Deb Smith’s contributions to Women’s Resource Center of Northern Michigan (WRCNM) over her 41 year career are extraordinary. To anyone who asks, she is likely to downplay her role in the success and longevity of the Center. Although Smith prefers to work behind the scenes, she has played a major role in the agency’s 44 year history.
Smith’s WRCNM journey began when she decided to return to her hometown of Petoskey after several years living, working and taking college legal classes in southern Michigan. In 1980, Smith began as a secretary at the newly-founded Women’s Center that consisted of a couple of paid staff members and has since grown to more than 50 employees. In the late 1980s, Smith was promoted to the position of assistant director which she has held ever since.
Smith continued to learn and evolve as the agency expanded to become a multi-faceted human services provider serving a five county area in northern Lower Michigan. She has been instrumental to the agency’s growth which includes highly-regarded programs and services, such as domestic abuse and sexual assault, the Safe Home shelter, 24-hour help and information line, counseling, educational and employment support, violence prevention, Children’s Learning Center, Project Free Preschool, community playgroups, Children’s Advocacy Center, two Gold Mine Resale Shops and three satellite offices.
Smith became immersed in the building blocks of the nonprofit: fine-tuning policies, procedures and safety documentation. She worked collaboratively to support and administer payroll, benefit plans and team member training/professional development to meet legal/regulatory compliance and grant funding requirements.
Smith is described by staff and volunteers as detail-oriented, hard-working, dedicated, supportive, caring and a reliable sounding board. She possesses an immense amount of historical knowledge that is invaluable in assessing a path forward.
Her dedication to the agency was evident during 2020, the year she intended to retire. However, when the pandemic hit, hiring and interviewing became a challenge. Her attention turned toward the coronavirus and developing new practices and procedures to protect staff, clients and donors from contracting the virus. It was all unchartered territory and Smith did what she always does and fully committed herself to the work that needed to be accomplished.
Women’s Resource Center of Northern Michigan will forever have the imprint of Deb’s extraordinary work ethic, dedication, patience, team mentality and leadership. She helped establish a solid foundation for the agency to continue to meet the changing needs of our northern Michigan community. That is a wonderful legacy, indeed.