‘Mama Bear’ Focuses on Helping Others
Shakira Kazmer Quintana’s official title at Alaska Housing is a long one. On paper, she is the Family Investment Center Housing Program Supervisor I for Fairbanks. But Shakira had a much shorter definition when asked how she describes her role.
“I tend to take on the title ‘Mama Bear,’” she says. “I just try to make sure my staff is taken care of and that we’re doing everything we can for the people we’re here to serve.”
That drive to care for others has been put to good use in her time with Alaska Housing.
After spending two years working with older adults and people with disabilities at AHFC’s Southall Manor, Golden Ages and Spruce Park public housing facilities, Shakira accepted her current role of overseeing the Housing Choice Voucher program in Fairbanks in 2022. That includes voucher programs for some of Alaska’s most at-risk individuals, such as youths leaving foster care, homeless veterans, or families displaced by domestic violence or sexual assault.
“I think the main thing is helping people,” she says. “There is a need, especially for people with disabilities and those managing mental health issues. Just because someone can’t express what they need doesn’t mean they should just be left out in the cold. Once you get past some of the barriers many people face, you see how fulfilling this work is.”
It wasn’t exactly the type of job Shakira thought she would have. Born in South Dakota, she lived in a variety of different locations, including Kansas, California and New York City. She met her husband in Colorado and one day he asked her, “Do you want to move to Alaska?” So, they sold their house and moved to Fairbanks.
“I had climbed the corporate ladder already. Once the company I was working for did a huge layoff, it deflated me. It was especially hard seeing all of my hard-working employees being laid off with me and all I could do was give them a good reference. I just want to work now to help others.”
– Shakira Kazmer Quintana, AHFC’s Family Investment Center Housing Program Supervisor I for Fairbanks
With a background in real estate and property management, she was a perfect fit for Alaska Housing. While the vouchers are one part of her responsibilities, Shakira also manages work order calls for public housing facilities in Fairbanks, making sure the maintenance team is aware of issues. In addition to working with Alaska Housing residents, she collaborates with landlords and community nonprofit organizations to assist Fairbanks residents facing homelessness.
Shakira admits seeing people who are facing challenges can be difficult. Those times when she can’t help them can be hard. But mostly she finds the work incredibly rewarding, particularly when she’s making a difference for her community.
Taking the Time to Help
Recently, Shakira was able to help a youth who had just aged out of foster care find an apartment of their own. As a teenager in the foster system, they hadn’t been prepared for living on their own – things like going grocery shopping, paying bills or looking for a job were new experiences.
“This young person didn’t know how to be an adult,” Shakira says. “So, I took some extra time and we talked about things, gave some advice and information, and now this individual knows there’s a resource available to them.”
It was a small gesture, but a meaningful one. For both of them.
“Seeing those success stories, those smiles on their faces, that makes everything worth the while.”
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