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Longtime shelter director moves on
Left, Jessica Butler, the new executive director of Gateway Domestic Violence Center, and the retiring director, Brenda Cook, talk Wednesday afternoon during a reception at the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University. - photo by Robin Michaner Nathan
GAINESVILLE — After 13 years as executive director, Brenda Cook is turning over the key to the Gateway Domestic Violence Center.

But Cook is quick to tell you she is not retiring.

"I’m not retiring; I’m moving on," Cook said.

Cook and her successor, Jessica Butler, were honored Wednesday for their service to Gateway, a shelter for women and children in Hall County who are victims of domestic violence.

Cook, a Dahlonega resident, is moving on and taking her philanthropy a little closer to home. Though she will still consult once a week at Gateway, she will spend most of her time at The Community Helping Place, one of the largest nonprofit organizations in Lumpkin County, helping to provide basic needs and emergency financial assistance to residents in need.

I’m trying to start slowing down a bit," Cook said. "(This way) I’m five minutes from home instead of 45 minutes from home."

It will be easier for Cook to travel to her new job in Lumpkin County, but she said it was difficult to decide to leave Gateway behind. She says her work with Gateway has been one of the most fulfilling things she has ever done.

"It’s honestly been my favorite job ever," Cook said.

During Cook’s tenure, she helped thousands of women become self-sufficient and break the cycle of violence in the next generation of women.

Kimberly Millsap was one of them. Millsap, a volunteer and former resident at Gateway, describes Cook as someone who embraces everyone she meets.

"I know she cares about everybody," said Millsap, who has been involved with the center for about eight years.

Cook said she has grieved about leaving Gateway.

"I do love this organization," Cook said. "After 13 years, it sort of becomes your baby."

But Cook has no qualms about leaving Butler, her hand-picked successor, as the guard of Gateway.

"Sometimes, an organization needs to be able to see, have a new set of eyes to see things from a different perspective," Cook said. "I think Jessica brings that new perspective to the organization."

Butler formerly worked in the district attorney’s office as a victim’s assistance supervisor, and has previously served on Gateway’s Board of Directors.

Butler said she believes strongly in the programs at Gateway, and the difference the center can make in the lives of domestic violence victims. Butler hopes to carry on the programs offering emergency shelter, transitional housing, legal and comprehensive support services that Cook established.

"I’ve got some big shoes to fill," Butler said.

Karina Garcia and Megan Gill contributed to this report.