By Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn
Teresa Younger’s job is to keep tabs on how Connecticut’s laws affect women living in the state.
As executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), the Shelton resident manages a small staff that provides research to state legislators, testifies on specific bills brought to the General Assembly, and monitors all legislation that may impact women and families.
“We know women in the state can’t get up to Hartford on a regular basis to keep track of everything that would affect their lives,” Younger said.
Agency started in 1973
The PCSW was founded in 1973 to be the bipartisan arm between lawmakers and constituents. Since its inception, the state commission’s aim is to study and improve women’s economic security, health and safety; to increase women in leadership positions, and to work toward the elimination of gender discrimination.
In conjunction with PCSW’s 40th anniversary, the Connecticut Women Education and Legal Fund will recognize the advocacy organization during its annual “One Woman Makes a Difference” program on Oct. 1.
This summer, Younger participated in a six-day retreat for executives working in state agencies throughout the country. Younger was one of 48 state leaders selected by the Council of State Government as a Henry Toll Fellow.
Before leaving for Kentucky, where the conference took place, Younger said she was looking forward to exchanging ideas with colleagues from other states.
Teresa Younger of Shelton speaks at an event for Girl Scouts Connecticut, a statewide organization she once helped oversee as its board president.
“No one can work in a vacuum, and the ability to meet and network with professionals from across the country — and from all three branches of government — will prove fertile ground for cross-referencing experiences and will be invaluable to the work I do with the General Assembly,” Younger said
“We will be looking at other states and how they’ve been successful at implementing policies and how they have built bipartisan support,” she said.
Successful legislative session
During the 2013 legislative session, PCSW monitored 200 bills and testified on behalf of more than 50, covering a broad range of topics.
“This is one of the most successful sessions we’ve ever had,” Younger said.
She said PCSW helped to pass an act to establish a task force to study the feasibility of offering short-term insurance benefits to families.
Although the Family Leave Act guarantees that a woman will have a job when they return after having a baby; caring for a seriously ill child, spouse or parent; or has a non-work related illness, they are not paid leaves.
During this upcoming session, the task force will discuss the idea of creating an insurance plan that families would pay into that they could access if a job leave were necessary.
“Right now we have to just start asking the questions,” Younger said.
‘Men at Work’ vs. ‘Work Zone’
The PCSW also advocated for a bill that would ban gender-based work zone signs. This bill was proposed by an 11-year old Connecticut girl who contacted PCSW because she was bothered by signs that read ‘Men at Work.”
“She felt that was insulting to women, especially those working on the site,” Younger explained.
A bill for gender neutral work signs that would simply read ‘Work Zone’ passed this year.
Previously worked for ACLU
Younger has been at the head of PCSW for more than six years. Before accepting this post, she was the director of affiliate organizational development at the American Civil Liberties Union national office. She was responsible for managing the state offices.
Previously, Younger had worked as head of Connecticut’s ACLU office. Younger was the first woman and the first African-American to hold this post.
“I’ve always felt strongly that American voices need to get heard,” Younger said. “Protecting our freedoms [is] really important to me.”
Active with the Girl Scouts
A former board president of the Girl Scouts Connecticut organization, Younger now is the leader of Shelton’s Girl Scout Troop 61588. The troop is comprised of seniors in high school.
“I love this age,” Younger said. “They’re all active in school — and smart.”
During her own childhood, Younger was an active Girl Scout. When she was in high school, Younger earned the Girl Scouts’ prestigious Gold Award.
During this time, Younger realized she had a passion for making a difference in the world. “I blame everything on Girl Scouts,” she said, with a chuckle.
Younger moved to Shelton with her husband Ronald Preston in 2002. Preston is active in the city’s Little League program.