Shultzie Willows has always been on the move. She was born in Maine, but lived all over the country, including spending some teenage years in Bellingham. Her career has taken some twists and turns as well.
Originally, she wanted to get into children’s television. She had an idea for a kid’s show, and her dream was to create it. She worked for several television organizations in New York, Ohio, San Francisco, then, finally back to Washington. Then, the first twist.
“I wanted to have a different project to bite into for a while,” Willows said. She started thinking about opening a retail store.
“There was no Etsy at the time,” she said, “and I was so obsessed with the craft and maker movement.”
So she moved back to Bellingham to open The Paperdoll, a fashion boutique. She worked with other business owners to put on events downtown and raise money for local nonprofits, which is when she first got connected with Lydia Place, a local organization that supports homeless families.
After five years, she burned out running the store.
“I felt like the store itself had run its course,” she said. “And so it was time for something new.”
She closed the store. Then she had her daughter.
“I decided I didn’t want to go back into retail,” she said. “I really wanted to focus my energy here in my community.”
So in 2013 she got a job at Lydia Place as the community engagement director. The organization was growing rapidly, and what started as a 15-hour a week job grew into a passion and full-time job for Willows.
“I feel really lucky,” she said. “I feel like I’ve always been looking for something that would fill up my heart, and also be able to utilize every tool, every skill set I have.”
She said she feels like her entire career has been leading up to her work at Lydia Place. She’s always wanted to reach children. It’s just now, she said, she feels like she’s doing that much more directly.
“Though it seems like it’s a bit of a distance between what I’ve done and what I’m doing, to me it just seems like I’m getting more to the heart of what I was trying to do in the first place.”
Shultzie Willows is one of this year’s winners of the Top 7 Under 40 Award. Click here to read about the rest of the winners.