John (Jack) Betkoski '74 attended Sacred Heart University to start preparing himself for a career as a lawyer. But life at the then-young university changed his course, instead launching him on a path of public service and social outreach.
The diversion came when the sociology major began working with SHU's psychology department for some extracurricular credits. "I was doing what they call Recreation for the Physically Handicapped - it was an after-school program at Roosevelt School in Bridgeport," Betkoski says. "I did it for one year as a volunteer, and then the director of the program left and asked me to take the program over the following year. That really motivated me to make a complete career change, going from law to special education and human services."
He went on to become President of Sigma Tau Omega, SHU's social action fraternity, and later to a life of working with the public and disadvantaged populations. The change, he explains, came from seeing the change in others' lives.
"I liked working with people who really had some tremendous challenges, and providing an opportunity for them to become as independent as possible, giving them the environment to be self-sufficient," he says. "We were running a group home, having people coming out of institutions, and eventually putting them into supervised apartments, helping them become as independent as possible. In some cases they would end up totally independent. I liked to see the end results of that work."
After leaving Sacred Heart, Betkoski went on to earn a Master's degree at Southern Connecticut State University, all the while pursuing jobs and pastimes in public service and social outreach. For 23 years he was employed in a variety of positions in human services and special education, working with the developmentally disabled, the homeless population, troubled youth and more.
During that period he also started his political career. He served as a selectman for his hometown of Beacon Falls, Connecticut, followed by ten years as the State Representative for his district.
The combination of all that experience led to Betkoski being appointed to his current position with the state: vice chairman of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, a role in which he oversees all regulation of electricity, telecommunications, private water supply and cable television. He has been appointed to the position by three consecutive governors, marking a stretch of 16 years in the job.
He sees the state job as the professional arm of his life of service. "It's basically trying to do what I can to make things better for people, to make sure their electric, their gas, their phone are fairly reasonable," he says. "Basically what we do is ensure that people have affordable, accessible utilities in the State of Connecticut."
His other time is dedicated to other matters of social outreach. Betkoski has "always" been involved with Beacon Falls Lion's Club, serves on the Beacon Falls Economic Development Commission, was Chairman of the Board at Derby's Griffin Hospital, is the present Chairman of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Association for Multiple Sclerosis, and is on the Boards of Directors of Waterbury Youth Services and the Salvation Army in Waterbury.
"Community activism and nonprofit work has always been part of my career," Betkoski says. "My mom and dad were both very active in the community when I growing up. My father was a selectman. My mom was the chair of Parks & Recreation in Beacon Falls. They worked with the American Legion, the Polish National Group, the Junior Women's Club. So community activity was instilled in me at a very early age."
All that was needed for those seeds to grow was the little bit of water found at a small college campus in Fairfield. "The roots of what I've done are at Sacred Heart," Betkoski says. "It was my work at Sacred Heart that made me change my path. I'm proud to have been a part of the University, and just as proud of where it's at today. I am thankful for the foundation it gave me to have a very fulfilling professional life, personal life, and community activism life."
Written by: Chris Nicholson, 2013