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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 Sound | 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, noting also that services supporting North Branford women and families have increased most notably in the past year. “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, in Branford and Beyond
Recently Meghan reached out to Branford Counseling Center (BCC) Executive Director Peter Cimino for a meeting. As a result, starting in April, WFLC is expanding its one-hour, free financial education session for women to include a satellite session that will be held at BCC.
“Our financial education program is a one-hour, free session where women come in and have a financial coach walk them through their problems and goals and help them make an action plan,” said Meghan. “And so we are offering it in Branford [at BCC] now, as a second site.”
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.
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.’”
Born in Fairfax, Virginia and growing up in Southbury is part of Meghan’s own story, which also 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. 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.”
For more information on WFLC, visit www.womenandfamilylife.org or call 203-458-6699.
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