Willow Domestic Violence Center and Deaf IGNITE Formally Unite


Partnership to Enhance Services for Deaf Survivors

ASL Version of press release can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/444382932 

August 4, 2020, Rochester, N.Y. – Long-time collaborators Willow Center and Deaf IGNITE announced a formal partnership that will combine the infrastructure strength and community partnerships of Willow with the specialized services for Deaf survivors offered by IGNITE. The two organizations have been partners for nearly a decade.

Greater Rochester is home to the nation’s largest Deaf population per capita, with a recent study of 1,900 students at RIT/NTID finding that Deaf individuals were 150 percent more likely to fall victim to domestic violence, making vital that prevention education, advocacy and supportive services are readily available and accessible for Deaf individuals.

“Joining forces with Willow is a win-win situation for both organizations,” says Susan Demers-McLetchie, Executive Director of Deaf IGNITE. “It allows us access to their wealth of resources, which will enhance our quality of services for Deaf survivors.”

Willow Center’s public office in downtown Rochester will now be home to Deaf IGNITE at Willow Center. Willow will provide administrative, grant writing and funding stream support, and Deaf IGNITE will become a program within Willow with access to all of Willow’s programs: hospital, counseling, court, shelter, advocacy, hotline, and special initiatives. The affiliation leverages established relationships Willow has built over 40+ years through a vast network of partners, including service providers, law enforcement, the Court System, the Hall of Justice, and area hospital systems.

“This partnership will strengthen the ways our community responds to domestic violence and increase access to quality services provided in a culturally accessible way,” said Meaghan de Chateauvieux, President and CEO of Willow Center. “IGNITE brings a tremendous legacy, skill set and vital knowledge in the unique needs of Deaf survivors that will be shared with the larger Willow team of 40+ advocates.”

Susan Demers-McLetchie and Brittany Ellenbecker join the Willow team to lead the Deaf IGNITE Program at Willow Center. Susan and Brittany will also support Willow Center staff with educational opportunities in Deaf culture and ASL training to ensure Deaf survivors feel safe and welcome at Willow.

Deaf IGNITE’s Board Chair Kelly Metz Davis is now serving as a Willow Center board member and chair of the Deaf IGNITE Program Advisory Committee, which will ensure The IGNITE brand and legacy will carry forward as a beacon of hope for Deaf survivors.

Advisory committee members include Tim Albert, Director of Student Life Team, Student Life at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf; Patti Canne, Deaf Social Worker for the University of Rochester Medical Center’s (URMC) Memory Care Program; Yvette Chirenje, Teaching Assistant for the Department of Business Studies at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf; Carrie Fisher, Director of Rochester School for the Deaf Student Life Programs; Michelle Gerson-Wagner, Assistant Director of Pre-College Outreach at RIT/NTID; Vicki Hurwitz, founding member of Deaf IGNITE (formerly Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims); Mary Karol Matchett, Assistant Vice President for Student and Academic Services at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf; Dr. Tiffany Panko, Research Assistant Professor at RIT/NTID Research Center on Culture and Language and Deaf Health Lab Director; TJ Sanger II, Assistant Director of Counseling and Academic Advising Services at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf; and LeeAnne Valentine, Marriage and Family/Sex Therapist at the Deaf Wellness Center.

This partnership was made possible by the United Way Synergy Fund, which lends technical assistance and reorganizational support for non-profit mergers.

“This is an example of the power of United Way’s Synergy Fund to support nonprofits in finding alignment and exploring opportunities to strengthen services and fulfill their core mission,” said Jaime Saunders, President & CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester. “This affiliation of Willow Domestic Violence Center and Deaf IGNITE builds on the strengths of each organization to best serve survivors of intimate partner violence by providing services and support that empowers survivors and provides much needed safety.”

For more information about the partnership and to watch the official announcement video, click here.


Founded in 1979, Willow Domestic Violence Center has provided comprehensive domestic violence services for the Greater Rochester community for over 40 years, reaching a yearly average of 7,000 survivors of domestic violence. The organization provides a full continuum of free and confidential services, without judgement, including a 24/7 hotline, emergency shelter, counseling, court advocacy, case management, prevention outreach and training.


Founded in 1998, Deaf IGNITE’s mission is to end domestic and sexual violence in the Deaf community through advocacy, education, and services. Serving an average of 60 Deaf survivors per year in the Greater Rochester area, its vision is to inspire and transform communities to be accountable by creating a culture free of violence.


Jamie Frumusa

(585) 683-5439