Orlando resident Stephanie Bowman is not your typical president. She doesn’t have an Ivy League degree. She doesn’t spend her days in board meetings. Instead she loads big boxes of food from a trailer into a College Park warehouse. She makes care packages of shampoo, soap and deodorant. She does have an education, but her greatest lessons were learned by living on the street rather than in a classroom.
The organization Bowman is president of is One Heart for Women and Children (OHFWAC). To understand her path to founding OHFWAC, you have to go back more than 15 years ago when Bowman was in the throes of drug and alcohol addiction. That life eventually led her to being homeless in the Parramore neighborhood and having her children removed soon after.
Then, in 1999, Bowman entered treatment. She got her children back, got her life back, and quickly found she wanted to give back. She started with different ministries at her church and eventually founded One Heart for Women and Children. At its core, OHFWAC is not just a food pantry and thrift store. It is a family resource center, an educational partner and a stepping stone to a drug- and alcohol-free life. OHFWAC distributes food daily, teaches life skills, and offers work for voucher jobs in its facility. The voucher program allows people to take ownership of their future and earn vouchers for every hour they work to be used in exchange for clothing, toys and household items.
Bowman says that when she was homeless, what mattered the most to her was knowing that someone cared. Blanca Santos echoes that sentiment. “I see it in her eyes. Stephanie shows everyone love. We all know that One Heart is here to help, not to judge.” Santos, who is homeless by choice, receives some assistance from the organization, but mostly she volunteers with OHFWAC to help others.
Bowman recognizes that helping Orlando’s families find a way out of poverty is not a task she can take on alone. She counts on scores of volunteers, businesses, churches and individual donors to help make a difference. Among those who help are the people of Parramore themselves. In order for OHFWAC to offer a free hot meal once a month, it must have a place to do it. Renters and homeowners offer their property for such events. Likewise, volunteers like Chef Tifford Cole, who cooked over 400 meals one Sunday, along with Mark and Lucy Silverman, the owners of B&B Junction who allow their commercial kitchen to be used to make the meals, are essential to OHFWAC serving those in need. Bowman also points out the organization needs more than just donations of goods, food and money. It also needs administrative support and grant writers. Currently, much of the money that funds OHFWAC is private donations, as well as a $10,000 grant Bowman recently received for being a Godiva Chocolatier’s Lady Godiva Honoree for her work within the community.
Nancy Cox has known Bowman for 10 years and she says giving from the heart is what Bowman is all about. “It’s no coincidence that she’s got heart right in the name of the non-profit. Stephanie is all heart.”