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Rita S. Smith

Distinguished Alumni December 2011

Rita S. Smith graduated from Polk State College in 1974 with an AA degree in Psychology. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Michigan State in 1976. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a position she has held since 1993.

Rita’s first job was working in a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed children. With some counseling experience under her belt in that position, she went to a job interview and found out that the position was at a battered women’s shelter — an issue that she had never heard of before that time.

Battered women and domestic violence were issues that had never been covered in any of her classes, so she had to learn her role “on the job.” She learned that problems are created when individuals do not feel safe at home, and how important it was to make homes a safe place for kids. Suddenly, her career path became clear – she could change the world by ending violence in the family.

Rita was hired as the conference coordinator for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in September 1992. The organization was without leadership, so she offered to stay, rebuilding the entire organization. Today, NCADV is a national non-profit that works at the grassroots level to end violence in the home.

As executive director, Rita builds corporate partnerships and secures donations for the organization. She is often called on to comment on domestic violence, and has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and national news broadcasts. Her responsibilities also include working on legislation pertaining to domestic violence at the federal level. She has been to the White House during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, and in 2010 was present in the Oval Office when President Obama signed the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act. Domestic violence is an issue that can face any person at any time, and Rita knows that the work she is doing has indeed changed the world and made it a better place. Rita hopes that one day she can be a part of creating a shelter for domestic violence survivors in Winter Haven.