Judith Stonger to Retire, Fosters Legacy of Kindness, Compassion

A visit to Wheeler’s Connecticut Clearinghouse in 1990 was a harbinger of the next career move for Judith Stonger, MA, CPS, vice president of Prevention, Wellness and Recovery. Judy retires after 24 years with the organization.

Read words from friends and colleagues. Click here

Working as a membership and marketing manager for another Connecticut nonprofit at the time, Judith remembered The Clearinghouse as being a warm, welcoming environment with an amazing array of wellness, prevention, and other resources. “I knew I wanted to be part of this organization,” she said. 

Ten years passed, and Judith recalled seeing a recruiting ad for a program manager for The Clearinghouse. “I applied for the position, and it turned out to be the best thing I ever did,” she said. 

Through the years, Judith moved progressively and steadily higher within Wheeler, managing prevention and wellness initiatives statewide, efforts that have a strong, measurable impact on schools, families, communities, and more. Over time, she assumed responsibility for Wheeler’s EAP and community justice programs, while also greatly increasing the scope of prevention and training initiatives.

Among the many highlights of Judith’s journey at Wheeler was the organization’s move into the health care space and the opening of its first federally qualified heath center in Bristol in 2013. “It was an honor to be part of this incredible change at the ground level,” she said. “I remember conducting outreach efforts when our first health center served less than 10 patients, and it’s been amazing to see this number climb steadily through the years into the thousands.” 

Judith also is proud of her department’s tremendous growth over the years including her team’s launch and early adoption of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) and QPR (Question Persuade Refer) trainings for teachers, law enforcement, first responders, and many other community members. Wheeler was among the first organizations in the state to offer this kind of trainings, and her teams have trained thousands of individuals in how to respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis in the community. Judith is also extremely grateful for the many collaborations and partnerships that she and her team have developed over the years. She is particularly thankful for the opportunity to work so closely with a variety of State partners and to co-chair the statewide Alcohol and Drug Policy Council’s Prevention Subcommittee for several years. Judith is also grateful for the unwavering support of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) and the very positive relationships she has forged with DMHAS colleagues.

Judith reflects on her prevention, community justice, and EAP team staff with a sense of fulfillment and pride. “Our teams are talented, collaborative, and kind. We live the Wheeler value of ‘Compassion’ every day,” she said. 

In terms of what’s next for prevention: Judith said that community-based services likely will increase. “It’s about meeting people where they are. Services like our Change the Script van, which travels extensively across Connecticut, and our mobile Family Health & Wellness Centers are part of a larger effort to reach more deeply into communities.” She also see increased focus on health promotion, wellness, and harm reduction efforts. 

As for Judith’s future in retirement, there are several plans in the works, and she is excited about all of them, from learning to groom rescue dogs, to writing a children’s book, engaging in meaningful volunteer work, attending golf school, mastering pickleball, and much more.

“Whatever I do going forward, I hope to do it with kindness and compassion,” said Stonger.  “I am so grateful that Wheeler is a place where these ideals are not only valued but nurtured and that I was able to thread both into all areas of my life.” 

Connecticut Clearinghouse is a statewide library and resource center for information on substance use and mental health disorders, prevention and health promotion, treatment and recovery, wellness, and other related topics. Materials from its specialized library and resource center are available to Connecticut families, teachers, students, professionals, communities, and children. A program of Wheeler’s Connecticut Center for Prevention, Wellness and Recovery, Connecticut Clearinghouse is funded by the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Some Words from Friends and Colleagues

“For nearly 25 years, Judy has been a major figure of Wheeler and at the forefront of the field of substance use prevention and mental health promotion in Connecticut. Her overwhelming warmth, patience, kindness, and stalwart leadership grounded us in our purpose and advanced the entire prevention field in Connecticut.” 
-    DMHAS PHP Team

“You have been such a light for me at Wheeler.”
-    Tiffany Hubrins, LCSW senior director, Children's Outpatient & Community-based Services, Wheeler 

“In your time at Wheeler, you have helped The Clearinghouse and the programs within it, as well as the Employee Assistance Program, grow and change with changing priorities in Connecticut and throughout society.” 
-    Laura Minor, former manager, Wheeler

“Connecticut is a healthier place because of you and your work! You have made a difference in Connecticut communities and stand as an example of being someone who brings solutions to the table.”
-    Nancy Navarretta, MA, LPC, NCC, Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services 

“She was always willing to lend her wealth of knowledge. She was always there when we needed her.” 
-    The Navigation Team, Wheeler 

“Without hesitation, I want to tell you that you are the kindest and most gracious person I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with.” 
-    Henrietta Sabel, EAP Assistant, Wheeler EAP Program 

“Judith has been a tremendous partner, and I’ve benefitted from observing the way she partners with others and how she promotes a vision for expanding access to prevention and effective services.”
-    Jeffrey Vanderploeg, PhD, president and chief executive officer, Child Health and Development Institute 

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