Alums fund program for students with disabilities


Walter and Marie Williams, center and right, speak with ECU’s STEPP program director Sarah Williams during an event recognizing the couple’s sizable donation to the program. The program was renamed the Walter and Marie Williams STEPP program in their honor. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)


By Steve Tuttle and Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services

East Carolina University’s Project STEPP program, which supports students with learning disabilities who aspire to achieve a college education, has received a nearly $950,000 donation from Walter and Marie Williams of Greenville.

The ECU Board of Trustees acknowledged the gift at its meeting on April 25 and voted to rename the program the Walter and Marie Williams STEPP Program. The Williamses were early supporters of this innovative program, which began full-time operation in 2007.

Their total personal and extended support for the STEPP Program (including family and company gifts) now is at $1,124,943, according to Board of Trustees documents.

Sarah Williams, Project STEPP director, said the gift is “a fantastic start” toward building a $4 million endowment to ensure the program is sustainable.

STEPP administrators offer academic, social and life skills support to a select number of students with ADHD or learning disabilities in reading, writing or math. By partnering with these students, their families, and a variety of educational communities, Project STEPP fosters a network of opportunities and resources to empower and support students from admission to graduation.

“So many of the students in our program had been told they would never go to college and now many of them are excelling,” said Sarah Williams.

“Educators still have much to do in the way of helping bridge the transition for students with learning disabilities to the college setting,” she continued. “The STEPP program is unique in the nation. While there are programs available to support students who have learning disabilities on some other campuses, many are very expensive. Walter and Marie Williams made it possible for students in our program to have access to college as well as the support they need to be successful without additional costs to the student.”

Walter Williams, president of the Trade-Wilco chain of convenience stores, received a bachelor’s degree in 1951 and a master’s degree in 1955, both from East Carolina. Marie Williams graduated from East Carolina in 1953.

Project STEPP also receives support from the Oak Foundation of Geneva, Switzerland, and from the Harold H. Bate Foundation and the Peter J. Frenkel Foundation.