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Deborah Lynn Williams: YWCA Director

Get to know a Buffalonian

Deborah Lynn Williams defies all efforts to rationalize career trajectory. A former molecular biologist, aide to Senator Chuck Schumer, currently executive director of the YWCA, and always a community activist, she also makes and sells handbags. ( Her gig at the YWCA is relatively new—she left Schumer’s office in January—but already she is bringing to bear the her trademark energy and organizational skills. This week (November 9-12) the YWCA offers Growing Together, a program designed for girls ages nine to 11 and their parent/guardian, to open communication about sexuality and relationships. On November 22, the Y teams up with the Peace Corps to offer a Thanksgiving dinner for recent immigrants. For details, visit

From Chuck Schumer’s office to the YWCA. Talk about that transition.

Well, the most notable difference is now I can take a shower and brush my teeth without a Blackberry in the room. I am not kidding. I don’t think you fully realize how invasive constant communication is until it is gone. With Schumer it was very broad-based and across four counties. It was helping a company get a grant, FEMA help for the October storm, finding a military escort for the body of a soldier, weeds in Chautauqua Lake, veterans’ healthcare, etc. The YWCA is focused on women, children, and seniors in Erie County.

What does the YWCA do?

A lot! Senior housing—we have 64 units on Grant Street in a former public school. We have daycare, universal pre-kindergarten, and before/after school in sites all around the county. Also, education and job programs for teens, both girls and boys, and transitional housing and education for victims of domestic violence. IPL, a candidate training school for women who want to run for office or be campaign managers, is also making a come back. If women ran things, we all know it would be better for everyone!

You first became really engaged in civic matters via the New Millennium Group, about which we hear very little these days. What’s going on with NMG?

NMG has been involved in pushing SMART code of late, and the Peace Bridge issue is always lurking in the moat. Many of the early leaders have moved on to busy careers, families, houses, and their volunteer activities have been scaled back. Some of the younger members are having conversations on what direction to take the organization.

Once upon a time, you were a scientist of some sort, right? What did you do, and are you done with that forever?

That’s right—all those student loans went toward something. I did basic bench science for several years—molecular biology research on congenital lung deformities at Children’s Hospital. I did my graduate work at Roswell Park, which is what brought me to Buffalo. Science is about problem-solving, so in that sense I am still a scientist every day. I see a problem, study the elements, map a solution, beg for funding, and collaborate.

On your Facebook page, you list John McCain and Mike Huckabee among your favorite politicians, alongside such noted liberals as Schumer, Louise Slaughter, and Jimmy Carter. What are those two doing on that list?

Do I seem schizophrenic? I am a Democrat but not a lockstep kinda gal. I like John McCain because his service to our country humbles me and reminds me of why I am lucky to have been born a woman in America. Huckabee is quite a character. While I don’t share many of his social views, I do like his old-fashioned sensibility of work hard, study hard, and help yourself where you can. Having a beer with either one of them would be interesting.

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