From volunteer to community leader, Susan Cook-Williams can do it all.
There may not be any real-life superheroes that actually fly in and save the day, but Susan Cook-Williams may be as close as you can get. Between her numerous nonprofit boards, volunteer work, being a full-time executive director, and raising an adorable yet rambunctious toddler, you may wonder when she has time to sleep.
“Susan Cook-Williams is a person who embodies community spirit,” says Mary Schantz, River City Habitat for Humanity’s past president and current board member. “I have worked with her over the past several years and am amazed at how talented, energetic, and accomplished she is. She is an excellent partner in organizations working for people who otherwise might be overlooked or forgotten.”
Susan is a person that you would have to ask to get a full list of all of her accomplishments and volunteer work — she would never tell you on her own. She doesn’t do it for herself or the recognition. She simply does it because she cares that much about people. Susan has spent years fighting for the rights and well-being of people in her own backyard in Jefferson City.
So how did this all start? How did Susan Cook-Williams become this exceptional community leader you should know?
A Piano, a Nursing Home, and the Need to Serve
Nearly 10 years ago, Susan went through a difficult time. She was struggling to navigate life’s obstacles when a close friend reminded her that helping others brought her joy. She began volunteering by playing the piano at Heisinger Bluffs for the residents while they ate dinner. This became the beginning of the end for Susan. She started volunteering and working nonstop and has not slowed down since.
Her full-time work in nonprofits started in 2013 with Empower Missouri, where she served as the operations manager. Serving the people of Missouri, she worked with all facets of the organization, including in policy advocacy, testifying before the Missouri legislature for criminal justice reform, and planning Student Advocacy Day to bring together students and legislators. While fighting to combat poverty, hunger, and homelessness, Susan was also able to finish her master’s degree of sociology from Lincoln University, where she was heavily involved in student-led organizations. Susan advocates for education not only in her personal life, but also while participating in local organizations.
Volunteer Work: Service to Her Community
Susan also serves the community in multiple capacities outside of her full-time job. Using the expertise in housing matters she gained from being the executive director at River City Habitat for Humanity, she has served as a board member and housing subcommittee chair for the Cole and Miller County Long Term Recovery Committee, helping people affected by the 2019 tornado. She’s also served as a board member for Missouri Balance of State Continuum of Care, combating homelessness and supporting United Way’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program.
Nonprofit Work: Fighting for Those Without a Voice
Susan’s volunteer work and leadership in Jefferson City is vast, but it all has one resounding theme: helping others. This is best shown by her current position as executive director of River City Habitat for Humanity. This is Susan’s 9-to-5 job, but once you get to know her, you find how much this organization means to her personally.
“She goes above and beyond, always keeping in mind the people who will be impacted,” Schatz says. “Her leadership at River City Habitat for Humanity has been invaluable.”
The families she supports through Habitat become part of her family. She cares for them as if she’s known them her entire life. Susan’s empathy results in her feeling every tragedy and life trial these families go through. She goes above and beyond every day to make sure people get the care and help they deserve. For more than four years, she’s served the local community, helping to find places families can call their home.
Politics and Organizing
In 2019, Susan was appointed by Mayor Carrie Tergin to serve on the Jefferson City Human Relations Commission. Soon after, she was elected to serve as the vice chair, bringing invaluable experience to the team. In early 2021, Susan was elected as chair to lead the commission into its next chapter.
In addition to her involvement in the community, Susan has served in a plethora of positions with the local Democratic Party. She believes true, effective, and long-lasting change happens at the community level and works its way up to the national level. She has served in positions in the Jefferson City Democrat Club as well as the Democratic Victory Committee and the Democratic Central Committee. She won the Cole County Democratic Blair Dinner Award in 2019 for her work with the local party.
End Youth Advocacy: Action
After seeing numerous tragedies involving youth, Susan knew she had to get more involved. She started researching youth advocacy and learned that most youth did not believe they had a true voice when it came to issues that directly affected them. In true Susan fashion, she realized she had to act. Susan co-created and chaired Cole County Youth Day, an event that gives youth a voice in the community about issues that affect them. Since 2015, she’s also been a leader for Sandy Hook Promise, a national organization that teaches people the warning signs of someone who may become a school shooter or become suicidal. She believes if we can listen to our youth now and give them a seat at the table, they will have a much better chance at a successful adulthood.
“Susan is the person you want at the table when you want to accomplish something,” Schantz says. “She takes on responsibility, and not only does she accomplish her tasks, but she does so with great skill.”
Susan Cook-Williams serves her community by ensuring families in need get the housing they deserve, promoting diversity, building grassroots politics, advocating for our youth, and fighting homelessness. How could you not want to know her? The world needs more Susans, and Jefferson City is lucky she chose us.
Susan Cook-Williams Community Volunteer Positions:
- August 2010 – 2018:
Officer, Cole County Democratic Central Committee
- October 2011 – April 2012:
Music volunteer, Heisinger Bluffs Nursing Home
- January 2011 – January 2013:
Vice president of communications, Jefferson Democratic Club of Cole County
- August 2013 – August 2014:
Board member, Cole County Emergency Food & Shelter Board; membership chair, Lincoln University Blue Tiger Quarterback Club
- October 2013 – February 2014:
Treasurer, Missouri House Democratic Victory Committee
- January 2014 – December 2016:
President, Jefferson Democrat Club
- September 2014 – August 2015:
President, Lincoln University Blue Tiger Quarterback Club
- October 2015 – December 2018:
Promise leader, Sandy Hook Promise
- 2016 – 2019:
Co-chair and founder, Cole County Youth Day
- March 2019 – December 2019:
Board member, Missouri Balance of State Continuum of Care
- June 2019 – Present:
Board member and chair of the housing subcommittee, Cole & Miller County Long Term Recovery Committee
- January 2020 – December 2020:
Vice-chair, Jefferson City Human Relations Commission
- January 2021 – Present:
Chair, Jefferson City Human Relations Commission