Donor Stories

Their way to give back

Meet some of our supporters who have helped The Center for Family Justice for years.

Janet and Jacob Navon

Janet and Jacob Navon announced a new fundraising challenge at a cocktail reception in spring 2014 hosted by Connecticut’s first family at the Governor’s Mansion. They would match donations – dollar-for-dollar, up to $50,000 – to raise funds for The Center for Family Justice.

As long-time supporters of the organization, the Navons could have chosen to just make their own donation. Instead, they decided to inspire others through this matching campaign, so that an even greater impact could be achieved.

“Everyone involved agrees that The Center for Family Justice is the way to go, but nobody necessarily gets a sense of urgency. We’re simply trying to make it happen sooner,” says Janet. “So many organizations are big and national and have national recognition. When we think about our charitable giving, we think about being local. The fundraising for this kind of issue doesn’t get a national audience and there is a misperception that aspects of the government deal with it, but most of the funds for it are raised locally.”

“Charity begins at home. This is an expression of that,” says Jacob, who was introduced to this organization through his business partner, Joyce Fensterstock, a former Board member. Jacob recognizes the importance of addressing the treatment of women and wanted to support a local cause that was helping to tackle it.

Involved in fundraising for their alma maters as well as other charities, the Navons believe in finding ways to make donations work harder, to create scale for a larger, faster result. And the challenge was hugely successful. In just two months, $50,000 in donations was raised and then matched by their family.

But there are many ways to contribute, explains Janet, a former Board member and a past Chair of the Investment Committee. Even if people don’t feel that they can make a donation today, they can consider other options, such as through the legacy program where they can provide a provision for The Center in their estate, or through the endowment, of which a portion of the earnings goes to supporting operations for The Center.

“Just because we hit this goal, doesn’t mean the job is done,” says Jacob. “This has kick-started the fundraising campaign, but our goal is $2 million. It’s not too late to pick up your checkbook and start writing.”

Cindi Bigelow

Cindi Bigelow is the Community Champion for our Family Justice Center. As president of Bigelow Tea Company, she says her philosophy is simple: “If you can help in any capacity, you should.”

She explains that Bigelow is a family business, and that for our nation to thrive, we should all be focusing on family and community work. “The Family Justice Center is about taking care of the health and well-being of the family,” she says. “There are many disruptors in our society – those who abuse – and the Family Justice Center is able to deliver help in the most efficient way possible: psychologically for the victims and financially for the providers, since all services are under one roof. We can expect even better outcomes than we have now.”

Adds Cindi: “I am extremely proud and honored and really pleased that my community work has put me in the position to be the Community Champion for the Family Justice Center. It is very humbling.”

Judy Urquhart

Judy Urquhart has served as a volunteer, past president of the Board and donor since 1995. Her commitment has rubbed off on her family, and one of her four children now works for a domestic violence agency in New York City.

Q. How long have you been associated with The Center?

A. I was invited to The Center’s annual July event, the Hundred Committee Tea in 1995. A client spoke, and her compelling story of her journey from abuse to survival touched my heart. Those words and the passion my friend Mary Jane Foster had for the organization made me want to get involved. The next year I co-chaired the tea, the following year I chaired it, then I joined the Board and eventually became its president. I was also on the Development Committee for more than a decade.

Q. How do you feel The Center benefits the community?

A. The Center provides hope and strength for women and men in desperate need of help. The Center empowers clients to lift themselves up when they are down and out. The Center is there for them, working tirelessly to turn victims into survivors.

Q. Has your work with The Center impacted your family?

A. I have four children, Diana, Kate, John and Andrew, who were growing up when I was actively involved. They heard about the important work The Center does all through their teenage and college years. Diana now works for a domestic abuse agency in New York City.

My husband, Alex, has helped financially. He designates The Center in his United Way contribution at work, something that many people have no idea they can do. It’s automatic, and he doesn’t even notice. His company matches his contributions, which over the years have been significant.

Q. What is your involvement now?

A. Once my children were grown, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to step aside and let some new blood take over. I also wanted to free up some time to travel with my husband. So now my involvement is as a donor. I know first-hand that The Center cannot rely on government grants. They have to be able to sustain themselves. The critical work they do cannot continue without the support of the community, foundations, business and individual donors.

Q. What about the future, as The Center transforms into a Family Justice Center?

A. I think the Family Justice Center model is one that every domestic abuse or sexual assault nonprofit should adopt. It makes perfect sense, streamlining access to victim services. It is more efficient and economical. It just makes sense.

Edie Faile

Edie Faile recalls fondly her first exposure to The Center for Family Justice, when it was affiliated with the YWCA in Bridgeport. Over the years, Edie has supported a number of The Center’s key events and has also volunteered. Edie not only brings her passion to assist women and children but her quilting, sewing and knitting talents as well.

Consider the Women of CHANGE program that provides services to incarcerated women who are being released from the York Correctional Facility in Niantic. A number of these women were given a quilt square and a marker to design their individual square. Edie later worked her magic and sewed together all of the individual blocks to produce a beautiful quilt.

