Last year, we started a project to reintroduce you to the Habitat Oregon team. To round out the Q-and-As, we have Executive Director Shannon Vilhauer. Let’s hear directly from Shannon:
I like to say that I’ve grown up professionally working for Habitat for Humanity. Way back in October of 1999, I began serving as a VISTA Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in Salem, little knowing what the future would bring. Next month marks my ninth anniversary serving as the Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Oregon. I continue to feel blessed to serve in this role. The staff team at Habitat Oregon is extremely capable, committed and caring. I honestly believe that we have the best Board of Directors in the universe. This group of leaders includes both local Habitat Executive Directors and regional and statewide leaders who bring amazing skills, perspectives and connections to our shared work. This organization has evolved tremendously since I first walked into our then-office space, located above the preschool at First Presbyterian Church in Salem. As many of you know, I have enthusiastically embraced our role in helping to mobilize our Oregon Habitat for Humanity network in support of key legislation at the state and national levels. It has been so exciting to see our Board, staff team and Oregon affiliate leadership lean into a shared, enhanced understanding of diversity, equity, inclusion and active anti-racism. I see my role as preparing our organization to grow in capacity to support and serve Oregon affiliates’ ability to provide homeownership and repair support at the local community level. What I have learned is that we are capable of so much together — more than I imagined was even possible when I first stepped into this role.
Tell us a little about yourself:
Shannon Vilhauer (she/her) joined Habitat for Humanity of Oregon as the Executive Director in 2013. This organization provides all 24 Oregon Habitat for Humanity affiliates with support in four key areas: advocacy, training and technical assistance, grant and loan funding opportunities, and disaster resilience. Under her leadership, Habitat Oregon became a certified CDFI in 2018. Prior to joining the statewide team she worked at the local Habitat affiliate level for over 13 years, first in Salem and later in Portland. Shannon actively participates in the Homeownership and Asset Building Workgroup of the Oregon Housing Alliance and serves as Secretary for the Alliance of Habitat Affiliate Support Organizations. Her education includes an MA in Philosophy from the University of Oregon. She is the proud mom of a first-grader and enjoys spending as much time as possible enjoying the outdoors with family and friends. She currently resides in Salem.
What is your favorite to see or do in Oregon?
One of the many things I love about living in Salem is our close proximity to the Oregon Coast. I have always found joy and peace at the coast — especially along the stretch that runs from Lincoln City to Newport. I love to kayak and have even surfed ocean waves with my sea kayak on occasion. One of my goals for 2022 is to pursue my passion for paddling with greater frequency. Having grown up primarily in Ohio, I have a healthy respect for the sheer beauty of this state. My family moved to Oregon during my sophomore year in college. When I went back to campus in Ohio, I invented an imaginary mountain friend. Yearning for amazing views, I pretended it was in the same spot each day — typically behind clouds.
What is a recent book, podcast or movie/TV show that you would recommend to others?
During the pandemic, I frequently turn to The Great British Baking Show for comfort. Usually, I try to eat a snack first. I love watching British people compete for things. They do it so politely! Plus, what they bake is amazing! While spending more time at home, I’ve significantly picked up my baking game.
What does home mean to you?
For me, home is the quiet center. It’s a place to recharge and become attuned to my own, sometimes quiet inner voice. It’s the place where I get to spend the morning snuggling alongside my amazing just-turned 7-year-old and our very ornery 2-year-old chihuahua. It’s a place to relax and recover from stress and harm. It’s the site of celebrations and the place from which our small family creates LEGO builds, art projects, baked goods, lots of grilled cheese sandwiches and joy. For the past two years, it’s been where I wake up and go to work. Last year, it was the site of my son’s full, Mandarin immersion kindergarten — thanks to daily help from his grandpa, my dad. Home has always been of central importance to me. I love decorating our home — and I’m fascinated by home construction and maintenance technology. I love sharing the amazing opportunity to enjoy a stable and quiet center — and am still amazed by the transformational capacity of Habitat homeownership and wealth-building opportunities. Home means more than ever during this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and my heart aches for those who are struggling without access to a quiet center.
What’s a highlight from your time with Habitat Oregon so far?
I can think of more than one. I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to travel to Nepal in November of 2019. The Habitat Oregon Board of Directors approved my going out on a limb: designating half of the largest tithe we’ve ever been able to give to support international advocacy work. We earmarked $20,000 to support Habitat Nepal’s efforts to advocate for women to have the right to own real estate for the first time in the nation’s history. Their efforts speedily came to fruition, and the practice is increasingly common nationwide — beyond Habitat homeowners. Susan Yow from Habitat International’s Tithe Department reached out at the last minute to invite me to participate in an Executive Build in Nepal. My expedited passport arrived just in time. It was an amazing experience. I loved every moment and feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel and make new friends literally on the other side of the globe. Thinking about it warms my heart.
What are you looking forward to most for the next year (Habitat, personal, or both)?
There is so much I’m looking forward to with Habitat for Humanity of Oregon in the year ahead! Right now, 30 participants from 15 affiliates and two members of our Habitat Oregon team are participating in HEAL: Habitat Equity Academy for Leaders. Our first-in-the-nation, statewide homeowner advisory council is in its formative stages. Later this month, we’ll learn whether our application to serve as a Fiduciary Organization for the Oregon IDA Initiative has been approved. Even as I write these words, the affordable home production and repair programs we’ve advocated so hard for are getting closer to coming online. This is truly a time for our network to prepare for an unprecedented influx of financial resources, which is why we’re partnering with George Myers to generate an Oregon-specific affiliate capacity-building toolkit. It truly feels like we have been planting and watering seeds of tremendous potential. Now, we’re preparing for the harvest. It’s joyful work.