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October 8, 2003

Advocate's work with deaf victims of abuse honored with $100,000 grant

From: Seattle Post Intelligencer, WA - Oct 8, 2003


The slaying of a deaf woman by her abusive husband two decades ago propelled Marilyn Smith into action.

Determined to end the isolation felt by deaf victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, Smith set up Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services in the basement of her Seattle home in 1986.

Since then, her organization has grown to employ a dozen staff providing counseling, advocacy and crisis intervention for hundreds of victims. She has trained advocates in 15 cities, helping them reach out to their communities.

And now Smith's single-minded effort has captured the attention of the prestigious Ford Foundation in New York City, which yesterday awarded her a $100,000 grant to foster her work with the advocacy group. An additional $15,000 grant was awarded to Smith for professional development.

"I'm rather overwhelmed," Smith, 52, said in an interview this week.

She's one of 17 people to be selected from among 1,300 nominees for the 2003 "Leadership for a Changing World Award," which honors people whose work creates social change. To Smith, the award goes beyond personal recognition. It means "visibility for a very invisible and underserved population."

"It really is an award that belongs to ADWAS, not just me," Smith said.

She plans to funnel the award into a $7.6 million, 19-apartment transitional housing project for domestic violence victims who are deaf or deaf-blind that has been on the drawing board for several years.

"One of the biggest reasons women return to abusive relationships is due to lack of adequate housing," said Smith, adding that she hopes the award will encourage their fund-raising drive.

About a third of the money for the project is to come from private donors, with the rest coming from city and state funding. Negotiations are under way to buy property in Seattle's Maple Leaf neighborhood with the hopes of opening by late 2004 or early 2005.

She hopes to use the professional-development money to expand the work of Deaf Women United, a national organization "dear to my heart" for its mentoring of young women and annual retreats linking advocates across the country.

The leadership award, now in its third year, is sponsored by the foundation in partnership with the Advocacy Institute of Washington, D.C., and the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University.

Others awardees this year include community organizers, human rights activists and housing advocates from across the country.

© 2003 Seattle Post-Intelligencer