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Meghan Scanlon joined Women & Family Life Center as its first full-time director about nine months ago and has been on a mission to bring important service and support goals into focus, raise awareness and funds, and find ways to partner to expand free services for shoreline women and families in crisis or transition. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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When Meghan Scanlon first joined Women & Family Life Center (WFLC) as its executive director about nine months ago, she went out into the community on a fact-finding mission.
“I started going around to meetings, to anybody that would let me come and speak, to talk about what we do,” says Meghan. “And I always asked the same question first: ‘How many of you have heard of Women & Family Life Center?’ Everybody would raise their hand. And then I would say, ‘and how many of you actually know what we do?’ And nobody would raise their hand.”
For Meghan, the message was clear:
“That’s on us,” she says. “We need to get the word out that we are a resource center for women who are going through transition or crisis.”
By asking two more questions, Meghan brought that message home to every audience she encountered.
“One of the things I always asked after that is, ‘How many of you have been through some sort of life-changing moment, whether it’s losing your home or going through an illness, losing a loved one or going through a divorce, or leaving an abusive relationship—or leaving a relationship? And everybody always raised their hand. Then I’d ask, ‘Did you have a support system for that?’”
For women and families who don’t have that support system, there’s WFLC.
“Our goal is for them to come here and access services, but I think our main goal is also to help them realize that they never again are going to be alone. We’re always going to be here; you have a built-in community,” Meghan says. “And then what we help you do is put your plan together and rebuild your life, in terms of what you thought it was going to look like, and now, what it really is. We are here to basically put together a plan, hold your hand, and walk you through it.”
All services offered by WFLC are free.
“We do not turn people away based on income or location,” says Meghan. “We do see a lot of individuals here that either don’t qualify at all for federal or state aid. They have an acronym, ALICE—asset-limited, income-constrained, employed—essentially, the working poor. But there are also people that, on paper, may look great; they have great assets, but they don’t have access to them, so they’re trying figure that out.”
WFLC got its start as a non-profit in 1991, grown from a grassroots effort initiated by Guilford community members. Based in Guilford at 96 Fair Street since 1998, today, WFLC has grown to serve individuals and families in several shoreline communities and beyond.
“We’re really at a point where we are small but mighty and growing,” says Meghan. “The services we provide are growing, but also the amount of people coming for services are growing, and the number of towns we’re serving are growing.”
While the highest number of women and families served still come from Guilford, right behind is Branford, East Haven, North Branford, Clinton, Westbrook, and Madison, “and we go all the way to East Lyme,” says Meghan. “We are really the only resource center for women going through transition or crisis between New Haven and New London. So we’re capturing all of those towns in between, which is exciting, but also really challenging.”
Last year, WFLC assisted 1,200; this year, it’s on track to serve 1,400. To help meet that growing need, Meghan has reset the program focus at WFLC on four main outcomes: moving women and families toward economic security and success; opening access to affordable housing; ensuring freedom from violence and harassment; and building community and confidence.
Meghan also has a plan to help meet those outcomes.
“My goal is to take our new, invigorated vision and grow the center, and be a really great partner with other organizations,” says Meghan. “We’re never going to be a huge, 50-person organization, but we can be the strongest partner and the strongest resource center for women on the shoreline. So we’ve started really good partnerships in the past couple months.”
Casting a Wider Net
Recent new partnerships include those with the Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC), Yale Psychiatric Hospital (YPH), and Branford Counseling Center (BCC).
WBDC, which offers job coaching and entrepreneurship skills for women, will run one program every quarter at WFLC, with the second of the year coming up in June. A new partnership with YPH will help put the focus on dealing with mental illness as an individual or an affected family member. On May 25, the inaugural WFLC/YPH Tracy’s Run to raise awareness around mental health will be based in Guilford at the Knights of Columbus. And, starting in April, WFLC is expanding its one-hour, free financial education session for women (coaching, problem and goals assessment, and developing an action plan) to include a satellite session held at BCC.
Meghan is also working to spread the word on the breadth of services provided by WFLC to support women in crisis and transition right here on the shoreline.
