Judy Stevens, one of Sacred Heart University’s very first students, is the first to admit that she was a little immature when she arrived on campus. “I went to Sacred Heart University at the suggestion of the late Dean Croffy who resided in Westport where I went to high school. I graduated from high school at age 17 in 1970 and did not turn 18 until after my first semester freshman year. SHU seemed like a good place for me as I could remain home and attend college,” she says. “I was a late bloomer and, after I enjoyed my social life a little too much, my parents decided that I would not appreciate my education unless I paid for it myself.”
As a result, in 1973, she began attending school part time while working to pay her expenses. “I was on the slow track to graduation,” she says. In 1974, a promotion at work led to a decision to drop out of school and focus on her business career. But by 1977, she realized she would not continue to be promoted without a college degree. That led to a decision to go to school full-time at night while working during the day. “Returning to SHU was a no-brainer for me. The curriculum and evening classes fit perfectly. I returned to full-time days when I decided to go to laws school. I graduated from Sacred Heart in 1980 and started law school at the University of Bridgeport (now Quinnipiac School of Law) in the fall of 1980.”
She has fond memories of her time at SHU. “I enjoyed participating in my sorority and the many events, basketball games and mixers that we attended. In the early years, many of us would meet in the library to study together. When I think of my years at SHU, I remember the camaraderie and laughter that we shared while getting an excellent education!”
She participated in two internships during her junior and senior years at SHU that she describes as informative and enjoyable. She served as a legislative intern for Congressman Stewart McKinney during the summer of 1979 and then continued as a volunteer for two years. She was also a legislative intern at the Connecticut General Assembly during the 1980 term. “These internships were highlights for me as I learned that I could put my education to good use and that I had something to offer,” she says.
During her second year of law school, she was hired by Meehan and Meehan in Bridgeport and continued to work there full-time after graduation. From there, she moved to the firm of Belinkie and Blawie (both now deceased) for 11 months before accepting a position in the State Attorney’s Office in Bridgeport in 1994.
In 2000, she was assigned to the domestic violence (DV) docket. It was a pilot program funded by the federal government. “We developed the docket using what is now called vertical case prosecution – the same judge, prosecutors, social workers, victim advocates, police officers, probation officers, DCF representatives and batterer program facilitators working as a team to prosecute the high volume of cases,” she says. A third of the criminal cases in the Bridgeport GA court are DV cases, and approximately 30 percent of the criminal cases statewide are family violence cases even though it is estimated that only 25 percent of such cases are reported to the police. “This is a big problem in this country,” Stevens notes.
During her years in private practice, Stevens served as chairperson of the Criminal Law section of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association for a number of years and also served on their Board of Directors. Since 2007, she has served on the Board of Directors of the Center for Women and Families, Inc. (CWF), a non-profit domestic violence and sexual assault agency located in Bridgeport. The CEO and president is SHU graduate Debra Ceccarelli Greenwood. “Working with Deb and the Board has been a very rewarding experience,” Stevens says, adding that Joseph Marrone ’74, director of Admissions at St. Vincent’s College, is also joining the Board in January 2013. Other SHU graduates that she works with at CWF are Patricia Johnson and Kathy Seres Carbonella ’74.
Stevens is currently chairing a task force that will expand the CWF into a Family Justice Center. A Family Justice Center is a multi-disciplinary team of professionals who work under one roof to provide coordinated services to victims of family violence and their children. The core concept is to provide one safe place where victims can go to talk to an advocate, plan for their safety, interview with a police officer, meet with a prosecutor, receive medical assistance, get help with social services and transportation, get a referral to a Safe House and receive civil legal assistance. “I consider this the most important job that I have been given in my career. It will benefit so many families and children by making them safe and teaching them to have and maintain healthy relationships.”
She would love to have more SHU alumni join the task force. “I need financial people, policy makers and visionaries,” she says.
Stevens says her SHU background has helped her to network over the years. “I think that one of the reasons I cherish SHU is the wonderful friends that I made there – friendships that have lasted decades. So many wonderful people graduated from SHU. Working in the Bridgeport community all these years, I have run into many grads. It is easy to network when you are a SHU grad from the 1970s era,” Stevens says. “It is my hope that students at SHU continue to receive a quality education and make bonds that last a lifetime. I also hope that the warm spirit that was my Sacred Heart in the commuter days still exists. The students may not realize it now, but Sacred Heart is a family.”
Stevens considers it a responsibility to give back to SHU. She served on the reunion committee in 2011 and 2012 for the classes of 1967 to 1980 and was helpful in organizing the "Alumni Day with Pioneer Hoops" in February 2013.
Perhaps her proudest SHU-related moment took place in 2011 when she received the Alumni Achievement Award. “It meant a lot to me to be chosen. It’s my proudest achievement,” she says.