Meet the breadwinner
SnowCap's Kirsten Wageman is not only her family's breadwinner, she's helping to put food on tables across East Multnonah County
For some working mothers, the separation between home and office is concrete, like trading one hat for another.
Not so for Kirsten Wageman, program development manager for SnowCap Community Charities in Gresham.
Work stuff, church stuff and life stuff it all kind of flows, she said from her office tucked upstairs above SnowCap's crowded waiting room, clothes closet and food pantry.
But what else do you expect from a woman who grew up volunteering for the same organization she now works for? The same nonprofit agency her mother, Lorie Wageman, former assistant director, spent 25 years with before retiring last November. Wageman even inherited her mother's desk.
While growing up in Portland's Parkrose neighborhood, Wageman recalls helping her mom put address labels on SnowCap newsletters and helping with food drives.
I started out carrying heavy things in the warehouse in high school, Wageman said.
After graduating from Parkrose High School in 1996, she found herself working on and off for the charity that provides food and clothes for East Multnomah County residents while studying communications at Southern Oregon University.
From summer job to career
Wageman remembers how it all began the summer after her freshman year of college when she was startled awake one afternoon by a phone call from her mother.
How's the job search going? Mom asked.
I'm working on it, Wageman said, rolling over in bed.
We have an opening, and you're going to interview for it, Mom replied. Get dressed. And don't embarrass me.
Wageman got the job. The rest is history.
I was hooked, she said. It feels so rewarding to help people. It's really satisfying to come to work.
She went back to college for her sophomore year and ended up creating a holiday toy drive for SnowCap as part of her practicum. Today more than 1,200 children get a Christmas present thanks to her creation.
Next, she created a fall school supply drive.
She also created SnowCap's mobile food pantry, which overcomes low-income families' lack of transportation by bringing food to schools and apartment complexes. Every month, 700 are served through this program.
I really love programs, she said. She thrives on the creativity, planning, organizing and launching needed to get a program off the ground before handing it off to someone else to carry on.
After getting her bachelor's degree, she went to graduate school at Portland State University. While earning her master's degree in public administration with an emphasis in nonprofit management, she worked at SnowCap as the client services manager.
The agency was seeing a sudden influx of residents from Oaxaca, Mexico, so through a partnership with El Programa Hispano, Wageman traveled to Oaxaca as a sort of cultural exchange. She wanted to know how to better serve SnowCap clients by seeing where they were from.
She ended up staying in Oaxaca for two years. Although she didn't study Spanish in college, she did take high school Spanish and ended up becoming fluent in the language during her two years in Oaxaca.
After returning to Oregon, Wageman got a job working for the Portland Housing Authority managing public housing sites in East Multnomah County. Once again, she was back in Rockwood, just minute away from SnowCap.
Through work, she met a housing inspector named David Hohnstein. Despite a 24-year-age difference she is 34 and he's 58 they fell in love and got married eight years ago.
Their family now includes three daughters Goldie, 7, Ruby, 6, and Violet, 7 months.
When Goldie was born, Wageman quit her job to stay home while her husband supported the family.
Now, their roles have been reversed.
An old spinal injury created increasing numbness in her husband's feet. He's prone to falls and uses a motorized scooter to get around. Three years ago, he officially became medically disabled.
Luckily, Wageman honed her skills as a grant writer and even did some contract work for SnowCap while she was home with her children. As her husband's disability intensified and he began working less, she picked up more hours at SnowCap. Now she works 30 hours a week in the office fundraising, securing donations and organizing the agency's annual action, its major fundraiser that brought in $94,000 this year.
Funding sources are increasingly competitive, she said. But we have a broad base of support. We get no government funding, and 73 percent of our income is from individual donors.
Clients include the working poor, elderly, disabled and often children. SnowCap estimates that children make up 63 percent of those it serves.
With Wageman now the breadwinner and her husband staying home with the girls, they have switched roles.
He's amazing with the kids, she said. And if I can't stay at home, I feel very much at home here.
I am so lucky and blessed to have a flexible job to be able to be at home when I need to be.
So how does the family get by on one income?
We live simply, she said. They live in Portland's Lents area, where their house includes a closet devoted to canning supplies. It's a hobby Wageman loves that has her preserving everything from tomatoes to apple sauce to jam during the summer and fall months.
We also have a community of friends and family who help us, she said. A neighbor helps by driving Ruby to preschool, allowing Wageman's husband to avoid the school's flight of stairs that he has difficulty navigating.
We couldn't do it alone, just like at SnowCap, she said. It's a community effort.
That spirit of pitching in and helping out is one she's instilling in her daughters. The family goes to Parkrose Community United Church of Christ, which recently merged with Eastminster Presbyterian Church, where a warming shelter for homeless families is based at 12505 N.E. Halsey St.
Wageman volunteers at the church. So do her two oldest daughters.
They help serve dinner to families at the church's shelter, which is operated by volunteers with help from Human Solutions.
Her children are also a huge help at home with their father, and with everyday duties many mothers tend to take on themselves. The household motto: Everybody does what they can do.
And for Wageman, that's a lot.
But she's quick to point out one thing.
I am not superwoman, she said. I get so much back more back than I give.Add a comment