By Lauren Miller
The Durham VOICE
With this issue, the VOICE features a Hometown Hero in our community. For her Dedication to her community and family, the VOICE salutes Shelia Huggins.
Pages of Life at Work
Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated, “We are always getting ready to live, but never living.” When speaking with Greenville, N.C. native Shelia Huggins, assistant director for community engagement in Durham, one might jump to a different conclusion.
Huggins’ life is full of many projects, from her life at work to her life at home. Huggins works for the Neighborhood Improvement Services, where she handles projects that require going out into the community. She believes this is the main difference between her current job and her previous job as real estate division manager for general services.
“This job gave me the opportunity to be involved at the ground level as opposed to being in the office,” said Huggins, graduate of North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina School of Law. “It’s a lot more fulfilling when you’re working with people and helping them resolve issues.”
Huggins emphasizes togetherness as a large part of these projects at work.
“Everyone wants the community to be better. Everyone wants children to have opportunities and everybody wants to see the businesses grow,” said Huggins, who has worked with the city of Durham since 2006. “It’s just that sometimes we have different ideas of how that should take place, different ideas of what that process should look like.”
She believes through community engagement people can help facilitate that coming together of ideas so that they can work more efficiently toward that same goal.
Pages of Life at Home
Outside of work, Huggins has completed many projects, including house renovations. She and her husband John have completely renovated their 10-year-old daughter Emerson’s room. They have ripped out the carpet, refinished the floors and put in new electrical outlets. Additionally, they have built a wall of bookshelves in one room.
“I’ve been to book sales and brought boxes of books home,” said Huggins. “Whenever we want to read another book, sometimes we don’t even have to go to the book store—we just go right to that bookshelf.”
She recalled how Stephen King stories were popular when she was growing up. Many times when reading as a child, she could not put the book down.
“A lot of times I was supposed to be cleaning the kitchen, and everyone else would be in bed,” recalled Huggins. “I’d be up at 12 at night reading some book and looking out the window because I’d hear noises, and then finally, eventually I’d clean up the kitchen.”
Huggins grew up in Pitt County, N.C., with two younger sisters. Without brothers in the household, the girls had to do the work inside and outside of the house. She said she grew up liking the outdoors, though—she enjoyed the yard work. Even today, Huggins can be found with a limb cutter, trimming a tree that might be 20 feet tall.
“My husband will be like, ‘What are you doing?’ and I’m like, ‘That’s what you get for buying me something that has a 14-foot reach,’” joked Huggins.
During her childhood, her parents were committed to public service as well. She said seeing them in the community and seeing the work they accomplished, as well as their willingness to get involved with improving residents’ lives, provided the most inspiration and influence for her to also get involved.
Under her parents’ influence, she came to believe that spending time with family and the good you do every day are important in life. “You can say what you want to say, but it’s truly how you live your life and how you treat others that counts,” added Huggins.
Valuing family the most in her life, Huggins has pursued genealogy research as another project when not working. She has tracked relatives back to the 1830s on both of her parents’ sides. Huggins was even able to connect with one relative in New York who explained details about a family member she would never have known otherwise.
Huggins added, “Part of that is what draws me to the position I’m in—that feeling of family—because the way I look at it is the community is really just one big family. You want to do things to help support your family members.”
Pages of Life in Progress
Shelia Huggins’ passion for serving Durham’s one big family is an inspiration for all communities.
With continuous community engagement, Huggins’ work, as well as what she attains from it, is that of an open-ended book. “The learning never ends,” said Huggins. “The big thing is that you have to be open to accept that learning when it comes.”
E.E. Cummings similarly once said, “A good book has no ending.” With caring, dedicated voices such as that of Shelia Huggins, there is no end in sight to the book of community service in Durham—this is just the beginning.