of Respect Committee, were both recognized as mentors, leaders and strong role models.

Kerri Ubaldi was named the Beatrice Boucher Volunteer of the Year. Ubaldi took CFJ’s domestic violence and sexual violence certification training to become a volunteer crisis navigator.

Danielle Goddard and her parents. Photo by Julie Banks

Danielle Goddard was named Carol Roberto Employee of the Year. Goddard supports and helps clients navigating the complex civil court system, while providing services in both English and Spanish.

Goddard may have up to 10 restraining order hearings on a given day and in a single week in March of 2024 she accompanied 18 clients to court hearings.

Olivia Kahn and Declan O’Gorman were named Youth Volunteers of the Year.

Kahn, a junior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, has been volunteering weekly for CFJ since October of 2023. She readily jumps in to assist with any task, organizing closets, donations and food, and helping CFJ with its Walk A Mike in Her Shoes event.

O’Gorman, who also lives in Fairfield, worked closely with CFJ to coordinate its food and toiletry drive for its clients as part of his Eagle Scout Project.

Timothy Bartlett, president and CEO of the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA, and Jessica Speer-Holmes, executive director of Camp Hi-Rock, a camp in the Berkshire Mountains, partnered With CFJ to help over 300 children impacted by trauma and abuse.

The Central Connecticut Coast YMCA was named Community Hero of the Year.

Gregory Bennici, an attorney with Robinson & Cole offers pro bono legal counsel to CFJ clients and his firm has an active member on CFJ’s Pro Bono Committee. Bennici and Robinson & Cole were named Corporate Partner of the Year.

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