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Sheila Wellstone Institute director speaks at Northwoods Coalition for Family Safety celebration

While years of work have been done toward helping victims of domestic violence, there is still more work to do, said Lonna Stevens, director of the Sheila Wellstone Institute.

"It's bittersweet," said Stevens, who spoke Thursday evening at Northwoods Coalition for Family Safety's 30th anniversary celebration in Bemidji. "We want the day when our job is done."

NCFS, formerly Northwoods Coalition for Battered Women, turned 30 Thursday.

Based in Bemidji, the coalition operates an emergency shelter for domestic violence victims and their children and provides 24-hour advocacy services, support groups and other services. NCFS also offers Nokomagiisis, a program for tribal elders and children.

Stevens, who began her work in the battered women's movement in 1996 in Alaska, said it was a privilege to later work with the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone and his wife, Sheila. The Wellstones died in an airplane crash Oct. 25, 2002, on the Iron Range.

"It was a great loss for the state of Minnesota," she said.

Stevens reflected on the Wellstones' work, including their role in helping to pass the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 to provide federal funding for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

"We continue to work on behalf of Paul and Sheila," Stevens said.

The Sheila Wellstone Institute Web site names Sheila Wellstone as an "advocate, organizer and national champion in the effort to end domestic violence in our communities." The institute continues her commitment to building power and visibility to ensure that ending violence against women and children is a national priority.

Stevens said sometimes the strongest voices leading to change are the voices of the victims.

"We've been working hard to get battered women involved in voting," she said.

Stevens said the state Legislature passed legislation in 2006 to allow battered women, sexual assault victims and harassment and stalking victims to vote confidentially.

But, she said, some victims may not yet be in a place to make their voice heard. She said it's "a very difficult and complex decision for women to make" to leave their abusers.

"The voices that we represent, and the Northwoods Coalition for Family Safety and Nokomagiisis represents, are the women and the children and the elders in the community who may not have voices today," Stevens said.

While they may not have voices, she said, others do.

"So we can be their voices until they can be," she said.