Laurie MacDonald, CEO and president of Center for Victims, was named the Dignity & Respect Champion of Greater Pittsburgh. She worked at Womansplace, a domestic violence center, for 10 years before the organization merged with the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime, this past July.
Nominated for the award by coworker Nicolas J. Hartman, Laurie has spent more than a decade working tirelessly toward the betterment of a diverse community.
“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,” Hartman wrote in his nomination letter. “Laurie also has a personal approach to working with her employees, never shy to say hello and ask about our well-being,” Hartman wrote. “Laurie truly wants her staff to feel appreciated and enjoy the work that we do.”
Laurie said the most rewarding aspect of her work is getting to know so many different people. As a daughter of an Arab immigrant, she remembers her upbringing in McKeesport (she grew up two blocks from where Womansplace was established) as one 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.”
That atmosphere has changed, Laurie said, even if society still has a ways to go. As she knows, people are still hurting one another.
During the past 10 years, Laurie admits, she can’t say she’s seen even a modest decrease in the number of women seeking shelter from violence. But she has watched the population she’s served-first through Womansplace and now through the Center for Victims-become more diverse.
Abused women aren’t hiding in the shadows-at least not as often.
“Domestic violence happens to everyone, but the way it’s dealt with in the community is different,” Laurie said, adding that in some cultures, traditionally, women are more reluctant to use community resources. “It’s not as taboo to seek help [now].”
Womansplace, based in McKeesport, helped reach an underserved community that was less likely to access resources based in the city, Laurie said. Center for Victims casts the net wider, offering women and men in Allegheny County a 24-hour help line for “victim advocacy, crisis intervention, counseling, and community education programs to those impacted by all forms of violence and crime including, but not limited to: adult and child sexual assault; physical assault; child and elder abuse; homicide; robbery; and burglary,” according to the group’s website. “It’s good for our clients,” she said. “It’s more of a one-stop shop.”
Laurie’s optimism baffles some, she said. It’s not that she doesn’t see, first-hand, the casualties of abuse-indications that the values of dignity and respect haven’t taken hold in all of us.
Friends sometimes ask her how she can do the work she does without being depressed all the time. Her response is simple.
“If you think you’re not making progress– you are.”Do you know an individual who makes a positive impact and promotes an environment of inclusion? If so, nominate the person in your life you feel has made a difference for the Dignity & Respect Champion Award! This prestigious award recognizes people who are engaged in their communities, live by the principles of dignity and respect, and promote an environment of inclusion.