Laura Stefanow always knew that she wanted to have, in some capacity, a career in sports. And while studying at West Virginia University, realized the direction she would pursue.
“I got a degree in sports management and then kind of figured out what my niche was going to be by going to grad school,” Stefanow said. “I got a graduate assistantship on campus with the Office of Wellness and Health Promotion. And so that really kind of honed in on the passion to work with people in a community sense, and a charitable sense, as well.”
Gaining additional experience through an internship with the Washington Football Team’s Charitable Foundation, in October 2017, just a few weeks after her internship ended, Stefanow joined PAF as an assistant, and has proved to be a natural.
Now a coordinator, besides developing a role where she works closely with the PAF manager Leslie Isler in social media, engagement, and event planning, Stefanow focuses mainly on the Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust Fund (GUPAT).
It helps former players who are facing financial hardship due to unforeseen crisis, unaffordable medical situations, and players who wish to go back to school to finish their undergraduate degrees.
“I’m there to assist any former player who may be looking for any type of resource,” Stefanow said. “They might call in and are not sure of what we have available. But then largely with the (GUPAT), we help them figure out what it is that we can maybe support them in.
“I help with their applications and it goes through the process. A decision is made, and we have a pretty high approval rating, so most of the time we see a positive reaction to our work. And so that’s just a really awesome thing that I get to see through and through.
“And a lot of it is also connecting them to the other resources in the building, helping them understand that help is there. It’s hard for a lot of people, not just former players, to ask for help. Especially when it comes to their finances, or admitting that there might be something larger going on within their household that they might need a little help with. I just try to do my best in being that person that they can talk to openly and without judgment.”
Even though every day and, well, every phone call is different, Stefanow does an outstanding job making the initial point of contact as well as the ensuing conversations with former players go smoothly.
“More than just transactional relationships, you do form real bonds and connections with them. Which is great because we want to be the place the former players can come to – for good and bad,” Stefanow said. “Whether they’re having a hardship or they’re looking to do something fun at one of our events, it feels very good.
“I find it amazing that an organization like the PAF exists. I often think that adults sometimes get overlooked and people pass judgement when they’re struggling. And that’s just not who the PAF is. I’m very proud and happy to be a part of that whole production. I enjoy the people aspect. I like being able to be somebody that is helping others.
“And I want to acknowledge our former player community for welcoming me into their space, in many cases, during times of increased vulnerability and uncertainty. Without their openness and trust, it may have been a challenge to find my way in my role at the PAF. However, the player connections are what keep me coming back.”