Edie hopes to begin a program at The Center that would bring women together in a safe environment to learn to sew, knit or quilt. “Sewing can have a calming effect, builds confidence and individuals can take pride in using one’s hands to create something unique,” Edie shared.

And these skills and lessons can also be transferred to other aspects of life. Sewing rooms across the nation provide an inspiring place for participants to express themselves creatively and spend time away from their troubles.

Sandra Brown

Sandra Brown has been associated with The Center since the mid-1970s, when it was affiliated with the YWCA in Bridgeport. As a former Board member, volunteer and donor, she has watched our transformation from the Y to The Center for Women and Families, and now The Center for Family Justice.

Q. How long have you been associated with The Center?

A. I am proud to say from the mid-1970s, when we were affiliated with the YWCA in Bridgeport. I was the corporate secretary at Peoples Bank at the time and was asked to join the Board of Directors. This was the first community board I was ever affiliated with.

Q. What drew you to The Center?

A. I was deeply moved by the programs they were providing to women and children, including ones to help victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault and the incarcerated women in the Niantic Women’s Prison. In addition, there are programs serving women who had never worked or were in the process of reentering the workforce, providing skills, training and eventually a day care center for working parents. The Center has a rich history of wonderful programs.

Q. How do you feel The Center has benefited women in the community?

A. Their approach is holistic, from meeting short-term needs to thinking about long-term needs, such as providing transitional housing to women and families. Today, The Center is extending its reach into the school system, including programs on Internet safety for parents and school programs on bullying and teen dating violence. Raising awareness of the impact of domestic violence is as important as providing services.

Q. It’s obvious that The Center is very special to you. Why?

A. Oh there are many things, but I think the way they connect people through events, people who would not otherwise be connected, for example the wonderful Speaking of Women luncheon (held every year in September). At the event, clients are so courageous to share their stories about the deep impact domestic violence has had on them and their families. It is also a message of survival, how victims can thrive if they have access to community support programs.

Q. What about the future?

A. It has been so exciting to see the evolution of The Center as it transitions into a Family Justice Center over the next two years. Bringing resources under one roof to work together will continue to enhance the services and their impacts.

Pawnee Biggs

Pawnee Biggs has volunteered at The Center for 38 years, since she was pregnant with her oldest daughter. She started when The Center was part of the YWCA, and got involved as many volunteers do: Her friends roped her in!

“When I began volunteering, I was a stay-at-home Mom,” Pawnee says. “I had many good friends – all forward thinking – that were volunteers at the YW. We were all about ‘women helping women,’ and I liked that.”

Since then, at The Center, she has volunteered in just about every capacity, so many she cannot remember them all. But those she can remember are impressive: president of the Board, finance chairman, long-range planning committee member, and co-chair of numerous events and rallies, including Speaking of Women. “I’ve volunteered more hours than it took to raise my children!” she laughs. Presently, she is on the Board, and on the development and board affairs committees.

The only work she has avoided is working directly with clients. “There is no way I could ever do that,” she says. “They would all wind up living with me.”

Like many other volunteers, it’s the sense of giving and not constantly taking that keeps Pawnee in the volunteer ranks. “It’s not about me, it’s about other people, and I like that,” she says. “I get to meet extraordinary people who feel the same way I do, which is educational and inspiring.”

Pawnee encourages everyone to volunteer, even as little as 30 minutes each week, especially now when federal and state grants are decreasing. “Nonprofit staffs are multi-tasking, taking on extra jobs to provide services to their clients. Volunteers can use their skills to become part of an organization that needs those skills. If someone is good in finance, I guarantee there is a nonprofit that can use those skills.

She often talks with women, whose children are almost grown, and they are searching for ways to make the next segment of their lives more meaningful. “I always ask them: ‘Have you ever thought of volunteering?’ ” Pawnee says these women often don’t know where to begin looking, so she suggests they identify causes about which they are passionate. For example, if it’s the homeless, find an agency that helps the homeless. Of course, if it’s sexual abuse and domestic violence, head to The Center. “Find your passion, and match it with your expertise,” she advises.

If you still cannot find an agency, start talking to your friends. “Often, people don’t talk about their volunteer work,” Pawnee says. “You’ll be amazed what you will learn if you just ask.”

For example, in addition to her work at The Center, she volunteers with The Bridgeport Ladies Charitable Society, and Giant Steps, where she walks alongside a horse to keep an autistic child in the saddle. Each of these charities affects different needs in our community.

“We all have the ability to make a tremendous difference in the life of another person,” she says. “I encourage people to get out of their comfort zones. Nonprofits do a phenomenal job helping the less fortunate. You will never understand or see that need unless you get involved.”

Please help!

Hope Starts Here!

Let The Center for Family Justice become your lifeline.

Please call us today at 203-334-6154
Or 24/7 on a hotline:

Domestic violence: 203-384-9559
Sexual assault: 203-333-2233
Vedas (Spanish): 888-568-8332

Serving victims and raising awareness about domestic and sexual violence in Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull in Fairfield County