Sherry Shannon is a natural leader. She has demonstrated her ability to bring people together to connect and build community as a resident at Aeon.
Even though she was working with a security company, Sherry Shannon and her two sons found themselves homeless. In the 1990s, she learned about an affordable housing program through Aeon, a community development organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that's part of the NeighborWorks network.
When she moved to Aeon, Sherry quickly earned a reputation as a resident leader, because she began organizing ways for residents to connect through social events like BBQs and arts-and-crafts activities for kids.
"When you experience homelessness, you kind of want to reach out to others. You don't want to be by yourself. You want to be around somebody you can talk to," Sherry said.
Over the years, she has continued to grow as a leader. She recently completed a personal empowerment training program, which she says has helped her to develop her leadership skills. She also recently went to the Minnesota state capitol to give testimony about the perils of payday lending, as part of a community effort to create reform.
Sherry is also a leader with the organization Street Voices of Change. "We are an organization for people who are currently or have experienced homelessness to come together and change the system that keeps us homeless," Sherry said.
The group started with about seven or eight members. They now have about 250 members, spread out across four groups, and they are about to open another group. The aim is to give people who have experienced homelessness a voice and a seat at the table where structural decisions are being made.
"It's important for people who have experienced homelessness to have a voice because they understand at a deep level what the problems and needs are, and what should be changed to help people break the cycle," Sherry explained.
For example, Street Voices of Change is working to address shelter policies that hurt residents' efforts to get back on their feet by looking for a job while staying in the shelter. The group is also working on ideas such as providing access to lockers where people can store their belongings, which would be important for people attending job interviews, Sherry said.
Through Street Voices of Change, she is a part of an initiative hoping to develop a community of tiny houses in Minneapolis to provide affordable housing for some of the city's most vulnerable populations. The proposed project, called the Envision Community, would be the first such residential community built in the Midwest. Members of Street Voices of Change are the leading force behind the project. With other potential residents they have been designing and defining the vision.
The tiny houses will be designed to have low barriers to access. The project has gained support from several policymakers, funders and partners. Hennepin Healthcare will provide onsite medical care, and 20 percent of the properties will be reserved for people with chronic illnesses.
"They will be able to move into these tiny houses so that way they can get the services they need," Sherry said. "When you go to the emergency room, and the doctor says you need to go home and get some rest, they can't if they're homeless. Same thing with medication. You can't carry medication when you're homeless out on the street."
Sherry has been part of the team that gives presentations to partners and funders about the housing proposal. She has also helped to write the handbook for the Envision Community. "People were saying that we couldn't make this happen. We are showing that we can," Sherry said.
Cristine Johnson, the resident connections coordinator with Aeon, which nominated Sherry for the Dorothy Richardson Award for Resident Leadership, said Sherry is passionate about being a resident leader.
"When I first met Sherry, I saw her personality and her ability to bring people together just by speaking," Cristine said. "Her energy brings the community together. She's very passionate."
By building community and connecting people, Sherry is helping to create new opportunities for others. "I think that when you have the community involved that ultimately leads to housing stability, and that's what makes it a place called home. That's what brings you happiness in your life," Cristine said.