By Amy Stuczynski
Shannon grew up in a small town in Alaska as the oldest of five children. She describes her parents as teaching her self-reliance and the value of education. She earned a BA in English, got married at 20 years old, and started having children. She moved to Portland early in her marriage, but found she could not get work that paid above minimum wage.
Shannon and her husband worked various jobs in customer service, day care, and managing apartments. Now with five children of their own, she and her husband tried working different shifts and getting additional training. She says, “You try your best, and it just seemed like we were coming up short, and it was just increasingly hard at that time…Nothing we did seemed to help.”
The family was moving on an annual basis to find cheaper housing. Their second child in particular was struggling to learn to read. Saving enough for a down payment on a home in the Portland area seemed out of reach.
Shannon learned about Proud Ground, an organization that uses a Community Land Trust model to expand homeownership opportunities. They referred her to an IDA at Portland Housing Center. Shannon explains that the encouragement and support she received from Proud Ground and Portland Housing Center staff—sometimes through joint conference calls during her lunch breaks–was life changing. “I was given a little bit of a boost and I then was able to mentally, physically, spiritually, spread my grit and determination bandwidth towards things that were really going to help my family anchor, and those things included savings, and included job skills and security, and being anchored in one place.”
Through her IDA, Shannon gained experience in relationship building and capitalizing on connections. Working through the financial education and homeowners’ education components of her program, Shannon says, “brought an awareness of structure and networking so that I realized: if I want something, if I need financial advice, then I reach out. I make those appointments. I talk to so-and-so. I bring it up. And I realized how successful I was in this financial pursuit and began to apply those things in my work world: Ok, I want another job, I’m going to network, I’m going to talk to this person who has that job. What did you do? How did you get there?” Practicing those skills at work, her hourly wages went from $11/hour to $28/hour.
In 2014, once they moved in to their own home, Shannon felt a tremendous release of financial stress. After being in one school for more than a year, her children started doing better in school. Her second child is now in the “advanced” reading group. Her oldest daughter just got a job, and Shannon is helping her set up a bank account. Shannon says she’s able to talk to her daughter about saving and budgeting because she and her husband have been practicing those habits. She notes, “I don’t think anyone realizes the long-term trickle-down effect that it really has on the individual family and I think probably for my own kids. That they will probably have more stability and hopefully see that there is a path to progress.”
Shannon volunteers for her children’s school and Dress for Success, and is an ambassador for Proud Ground. She comments, “I have more patience with myself and compassion for myself and my family and other families who are struggling. It made me realize that with little help a lot of good can happen. I’m now in a better position to help others. Before I thought it was up to me, I had to do it all. We went further faster with help. For all our efforts, this was the little miracle we needed.”