Citizens of the Year

While we remained laser-focused on our mission to provide life-saving services, we wanted to bring the spotlight to those companies, organizations and individuals who went above and beyond in helping us deliver those services.

Michaela Zaffino


Michaela Zaffino considers her time as a domestic violence advocacy intern a privilege that allowed her the opportunity to meet clients from all walks of life. CFJ staff describe Michaela as a hard worker who is a tireless advocate for her clients.“When presented with an issue affecting one of her clients, Michaela worked doggedly to find a solution, went out of her way to explain issues that were affecting her clients, came up with resources and solutions for every issue her clients had,” wrote one colleague in her nomination.

Michaela carried a caseload of clients, performed crisis intervention with walk-in clients and answered calls to the 24-hour crisis hotline. Michaela recently completed a master’s degree in social work from Southern Connecticut State University. She will move on to Wellmore Behavioral Health in Waterbury where she will work under its Child First program. Michaela said she gained vital experience during her time at CFJ. “I was constantly reminded that domestic and sexual violence do not discriminate against any gender, race, or social class,” Michaela explained. “I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to help survivors during some of their most difficult days.

Silvia Paytas


Whenever a department organizes an event or a photo at The Center for Family Justice, Silvia Paytas is the first one to gather folks and show up to support her colleagues. Silvia is the Bilingual Direct Services Intake Assistant at CFJ, and many who nominated Silvia noted her positive attitude. A hard worker with a passion for CFJ’s mission, Silvia also firmly established herself as a team player, helping as a Spanish translator when needed and assisting with difficult cases. Silvia “shows empathy for her clients as they express their needs while in crisis,” wrote one co-worker in her nomination. “She has knowledge and appreciation for the job, and it shows in her day-to-day work.”

Silvia always makes a point of remembering staff birthdays, and usually is the first person to greet new employees and wish good luck to those moving on. Silvia also created the Advocacy calendar, sending an email out to staff every month to get the latest information about events such as support groups and ESL classes. Her work on the calendar is just another example of how well Silvia collaborates with staff across all departments at CFJ.

Rebecca Kushel and Aly Oleyar


The Center for Family Justice is thrilled to announce two area students as our first Youth Volunteers of the Year— Rebecca Kushel and Aly Oleyar. Becca and Aly have been dedicated volunteers for CFJ—helping out at events and working on advocacy campaigns. Their compassion for others and hard work are an inspiration.

Becca, a senior at Fairfield Warde, has spent many an afternoon after school at CFJ helping with a variety of tasks including mailings, organizing donations for our client food pantry, and volunteering at events. Becca is also captain of Fairfield Warde’s swim team, and is involved in many other extracurricular activities, including Model UN, Principal’s Council, and five National Honor Societies Becca will attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall, where she will major in History and minor in Legal Studies on a prelaw track.

Aly, a senior at Masuk High School in Monroe, would come to CFJ as part of her Capstone project. She participated in specific advocacy campaigns, all focused on raising awareness about healthy relationships in her age group. Aly helped at events, including the preparation of and volunteering at CFJ’s Women’s History Month event—“Women Rock!”, a benefit concert in March. A captain for the Masuk High School Dance Team, Aly also is a member of the National Honor Society, is the Senior Class Historian at Masuk, and has attended multiple mission trips through Monroe Congregational Church. She has also danced with CT Dance in Monroe for 13 years. Aly will attend Florida State University where she plans on studying human development.

Bridgeport Police Department’s Special Victims Unit


Because of the team’s successful collaboration with The Center for Family Justice and its dedication to responding to domestic violence, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse cases, the Bridgeport Police Department’s Special Victims Unit is the 2023 Partner of the Year! We also want to thank Bridgeport Police Chief Roderick Porter for his leadership and his willingness to work with our staff.

The list of ways the Bridgeport PD SVU has aided CFJ in its mission is impressive, including significant arrests thanks to the hard work and dedication of current and past sexual violence detectives. Det. Lynn Henschel continues to show commitment to domestic violence cases, while Domestic Violence Officer Lori Nieves holds weekly office hours at CFJ’s Fairfield Avenue office. Members of the SVU team have also been supportive of CFJ’s Multidisciplinary Team, as seen through Capt. Kevin Gilleran’s participation in the Greater Bridgeport MDT Executive Committee. And despite the number of cases facing those who work in the Domestic Violence Unit and the Sexual Assault Unit, the detectives are always accessible and remain collaborative.

The award celebrates the work of the current Special Victims Unit as well as past members including Det. Palatiello, Det. Kelly, Det. Neal, Det. Coyne and Det. Acevedo. Thank you and congratulations to the Bridgeport Police Department Special Victims Unit! We look forward to continuing our important work and partnership.

Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport


They may not feel this way about themselves, but when it comes to being a community hero, Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport fits the bill! Whether they are supporting Camp HOPE America-Bridgeport or supporting families during our Adopt-a-Family program over the holiday season, Congregation B’nai Israel has demonstrated a passion and dedication to CFJ’s mission and the Camp HOPE program. Rabbi Sarah Marion and her family—along with two of the congregation’s youth groups for 7th and 8th grade girls—have also adopted a CFJ client family over the 2021 holiday season. The synagogue started supporting Camp HOPE back in 2019. In 2021, the youth of the synagogue held a collection for Camp HOPE America-Bridgeport program as a mitzvah project, and in 2022, the B’nai Israel community again helped get the kids’ camp trunks packed for summer and pitched in to gather the supplies. This year, B’nai Israel continued the tradition by collecting more Camp HOPE supplies, starting with a call to action during a Women’s Seder in March. We at CFJ are proud of our long-standing relationship with B’nai Israel and look forward to many more years of working together as we continue to find ways to have a meaningful impact on our community. Together, we build pathways to hope.

Aquarion Water Company


The men and women of Aquarion Water Company have been present for so many events and initiatives for The Center for Family Justice over the years, including their commitment to sponsoring CFJ’s Walk A Mile in Her Shoes® in April, that we wanted to honor them as the 2023 Corporate Hero of the Year. For the past few years, Aquarion has been the title sponsor of our Walk A Mile event, during which we raise awareness about how men and boys can play more of a role in preventing violence against women and girls.

Their employees have often walked that day, and President Donald J. Morrissey also recently posed in red heels for our Red Shoe Marketing Campaign! Aquarion has also supported other fundraising and awareness events – including the Festival of Hope, which benefits The Center for Family Justice; our Annual Appeal and our Speaking of Women luncheon in September. CFJ appreciates Aquarion’s continued dedication to our mission of servicing those impacted by domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse in the greater Bridgeport region. Their across-the-board support over several years is the very definition of a Corporate Hero!