After growing up in Chatham, Shawnaci Schroeder spent eight years living in Missouri - four years attending Truman State and another four years working in Kirksville.
But when her husband Brady’s job as a State Farm insurance agent brought the couple back to Sangamon County and Chatham, Shawnaci was excited and now has no plans to leave again. “I have five siblings and my niece here, and my parents live a few minutes away; when we decided to move back, we knew we were staying,” she says.
Finding a passion for working with individuals with disabilities after college, Shawnaci now serves as Central Illinois Respite Director for a Chicago-based agency supporting people with developmental disabilities in 18 Illinois counties. Her primary role is to connect state agencies, special education teachers and families affected by disability to assist with resources and financial support.
Shawnaci has also developed a personal brand on social media as a fashion influencer, which has grown and is now taking her to major events across the U.S, like New York’s Fashion Week.
Traveling for both her full-time job and her side gig has only made her appreciate Sangamon County even more.
“I see a lot of other cities, and access to destinations in Springfield is so easy; the max you have to drive is a half hour,” Shawnaci says. “It’s really easy to pop downtown, and you’re not wasting your time traveling and sitting in traffic.
“I also love that you know someone everywhere you go. I can go to the grocery store and probably see someone I know. As you continue to grow your circle of friends, you know people at most events or activities too.”
In fact, Shawnaci enjoys living in the Springfield area so much that she’s become invested in growing the community of younger generations in the area and connecting young adults, particularly women.
Most recently, Shawnaci helped start a Springfield area chapter of SheFactor, a Denver-based organization focused on helping women build a fulfilling life and career. The first local SheFactor meeting in January at Papo’s Cafe had around 55 attendees; Shawnaci says each month’s gathering will have a different focus and different community partners/sponsors.
“It’s almost like a blend between Girl Scouts and a sorority,” she explains. “It’s been so fun because there are so many people who need community in our age range.”
Shawnaci says she recognizes there may be a general perception from her peers that there isn’t enough to do in Springfield, so she’s working to change that by promoting all that the area has to offer.
“It can be easy to just stay home, but I’d love to see more people exploring new interests. Most events in Springfield are extremely low cost and easy to get to,” she says.
“I have a heart for downtown because it’s so vibrant and there is a lot going on. There is so much to do in Springfield, and I really appreciate that even more when I go to other places. I love all of the different restaurants and trying new food. Springfield offers a small-town feel but is big, so there are always opportunities to create new relationships, new growth, new businesses.”
Shawnaci encourages young adults to consider moving to - or back to - the Springfield area after completing their education, “not just for work opportunities but because of the community we have.” Through her involvement, she hopes to provide and promote different avenues for people to connect.
“I’m so passionate about building the community I’m in because I want to be here forever,” she says.