John H. Chafee Lifetime Service Award Recipient, Sharon Conard-Wells

The Path of Service.

When Sharon Conard-Wells began her professional career as a computer systems analyst, she couldn’t help but feel that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t until 16 years later, when she started at West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation, that the feeling went away. Sharon was finally where she was meant to be, “I’m not sure I can say I chose this work as much as it chose me,” she says.

In reality, the transition into a career of service was Sharon simply getting back to her roots. Prior to becoming a systems analyst, she lived in New York where she learned about civic engagement and personal responsibility, “I was taught that making a difference is not somebody else’s job, it’s yours,” she explains.

Over the 27 years that followed, Sharon’s passion for community development touched countless lives, created lasting change, and earned her the 2019 John H. Chafee Lifetime Service Award — which she’ll receive at United Way of Rhode Island’s 93rd Annual Celebration on Thursday, October 10.

Under Sharon’s leadership as executive director, West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation has raised $115 million for community development, become a HUD-approved counseling agency, completed the redevelopment of two Brownfield historic mills, and finished three low-income tax credit rental projects.

Even after accomplishing so much for Rhode Island, Sharon’s thoughts are still on the state’s future, “A better tomorrow relies on us not forgetting where we came from,” she says. “We forget that our parents were able to help us because somebody helped them. Now it’s our turn to help the next generation,” she continues.

Whether celebrating past achievements or looking ahead to future challenges, Sharon’s three decades of experience have taught her the importance of unity, “As Rhode Islanders, we need to remember that we’re all in this together,” she says.

Her inspirational leadership and ability to bring people together reflect a fundamental truth — one that first-century Syrian writer Publilius Syrus best explained when he wrote, “Where there is unity there is victory.”

Join United Way of Rhode Island on Thursday, October 10, for our 93rd Annual Celebration. Register today.


By: Jason Boulay,
Project Manager, Digital Media Marketing,
United Way of Rhode Island