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Women Shaping History 2013
Joyce Cowin: Philanthropist

Joyce CowinWhat has inspired your current career path?

This is not a career, but rather a “calling” to make certain this great Country never suffers the effects of the 2008 financial debacle. In 2008, this fantastic country of ours was almost brought to its knees because of the Sub Prime Real Estate disaster!!!!!! When I read about the thousands upon thousands of good, honest, hard working people all across the country, more prominently on the West Coast, who LOST EVERYTHING that they had saved over a life time because they got SNOOKERED that absolutely infuriated me and I thought, if only they had been EDUCATED to look for the red flags and know the proper questions to ask they would not be in these dreadful straights. “The house of your dreams…the one you have struggled a lifetime to possess only 2% mortgage: $10,000 or 20,000...no money up front...HOW CAN YOU REFUSE???? Well, they couldn’t and they didn’t so they did buy, and in the end lost everything. The gall is that the sellers KNEW they were selling tainted merchandise and the banks were not too upset because they would take over the property and assume that, as had been the recent real estate history, the property would increase in value, so if/when they did repossess, the properties would increase in value. Not nice..and it had an extraordinary deleterious effect on the National economy...but most of all....on those who just did not know the questions to ask.

What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced?

Being infuriated does not get you very far and it was difficult to know how and where to start!!! Today we have a Yin Yang situation: there is an overload of information available to anyone with a computer. On the other hand, there is an ocean of material through which one can wade, which is confusing, daunting and extremely time consuming. The question is where to start and put the most effort and finding out which of the myriad organizations would be the most helpful. Oddly enough as it turned out, instead of having a paucity of specialized groups interested in Financial Literacy, there are a myriad of them. How to distinguish which are the best to put one’s energies into and with whom it is profitable to set up meetings takes diligent research. This is an ongoing problem However, I do feel that some substantial progress has been made!!! This statement could never have been made without the wisdom, contacts and knowledge of my dear, wonderful friend...POLA ROSEN!!!! She held the key to the tremendous progress we are making. We have gotten our SPECIAL financial Literacy program approved to be mandated in the Public Schools in the City of New York and in the State. There is a l-o-n-g road ahead...we are learning quickly...Our goal is to be in every State of the Union. We feel this is as important as learning English.

What are some of the accomplishments you are most proud of?

There are three that stand out:

Ist, Because I believe so strongly in education (as long as one is in relatively good HEALTH) There is NOTHING more important in this world than a good, basic education. When Arthur Levine was the President of Teachers College, Columbia University, he asked the Board of Trustees if there was anyone interested in funding/founding a school for the Arts. I was the only one who responded with a resounding YES. It was the brainchild of Judith Burton who was the head of T.C.’s Art Department. And so the HERITAGE SCHOOL was born. It is in Harlem.

2nd. Splendid Accomplishment. My husband had been on the Board of the American Museum of Folk Art for over 35 years, I had become enamored with the quality and substance of true folk art. It is in a way, the history of our great country. In colorful yo yo quilts, portraits, decoys, mourning pictures, tramp art etc. In the 1990s the Museum decided to build a new building on West 53rd Street. I wanted a log cabin, everyone else voted for a grand modern structure... which when finished...won ALL the architectural awards...but was totally too big for us and too expensive...in a word impractical as time went by. It was obvious that a “good” sale would be a blessing...preferably to MOMA...and we could go back to the space I had always supported on the West side. Without debt, we had many suitors who would like to have our collection and use the West side space at Lincoln Center...Well, I did not like that idea at all...and so, I decided with some other minor support...to SAVE THE AMERICAN FOLK ART MUSEUM. We have a new energetic director, a faithful Board and are moving forward!!!! Amen

3rd. And probably, what I am most proud of is, with the stellar help of Pola Rosen...The Financial Literacy Project...this program under the aegis of Teachers College and Dr. Anand Marri would be nationwide and mandatory. It all started, as I stated earlier with the sub prime debacle which almost brought our financial system to a standstill....our poorer population was getting “snookered” And that just is not the American way...so I am in the process of educating the American Public...so that there will never be another 2008.....and from this era on, students will have a working, practical knowledge of what to do with their money, how to preserve it and make it grow and most of all how to make intelligent financial decisions.......I am proud and happy to say...I do believe we are on the right yellow brick road.

What would you describe as a turning point in your life?

Actually, I do not think that there was a turning point. My mother was absolutely brilliant...her family motto was  H.C.E. standing for Health, Character and Education.  She grew up in Duluth, Minn. where her marks were never equaled then, on to Smith College where she was Phi Beta Kappa. Next, she was one of the very 1st female lawyers graduating from New York University Law School.  She was a crack Bridge player and spent a year at the Sorbonne.  A natural linguist. After her father died and she moved to New York City she enrolled in Hunter’s Russian class (the best student they ever had according to her teachers) so that she could read the Russian novels in Russian. Throughout all those years she worked diligently at the Juvenile Court in the Bronx keeping thousands upon thousands of teenagers from going to prison.  Her most favorite pastime was reading. Education was central to her life and she imbued me with that concept. She and my father insisted I choose an occupation...preferably teaching...and so I did. I went to Teachers College and will always be a strong proponent of Education and learning. It is an excellent tool to help one through the vagaries of life. I think I have proceeded to go forward ...from the very early years (late twenties, early thirties) being on and Chairman of the Board of the Child Development Center...I stayed involved for over 30 years. I served on the Board of the Youth Counseling League, The Jewish Board if Family and Children’s Services, The Teachers College Board of Trustees for over 44 years, the Board of the American Folk Art Museum for over 20 years, the Steicher and Horowitz Piano Foundation and the Board of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center...Out of all these various involvements...there is one more that supersedes most of these: my interest in Financial Literacy!!!! I am hoping for a major breakthrough in the next year or two.

What are your goals for the future?

I am resigning, or trying to resign from all Boards except the ones involved in music which I joined within the last five years, and devote my time to promoting the fantastic Financial Literacy Program that has received so much positive acclaim in New York City and New York State. I believe it is an invaluable lesson not only growing up, but a life long positive wealth of knowledge that will always be meaningful!!!!!! #



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