LivAbility Magazine
Portrait of Leonard Smith. Leonard wears a black jacket, a plaid shirt, lightly-tinted glasses, and he smiles at the camera.

Independent Living Skills Advocate

Leonard Smith is a gentle giant – he doesn’t speak much but when he does, you better listen and learn from this wise man! He’s been Ability360’s East Valley advocate for many years. His military and religious background gives him a keen insight into people’s behavior and what makes them tick. Don’t expect him to “give you fish” because he will do more than that – he will teach you to fish. Consumers benefit from Leonard’s knowledge of community resources and how to best point people in the right direction in order to meet the goals of greater independence and self-empowerment. -Darrel Christenson

How long have you been with Ability360? About 14 years.

What other job titles have you held, if any? I held the position of Reintegration Coordinator from 2000 to 2004.

For people outside of the organization, what do you do? I help people with disabilities become self-empowered so they can do the things they want to do. I benefited from independent living coaching when I was newly injured. When my peer mentor pulled up in my driveway and got out of his van and he used a wheelchair—like I did—I realized life wasn’t hopeless. Whatever I set my mind to do I could achieve. That’s what I want to give the people I work with. Whether that’s moving into their own place, learning to drive or use public transportation or getting their education or becoming employed, my job is to help them make a plan to succeed.

Is there a work achievement you’re especially proud of? I’m proud of the work I’ve been able to do with many organizations like Paralyzed Veterans Of America (PVA). I’m currently president of our local chapter. I’m especially proud of being part of organizing our Independent Living Fair. Right now, working with individuals who sustained their spinal cord injury through gunshot wounds is a project I find gratifying.

What brought you here? After my injury and rehab I always knew that I wanted to give back to the disabled community. When I started classes at Glendale Community College, I felt like I had come far enough to help other individuals like me. So I became a peer mentor.

What do you like most about your work? I like watching people develop skills that help them become self-empowered. From learning to cook to learning a new piece of technology or learning the transportation system, or learning how to navigate the educational system.

Will you share a little something about your family? I am the oldest of six children. I have eight children and lots of nephews and nieces. I consider myself to be the patriarch of my family. With such a large family there’s never a boring Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner, Easter dinner or a birthday party.

Will you tell us about your best day ever? I have several best days ever but one of them is when I got behind the wheel and was able to drive again after 20 years.

What are people most surprised to know about you? I have 8 children.

Is there a movie or TV show you drop everything to watch? I love watching action movies. I love the Transformers. The movie that I’d drop everything to watch is Avatar. I see you.

If a mega-fortune fell into your lap, what would you do? I would buy an accessible motorhome and travel to every state. My only agenda would be visiting all of the Capitals.