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Salute to Women: YWCA Great Falls honoring 'difference makers'

Posted at 5:45 PM, Apr 17, 2024

GREAT FALLS — From fighting racism to empowering women, a group of Great Falls women are being recognized for making a difference in the community.

For more than 30 years, The YWCA of Great Falls has been celebrating women of achievement in the Electric City. Over the past few weeks, the organization has been surprising the unsuspecting nominees of the honors.

Great Falls Rising board member Melissa Smith admits she was shocked to learn she is one of seven women who have been selected for the YWCA’s Salute to Women award.

“Great Falls has my heart. I really always kind of stunned about this award,” said Smith. “I really appreciate what the YWCA is doing and anything I can do to help further their mission.”

YWCA Executive Director Sandi Filipowicz made the announcement following a Great Falls Public School board candidate forum Tuesday. She and other leaders from the organization have been making the rounds surprising other women with flowers including an iris.

"The iris represents knowledge wisdom and beauty,” said Filipowicz.

Smith and others are being recognized for their roles in supporting the mission of empowering women and eliminating racism.

“When the hate materials were going around town, she (Smith) was leading some of that to actually have forums from state people to talk about actual hate crimes in Montana.”

Smith has also earned a reputation as a crusader against violence towards women.

That has been a lifelong goal of mine to make women more safe and to make our communities safer,” said Smith. “That goes for some of our most marginalized individuals all the way up to domestic violence, which can happen to anyone in any socio-economic class.”

The YWCA began soliciting nominations in February and an independent panel of judgses selected the winners.

Smith and the other honorees will be celebrated at the Salute to Women Gala on May 10th at the University of Providence.

In addition to Smith, this year’s honorees include: Priscilla Zander, Khi Kuka Soldano, Kacey Ribnik, and Linda Mettam. Mariyah Hicks was chosen as the Young Woman of Tomorrow Award while Susan Wolff was tabbed for the Sheila Rice Lifetime Award.