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Center for Victims CEO, former Womansplace leader, garners award

Vertullo | Daily News
During Thursday's Festival of Trees opening ceremony, Salute to Santa queen Sarah Roka and princess Maia Rhodes join Mayor Michael Cherepko in lighting the community tree in Renziehausen Park. Jennifer R.

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By Daily News
Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, 4:41 a.m.
 

Center for Victims CEO and President Laurie MacDonald has been named the Dignity & Respect Champion of Greater Pittsburgh.

For 10 years, she worked at Womansplace, a domestic violence center headquartered in McKeesport. In July, that organization merged with the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime.

She was nominated for the award by co-worker Nicolas J. Hartman.

“Through Laurie's commitment to acknowledging the diversity of crime and victims of crime, we now have an agency providing services in a comprehensive fashion while appreciating and respecting the diversity of the victims it serves,” he wrote in the nomination letter.

Hartman said in the letter that MacDonald has a “personal approach to working with her employees, never shy to say hello and ask about your well-being. Laurie truly wants her staff to feel appreciated and enjoy the work that we do.”

Reflecting on her work, the honoree said it is rewarding to get to know so many different people. The daughter of an Arab immigrant, MacDonald said she remembers growing up in McKeesport two blocks from where Womansplace was established and being marked by gender and racial discrimination.

“I learned a lot about discrimination and prejudice,” she said. “Female suppression was huge. You were expected to graduate high school and become a secretary.”

Although that atmosphere has changed, she knows people are still hurting one another. In the past decade, she admits she has not seen “even a modest decrease” in the number of women seeking shelter from violence. She has seen the women she serves become more diverse.

“Domestic violence happens to everyone,” MacDonald said, “but the way it's dealt with in the community is different. It's not as taboo to seek help now.”

Womansplace reached an underserved community that was less likely to access resources based in the city, she said. Center for Victims casts the net wider, she said, offering men and women in Allegheny County a 24-hour help line for victim advocacy, crisis intervention, counseling, and community education programs for those impacted by all forms of violence and crime.

“It's good for our clients,” MacDonald said of the merger. “It's more of a one-stop shop.”

The Dignity & Respect Campaign is an awareness initiative designed to join individuals, community leaders, community organizations, educational institutions, businesses, and corporations under the common notion that everyone deserves dignity and respect.

A Dignity & Respect Champion is someone nominated by a co-worker, family member or friends who embraces diversity, embodies compassion and demonstrates mutual respect.

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