Women of Inspiration

Marilyn Smith

Executive Director and Founder of the Abused Deaf Woman's Advocacy Services (ADWAS)

Bio: Marilyn Smith founded the Abused Deaf Woman’s Advocacy Services (ADWAS) in 1986, and serves as its Executive Director. She has grown the program into a full-service agency for deaf and deaf-blind victims. ADWAS, which Smith originally ran from the basement of her home, now has a financial base of nearly $1.5 million and has provided training and education to more than 22,000 people. Smith has also spoken about domestic violence to adults and children nationwide for 17 years. In 1998, she began the Justice for Deaf Victims National Training Project, which has led to the creation of 15 organizations across the country, each of which focuses on domestic violence and sexual abuse issues involving the deaf.

What does it mean to be honored by the Storm as part of Women of Inspiration Night?
I feel very humbled by the honor and at the same time thrilled there will be visibility for the Deaf community and for the work we do at ADWAS for Deaf victims/survivors. I love it when women honor women; we are making our own herstory that will be remembered for generations.

What women have inspired you in your life and career?
In the early days when I was trying to get ADWAS off the ground I was inspired and received tremendous support from Ginny NiCarthy, Karen Bosley, and Mary Pontarola – all of whom worked or still work in the anti-violence movement. Instead of feeling territorial they acknowledged that Deaf victims/survivors are better served by Deaf people. Today the women and children who come through our door and my hard-working board and staff inspire me on a daily basis.

In your work, how have you seen role models make a positive difference in the lives of others?
Most of the ADWAS staff are Deaf and those who aren’t are fluent in American Sign Language and embrace Deaf culture. They are role models on many levels. When a new client comes through the door she is truly “home” and is exposed to these role models. She learns, among many other things, how to feel good about being Deaf and participate fully in this life.

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