jw smith

Dr. jw Smith, right, and his wife Regina Smith upon his being presented an Athena Award by the Athens Commission on Disabilities in a ceremony at Arts West on Nov. 6.


Athens Mayor Steve Patterson and David McNelly, chair of the Athens Commission on Disabilities, presented the fifth annual Athena Award last Wednesday, Nov. 6, during a recognition ceremony at Arts West.

According to a news release, the 2019 recipient is disabilities advocate jw Smith, professor in the School of Communications Studies at Ohio University. A renowned researcher on issues related to disability, his work impacts policy throughout the state of Ohio, the release said, adding, “He transcends boundaries and has an uncanny gift to reach people of all abilities, and all walks of life.”

 Smith was introduced by Jerry Miller, professor in the School of Communication Studies, who cited the words of one colleague, “Throughout our research and (Smith’s) intimate knowledge of language, personal narratives and leadership, I began to appreciate his own leadership responsibilities for the differently abled communities in Athens, the state of Ohio, and across the country. 

“What we found most fascinating was this – while we talked about the wonderful contributions of the great Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind, I was sitting beside, conversing with, and writing with someone who was just as wonderful.” 

Upon receiving the Athena Award, the release said, an emotional Smith expressed his appreciation: “It was an honor to be part of a wonderful celebration. I am humbled to receive this award and feel so undeserved but elated.” He encouraged everyone to start now looking at the possibilities of people with disabilities.

Speakers on the program included OU Executive Vice President and Provost Chaden Djalali; Past Athens Mayor Ric Abel (served 1998-2008); Commission Chair McNelly; and Carolyn Bailey Lewis, commission member and co-chair of the 2019 Athena Award Committee. The ceremony is archived on the city of Athens Government Channel, wwwfacebook.com/cityofathensohio

The Athena Award, the only award given by the city of Athens, was created by the Commission on Disabilities to recognize  the person or organization providing exceptional service to people living with disabilities in the Athens community by positively impacting their lives in one or more of the following areas: Advocating for change that improves the quality of life; advocating for issues; making a positive impact through volunteerism; developing new programs or services; offering exceptional customer service; or demonstrating innovation or entrepreneurship that has a positive impact.

Other 2019 Athena Award nominees introduced during the ceremony on Nov. 6 were Barbara Conover, executive director of the Athens Village, a community working together to help people remain in their own homes as they age; Stephanie Morris, director of both Central Ohio Music Therapy and the Athens County Community Singers where she helps adults with disabilities transition successfully through music; and Passion Works Studio, a collaborative community arts center where makers work and thrive.

Since 2019 is the 15th anniversary of the founding of the commission, Mayor Patterson read a proclamation designating Nov. 6, 2019, Athens City Commission on Disabilities Day and named many of the founders. The mayor also honored Berry Dilley and her late sister Clarissa Campbell with a commendation. They worked ceaselessly to create a Commission on Disabilities in Athens to address the needs of community members with disabilities. Mayor Ric Abel and City Council established the Commission in 2004 after former council member and state Rep. Debbie Phillips ushered the legislation through City Council. 

The Commission meets on the third Wednesday of every month (except December) from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at the Athens Community Center. The public is encouraged to attend.

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