Sarah Mersereau-Adler: We said ‘I Do’

Every year on our anniversary, my husband Ernie Adler and I reflect on how domestic violence brought us together.

Enter Sarah Mersereau. In 1980, fresh out of my college bubble and feeling overprivileged, I decided to become a VISTA volunteer (now called AmeriCorps; like Peace Corps, it meant a year of service to a nonprofit in the U.S.). Being pragmatic, I thought, I grew up in Michigan, went to college in Massachusetts, I’ll apply “Out West.”

When I was offered a position with the newly forming Advocates (at that time called) for Abused Women in Carson City, I asked, “Where?” I hung up the phone, went to the atlas, and found Carson City at the foot of the Sierras, right next to Lake Tahoe. I waited 15 minutes, called them back, and said, “You know, I think domestic violence is one of the most important issues facing us today.”

Little did I know that I was right. Domestic violence has negative physical and emotional impacts that ripple through generations of families, affecting health, educational attainment, and survival. Tragically, Nevada ranks fourth in the nation in the number of women murdered by men (Violence Policy Center 2017 data).

Enter Ernie Adler. Among Advocates’ founders were several women who were Deputy Attorneys General, where Ernie was the Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division. Ernie was corralled into joining the Legal Committee. Guess which VISTA got to staff the Legal Committee? As soon as I saw this cute guy who had a great smile, told silly jokes, held the ladder while I picked apples for pie for an Oktoberfest fundraiser and also hauled furniture to the shelter, I was hooked. Luckily for me, he was too.

My year with Advocates was exciting in terms of program development and absolutely shocking in terms of the experience of trauma victim-survivors and their children. Local philanthropist and world-class feminist Maya Miller had underwritten the costs of starting up the shelter, but we had few other resources to help our clients.

Enter the 1981 legislative session. The also newly formed Nevada Network to End Domestic Violence had realized that an appropriate source of funding for domestic violence (DV) organizations was to attach a fee to each marriage license sold that would flow to DV organizations throughout the state. Given that Las Vegas is “The Marriage Capital of the World” this would produce significant income. Thanks to Sen. Sue Wagner and many others, it passed almost unanimously. Now DV organizations had unrestricted funds as match to federal grants and to fill gaps in service. This partnership has helped meet funding needs for almost 40 years.

Over the years, Advocates has expanded its services to our community in many ways, including the SARA program, Sexual Assault Response Advocates, which supports survivors of sexual assault.

Advocates also gives us all the annual Taste of Downtown summer event, which is more than a unifying, delicious and fun opportunity for us to enjoy food and music. It is an essential annual fundraiser that provides significant support for the lifesaving work of Advocates.

Enter COVID-19. And exit the opportunity for Advocates to raise their own funds through Taste of Downtown so far this year (fingers crossed for Sept. 19! But not holding our breath). Enter a nosedive to the revenue from Marriage License Fees because county license offices and wedding chapels had to close for most of March, April, and May. The crash will continue as the happy couples from around America and the globe who normally fill our wedding chapels are not, understandably, showing up. Domestic violence organizations from around the state have been told to expect a 66% cut in funding for next fiscal year. On top of that loss, Advocates’ Classy Seconds thrift store was also closed for two months. But the demand for domestic violence services continues and is even more essential during the virus, confining victim and abuser to the same stay-at-home emergency.

Enter the State, NCEDSV, Advocates, Say I Do, and You. In n response to this year’s devasting drop in marriage license revenues, the State of Nevada and the Nevada Coalition to END Domestic and Sexual Violence (NCEDSV, for whom I am a lobbyist) have created the “Say I Do” campaign to encourage us all to make a donation to our local DV organization.

Thanks to Advocates, Ernie and I found each other and said “I Do” 37 years ago this month. Please help domestic violence prevention fill the funding gap during the COVID-19 emergency. To support DV organizations, visit for Advocates to End Domestic Violence or for the statewide coalition and click on the Donate button to find Advocates’ partners around the state. Say I Do to protect survivors and their children from domestic violence.

Sarah Mersereau-Adler is a 40 year resident of Carson City, former State Director of USDA Rural Development, former campaign manager for Ernie Adler for Assembly/Senate, former Carson High English Teacher and current lobbyist with Ernie and Will Adler at Silver State Government Relations


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