A Career Dedicated to Ending Gender-based Violence
Mar 14, 2022
During Women’s History Month, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation is profiling pioneering Women leaders who have made a mark on our community. Throughout the month, we’ll be sharing stories of these important figures and showcasing their work to make Fairfield County and our state a stronger, more equitable community.
Retired CEO & President, The Center for Empowerment and Education
As a young girl growing up in Massachusetts, Pat Zachman and her two older brothers were raised by their father to believe that women and men are equal in every way.
She grew up knowing she was just as capable and qualified as her brothers were to pursue any life dream that she wanted to achieve.
It wasn’t until Zachman left the safety net of her home in 1972 to attend college that she discovered the reality of just how unequal men and women are treated in society.
“My class was the very first cohort at St. Michael’s College that had a 50-50 split of both women and men,” Zachman said. “I can clearly recall my freshman year and immediately realizing how many of the male students thought we were invading their territory. There was an obvious disdain from some of the upperclassmen especially, and they made it clear that as women, we were on their turf, and we needed to get off their turf.”
Indeed, the early 1970’s was a time when women all across the U.S. were uniting to stand up and speak out against gender discrimination, violence and inequality — and it was this period that influenced many of her future decisions.
“By junior year, it really dawned on me that we were actually witnessing historical change,” Zachman said. “In every instance of societal change, it always takes a few people to be the first ones to forge the way, and the people who follow after them don’t necessarily feel the brunt because the way has been paved for them.
“So the women who were in that very first class entering into an all-male college, I see them as the frontier women. At least my class was a 50-50 split. But those first women, they were all alone.”
Dedicated to Helping Survivors
While Zachman was fortunate to have never personally experienced the physical violence that many women who were forging the way did in the 1970’s, after three decades of helping survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault in her role as the CEO and President of The Center for Empowerment and Education, Zachman knows just how lucky she was.
“Knowing everything that we do now to inform our youth to senior citizens about the dynamics of gender-based violence and the red flags and signs to look for, I see how naive I was in a lot of ways,” she said.
Zachman will be the first to admit that when it comes to working in the very dark and ugly spaces of domestic violence and sexual assault, not only is ignorance not bliss, it’s downright dangerous.
“At The Center, we know that we can never take for granted the fact that everybody, from staff members to volunteers, needs to be well-armed with the knowledge, information and skillset to work with these survivors,” said Zachman. “Because it could literally be a matter of life or death.”
The Center for Empowerment and Education (formally known as The Women’s Center for Greater Danbury) has been the sole provider of services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault since 1975. The Center provides direct and educational services at no cost to more than 30,000 adults and children each year across 13 towns, including Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Danbury, Kent, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Redding, Ridgefield, Roxbury, Sherman and Washington.
While pursuing a career in working to end gender-based violence may not be for everyone, Zachman is one of the rare leaders who has never stopped working to help survivors. Her dedication to The Center also helped forge the way for future generations to continue the good fight.
“What really fed my soul, especially in difficult times, was to witness the resilience of the survivors,” she said. “Their resilience is just absolutely amazing. To hear the stories of some of the clients and what they endured and how they managed to survive, to keep themselves, their children and pets alive; it’s beyond words.”
Leaving a Powerful Legacy
Zachman retired from The Center in February after three decades of leadership.
During that time, The Center evolved from a grassroots organization into a highly effective, successful and professional nonprofit.
And while Zachman is quick to credit to The Center’s staff, volunteers and board members, those same core groups cite Zachman’s leadership as the integral part for their tremendous growth and achievements, including:
● Growing the staff three-fold, while increasing The Center’s operating budget six-fold
● Completing two highly successful fundraising campaigns, allowing for the purchase and later renovation of its downtown Danbury main office
● Opening a new residential care facility for women and children in transition
● Expanding services to cover anyone and everyone in need, 24-hours a day
● Opening satellite service sites to better assist everyone in need throughout the 13-town service area
● Launching a formal partnership with Western Connecticut State University to provide domestic violence and sexual assault direct and educational services to the entire campus community
While her career at The Center has come to a close, Zachman has no plans to stop fighting for equality.
“As I told the team at The Center, I’m not going to be in the building anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’m not right by your side to continue to educate and inform those in need,” she said. “You can take the woman out of the work, but you can’t take the work out of the woman.”
Join us in person at the Greenwich Hyatt or virtually via our livestream for our Fund for Women & Girls 2022 Luncheon! Get inspired by keynote speaker Anita Hill, learn about our newest signature initiative, and support women and girls across Fairfield County in achieving their best lives. Learn more: FCCFoundation.org/FWG22