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This woman recently earned a state award for going ‘above and beyond’ for survivors of domestic violence
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Rosemary Stefanoff won the In the Trenches award from the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence on Sept. 10. Stefanoff was given the award for her 16 years of work with the Gateway Domestic Violence Center. - photo by Nick Bowman

Rosemary Stefanoff is used to helping others. It’s what she’s spent her whole career doing, and recently, she was honored for the work she’s done with Gateway Domestic Violence Center.

She’s been volunteering and working with the center in Gainesville that provides help and housing for women trying to get away from domestic violence situations for the past 16 years.

“I just feel that I want to empower women,” Stefanoff said with a reserved and gentle voice.

The 77-year-old was honored with the “In the Trenches” award by the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence on Sept. 10 at the Georgia Commission on Family Violence Conference.

The award is given to “one front-line advocate whose effort goes beyond the ordinary to demonstrate extraordinary dedication to safety and justice for domestic violence survivors,” according to the coalition's website.

One person is chosen from across the state of Georgia to receive the award.

Jessica Butler, executive director at Gateway, has been with the center for almost 12 years, and it’s the first time she has nominated someone for the award.

“To me, it was just the totality of the work she’s done for Gateway through the years,” Butler said of Stefanoff. “She's one of the most caring people I've ever met in my life. And the things she’ll do for clients just really go above and beyond the expectations of her job.”

Butler said some examples of that include “attending the delivery of a pregnant survivor who had no one else, helping a past client navigate breast cancer treatments and medical documents, and ensuring the children of a client experiencing postpartum depression had what they needed and that the mother could care for them.”

But Stefanoff said she’s always had a job where she's helping people. Whether it was working as a teacher in Baltimore, helping underdeveloped adults with an agency in Florida or working with the crisis call center at Georgia Mountains Community Services in Gainesville, now called Avita Community Partners, Stefanoff has always had a knack for helping others.

“Showing that someone cares is a big part of the job,” Stefanoff said.

Nowadays, her way of showing that someone cares is through art. She holds a support group for women at Gateway where they do arts and crafts.

“Sometimes we just color,” Stefanoff said. “They have adult coloring books and it's just very therapeutic. What woman, especially in a domestic violence environment, takes time to color? This just gives them an hour and a half to not really think about their situation.”

She’s also at Gateway on Saturdays, by herself, handling anything that comes up. While it’s a job that could be stressful, Stefanoff said she's happy to do it, and Butler sees her as the perfect person for the job.

“She just creates a space where people want to be,” Butler said. “When she’s there on Saturdays working alone, it could be a very chaotic environment … but actually, it’s always so calm and people are so comfortable. She really creates a calm and peaceful environment.”

She’s also able to provide a space for Latinas, especially. 

“When I first started there, the Latina women would sit in on an English speaking group,” Stefanoff said. “They didn't know what was being said, so I suggested I would do that for the Latina women.”

So she started the support groups and became an advocate for the Spanish-speaking women who come through Gateway. Stefanoff is now the Spanish services coordinator for the center.

“I think what makes her good at the job is she really cares about what she's doing, and that’s remarkable for someone who’s done this job for as long as she has,” Butler said. “We see people who work with trauma survivors year after year — they just burn out. But Rosemary hasn’t. She’s always fresh and willing to do what needs to be done.”

The joy that comes from successful stories at Gateway far outweighs the natural disappointments that come with the job.

Stefanoff’s goal when she’s at Gateway is to empower women, help them find a way out of their situation and remind them of their worth. Winning an award and being in the spotlight was never her goal.

“I'm a much better listener than a speaker,” Stefanoff said, “unless it's to help a woman, and then I find my voice.”