Sharon Conard-Wells, 25 Over Fifty-five

COMMUNITY LINCHPIN: As longtime executive director of West Elmwood Housing Development Corp., Sharon Conard-Wells has played a role in innovative projects, such as the Sankofa Initiative, that have revived blighted properties. 
 / PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
COMMUNITY LINCHPIN: As longtime executive director of West Elmwood Housing Development Corp., Sharon Conard-Wells has played a role in innovative projects, such as the Sankofa Initiative, that have revived blighted properties. 
 / PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY

25 Over Fifty-Five 2019 Award Winner
SHARON CONARD-WELLS | Executive director, West Elmwood Housing Development Corp.


TO HEAR SHARON CONARD-WELLS tell it, she is merely a conduit for robust collaborations that spur innovative community programs built around affordable housing and related social issues. But the 28-year executive director of West Elmwood Housing Development Corp. always seems to have a hand in successful community projects – which is probably because she is a linchpin for local change and has been for decades.

“I love the work,” she said. “It’s more of a mission than even a career.”

Raised in the Bronx, N.Y., the mother of three and grandmother of three has a Rhode Island Minority Police Association Civilian Award, is a YWCA Woman of Achievement winner and was chosen for an Outstanding Leadership in Community Development Award by Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-R.I.

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“I may be good at building coalitions, but potential solutions often come from someone else,” said Conard-Wells. “My excitement comes in seeing the solution. I can see a connection with their idea … and we work together to marry it.”

Conard-Wells was named head of the Providence nonprofit in 1991. Under her leadership, more than $115 million has been raised to improve local housing and the community. She’s guided low-income tax credit rentals, adaptive reuses of brownfield historic mills and the creation of lead-safe units.

She’s especially proud of Sankofa Healthy Housing, a $13.5 million affordable development on formerly blighted lots, now connected to Sankofa Community Farm.

Dunamis Synergy is a new West Elmwood Housing initiative geared toward parents or expectant parents who are ages 15 to 25 and pursuing an education.

Being nimble is a key to Conard-Wells’ success, as is creative use of resources.

“Some say a glass is half full or half empty,” she said. “I just see something in the glass I can use. Even if there is only air to breathe, there is something in that glass.”

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