“Every day, people come in here and access those services,” says Meghan. “And sometimes, it’s just not talked about enough in the community...It’s neighbors. It’s people you know.”
Bringing a background in state politics and fundraising as well as advocacy for governance with issues including those assisting women and girls, Meghan got her career start as a UConn college intern with then-state representative (now State Treasurer) Denise Merrill’s re-election campaign.
“That’s how I got started, and really central, as I got further and further involved, was realizing all the disparities between women and girls’ programs versus other programs,” says Meghan.
Meghan has already applied some of her advocacy knowledge to help WFLC help others.
“We have the Shoreline Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Task Force that we lead, and for the first time, we did a task force legislative roundtable,” says Meghan. “It was a really good first step for us into that space, [and] we’ll do that every year now—sit down with our state and local leaders and say, ‘These are the issues we’re seeing around domestic violence and sexual assault services.’ We’re certainly not going to be a full-fledged advocacy organization, but for the issues that make sense to us, you’ll see that from us, moving forward.”
If it’s something that’s going to better the lives of women and families in need, Meghan wants to find a way for WFLC to get involved. In fact, recalling her first feedback session with WFLC staff after a few months on the job, Meghan shares, “one of the biggest criticisms was, ‘You move really fast—we’re not used to that!’ I [said] I can try to dial it back, but part of it is I’m really passionate about this, and I want to make sure that people come here and feel like we’re setting them up for success in the future.”
Getting to know the people she’s helped has also inspired Meghan to continue to find work that allows her to help others.
“One the biggest things I live my life by, and one of the biggest reasons I took this job, is [that] you never fully know a person’s story. Whenever someone walks in here, I always think to myself, ‘There’s a story there that I don’t know, and I’m probably never going to know, but I’m going to try to help them with the story moving forward.’ And that’s something I’ve just taken with me through every job I’ve had, through every life experience—everybody comes into a situation with their story, and you are just one very small part of it.”
Meghan’s own story includes meeting and marrying her husband, State Representative Sean Scanlon (D-98). The two met working together on a campaign for now-U.S. Senator Chris Murphy in 2009. They married in October 2017.
As the first full-time executive director of WFLC, Meghan leads a staff of six who are stretching every dollar to deliver services. To continue to do that, and more, she’s working to grow the non-profit’s annual operating budget from about $350,000 to a sustainable $500,000 bottom line.
“We need it [to] do everything we want to do: to keep the staff [at full time], in order to grow and be able to do more outreach and more things in the community,” says Meghan. “We’re doing them, but to do them well and be able to offer employees and the communities the best resources and the best services, our goal, in the next five years, is to be at $500,000 [annually].”
One way everyone—even millennials like her—can help contribute is through WFLC’s Monthly Giving program, Meghan says.
“It’s something we’ve been trying to get out more in the community,” she says. “It’s an easy way to give $5 a month, $10 a month, whatever you can give. And that’s important, even for my generation, because you can still make a big impact, even if you’re not giving a $100,000! It’s something we really want to stress: Those small dollar donations, for an organization like us, are huge, and they add up monthly.”
Meghan says every dollar donors direct to WFLC also has the gratitude of its hard-working, 13-member board, which last year concluded a successful capital campaign to give the historic home that houses WFLC a much-needed upgrade.
“The board is an incredible team,” says Meghan. “I feel like they’re silent partners. They don’t like a lot of recognition, but they are amazing, and they dedicate a lot of time [and] skill sets to ensure that the organization grows.”
Born in Fairfax, Virginia, Meghan grew up in Southbury and now loves living in Guilford, which she says is an exceptional community.
“I love it here. It’s hard to describe to people not from Guilford! There’s so much community involvement and civic engagement, and people just come together around issues here,” says Meghan. “I’ve lived and worked in other places, but Guilford’s just very different, in a really special way. The level of commitment, from the town, from the people that work in the community and people that live here, it’s very special. We’re very lucky.”
For more information on WFLC, visit www.womenandfamilylife.org or call 203-458-6699.
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