Armed with an English degree, McKeesport native Laurie MacDonald planned to go to law school after she graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1980.
Instead, she wound up in politics and fundraising, ultimately working as a consultant that helped small organizations develop bylaws and set up boards of directors. In 2002, she was serving as a consultant for Womansplace, a McKeesport-based crisis intervention center for victims of domestic abuse, when a board member told her she should run the organization.
She took them up on the offer. In July, Womansplace merged with the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime and is now called the Center for Victims, which has offices in both McKeesport and East Liberty. Ms. MacDonald, 54, now serves as the merged organizations' CEO and president.
She was recently named a Dignity & Respect Champion of Greater Pittsburgh. 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," according to the campaign's website.
She was nominated by one of her employees, Nicolas J. Hartman, who said in the nomination letter that Ms. MacDonald takes a "personal approach to working with her employees" and "truly wants her staff to feel appreciated and enjoy the work that we do."
"Through Laurie's commitment to acknowledging the diversity of crime and victims of crime," Mr. Hartman wrote, "we now have an agency providing services in a comprehensive fashion while appreciating and respecting the diversity of the victims it serves."
"It was a surprise to me because it came from one of my employees," Ms. MacDonald said.
During her tenure at Womansplace, she worked with the Allegheny County district attorney to bring videoconferencing to the UPMC McKeesport hospital, making it easier for women "in time of trauma" to get a protection-from-abuse order in the middle of the night without a lengthy bus ride to Downtown.
While the majority of the people who seek help from the Center for Victims are women and their children, the organization provides help with domestic violence, sexual assault and crisis intervention to anyone, including men and people in same-sex relationships.
"We try to be supportive of all of those groups," Ms. MacDonald said.
She said the merger of Womansplace and the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime allows the organization to serve more people in Allegheny County and the Mon Valley -- the Center for Victims' McKeesport base is the old YWCA building on Ninth Street, which Ms. MacDonald said is "a real blessing."
The center operates a free clinic every Thursday for people age 18 to 64 who are without health insurance and a free meal to homeless people every Thursday night.
The center shares the building with the Consortium for Public Education, which helped launch a campaign to educate teens about dating violence. Ms. MacDonald said that collaboration is important.
"It's much more effective to do things as a team than to do things on your own," she said.neigh_east
Annie Siebert: email@example.com or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.