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Interview with Jennifer Shunn, Executive Director West Georgia Habitat for Humanity

RKR: Tell us a little about your background.

Jennifer: Prior to working with West Ga Habitat for Humanity, my work experience had always been in universities in either enrollment management or development. When my husband and I moved to Carrollton in 2000, I chose to do freelance consultant work to better control my schedule while being a full-time mom. When a position became available at West Ga Habitat, I realized that I had an opportunity to work for an organization where I could really embrace my faith and make a difference in people’s lives. The position with Habitat allowed me to utilize both my employment and life experiences and my education in psychology and public administration. Working for the organization has been a big blessing in my life.

RKR: What excites you about your role at Habitat and how have your responsibilities changed through the years?

Jennifer: For the first 15-20 years, the West Ga Habitat was completely run by volunteers. In 2005, I was hired through a capacity building grant to serve as development director responsible for fundraising. When the grant ended, I became the executive director and maintained the development director responsibilities as well. I really enjoy that the job has many facets. My role as executive director has allowed me the opportunity to work with so many diverse populations, such as raising money with corporations, churches, foundations, civic organizations and individuals. In addition, there is the construction side where I get to work directly with contractors, sub-contractors and laborers both skilled and unskilled which includes all of our wonderful Habitat volunteers. I also serve as a lender and maintain the mortgages for every West Georgia Habitat for Humanity home. Lastly, we have an educational component to the ministry where we work to educate the community about homelessness and about low-income housing through our financial education classes and community awareness. Basically every day is something different in my work.

RKR: What is the most rewarding part of what you do at Habitat?

Jennifer: The most rewarding part of my job is seeing lives change. It's hearing stories from homeowner children how it’s impacted their lives. They might share that it’s the first time they’ve ever been able to have a sleepover, because they couldn't where they lived before. Or it's seeing those kids who moved into a Habitat Home when they were 5 years old now in high school excelling academically or in extracurricular activities. Having a safe, decent place to live changes lives. It builds a foundation for a family and their future. Through Habitat for Humanity’s ministry, we build strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter. One of the most special moments is when we surprise the selected family by asking them one final question, “Would you like to be a Habitat Homebuyer?” When you see tears being shed of joy and hearing people thank God for these blessings, that is the most rewarding part.

RKR: What’s your long-term vision for Habitat?

Jennifer: In the 13 years that I been in the ministry, we have been able to construct 13 new homes and rehabilitated three additional homes. We have just launched a program that is called a home preservation program, which is where we work with families to do critical home repair, weatherization and a ‘brush with kindness’. This new program will hopefully serve at least an additional 6-8 families per year. We are currently raising money to build our first home in the city of Tallapoosa in fall 2019. We are hoping to partner with Auburn's Rural Studio to redesign our current Habitat home plan, which might reduce our overall construction costs, so we could serve more families. Of course West Georgia Habitat for Humanity will always have something else to accomplish because until everyone in Carroll and Haralson Counties has a decent place to live our mission continues.

RKR: Who inspired you to live a life where you are so excited to give back to others?

Jennifer: I was raised in a household that had a very open door policy. My parents would always encourage us to invite other people into our home if they needed a place to stay or just needed a meal. I don't think there were very many times when there was just my immediate family at the dinner table. My parents’ taught us that through faith we are called to use whatever gifts we receive to serve others and to be faithful stewards of God’s grace. I hope I am honoring their memory by sharing that same compassion and love for others that they displayed.

RKR: What are your interests outside of work?

Jennifer: Since my husband, Kevin, and I are both from Wyoming, we love the outdoors and like to get away to go hiking and camping. We enjoy spending time with our family, which has grown in the past year as both of our daughters got married. If I am by myself, I love to read and also like to research new things.

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