She Would Give You Her Last Anything
By Jesse Duthrie
The wall honors “The Hired,” all the ex-offenders Stephanie Miller Urdang, founder of the Bridgeport Professional Association (BPA) of Connecticut, has helped find a job. A huge variety of faces fill the 30-foot space—the serious, the smiler, the young.
Stephanie herself is a smiler, a warm, motherly self-described “little Jewish lady,” who organized the three week BPA program, which consists of “four hours a week of training in the office,” she explains. “The goal is to make them [the ex-offenders] feel warm and open when they come here. That way, they’ll open up to us and we can see actual change.”
Nearly all of the students graduate and 72 percent of them find work. Their retention rate on the job: an amazing 93 percent after one year. After graduation, the BPA locates job openings in Bridgeport, provides clothing and transportation, and keeps an open line of communication to assist in finding these people jobs. Stephanie sits at the center of it all, the person, as one staffer remarked, who “would give her last everything.”
Her generosity extends beyond the classroom. One BPA graduate, Vincent, found a job working third shift at a shipyard, but he had to commute there by bicycle, even in the record setting snows that winter. Despite the weather, he never missed a day. Stephanie extended her hand by buying him a headlamp, hat and gloves.
Although the BPA offers one year of support after graduation, Stephanie extends that time indefinitely. “There really isn’t a cut-off. These men, the men who are working for a better life, they are part of this for as long as they need.” It’s this kind of generosity that allows the students to feel open and comfortable with her. At a BPA graduation, many graduates referred to her as, “Ms. Steph.” Several past graduates call her regularly on the phone.
Stephanie’s experience in the educational field stems back 30 years. She has created and directed several successful proprietary schools across Connecticut; however, it wasn’t until 2004 that she took the leap from proprietary education to job development.
Her ultimate motivation: to help those who need it most. “Everyone is entitled to a future. And these men coming out of prison don’t have a lot of help on their side,” she says. She’s also motivated to ensure that the children of ex-offenders can have better lives, a role model to look up to instead of an absent parent.
“I wake up every morning,” she says, “and feel if I didn’t help someone that day, then it wasn’t a successful day.”