Stephanie Williams Cowart,'80
“To whom much is given, much is required.”
Those are the words around which Niagara graduate Stephanie Williams Cowart has built her life, both personally and professionally in her career with the Niagara Falls Housing Authority. Cowart began working for the public housing agency in 1983, moving up to the executive director position in 1996. A tireless worker for her community, she defines her job as not just providing safe, decent,affordable housing, but providing opportunities to enhance the quality of life. She has been behind numerous programs from setting up universal prekindergarten programs in the authority's community centers to establishing Employment Empowerment Training to helping authority residents interact with police on a more social level with the Police and Parents as Partners program. She initiated energy conservation measures that have saved the authority $1.4 million. She led Niagara Falls to designation as an official “Weed and Seed” site through the Department of Justice.
“We say that it's not only bricks and mortar, but it's people and possibilities,” Cowart says.
Cowart's work in Niagara Falls has not gone unnoticed. She's received numerous awards,including the Niagara County Black Achiever's Candle in the Dark Award, the YMCA Woman of the Year Award, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Achievement Award, the Heroes of Public Housing Award, the Niagara University Fellowship Award, and the Niagara University College of Education Community Leadership Award.
There's no doubt that Cowart loves her home city, and always has. She had a scholarship to Radcliff in hand when she chose to join the Class of 1980 at NU, where she went on to earn a B.S.in management, a B.B.A. in accounting, an M.B.A. and an M.S.Ed.
She regards the decision to attend NU as one of the more important steps she's made in life. The classes were small, the learning experience great, and she met people she'll never forget, she says. “It's wonderful to have such an institution in your own backyard.”
That Niagara is a Catholic university posed no problem for this active member of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church. There's just one God, she says simply.
Her connection with NU remains strong today. Niagara donated the services of the first Weed and Seed coordinator and is active in other areas, such as providing student tutors for the children at the community centers.
“Niagara happens to be a great partner with the Niagara Falls Housing Authority,” she says.
There's still quite a bit to be done. Much of Niagara Falls outside the tourist area is rundown and unemployment is high. Cowart refuses to be discouraged.
“I see a lot of need here. I feel God has blessed me with the gifts, talents and ability to giveback to the community,” she says. “There's no way you can walk away from something that you love, no matter what the condition.”
It was her parents who taught her that love. “I'm so blessed that God chose the parents I have. They were my first educators, and certainly,they are my heroes,” Cowart says. “I could never be where I am today without them.”
Cowart's husband, Allen, is “very, very supportive” of her work both on the job and in the many community organizations to which she lends her expertise. Her children,Schurron and Allen Q., have been brought up in the tradition of community service,learning from their parents and grandparents that “success is not necessarily about yourself;it's about helping other people.”