Like anyone who runs a small independent business and has young children, Shannon Burhans stays very busy. Paid vacations are hard to come by. When her young children aren’t in school, they’re probably with her—and need rides to sports or gymnastics practices.
That would be enough for most people, but not Burhans, who for the last seven years has run The eState, a jewelry, memorabilia and antiques shop in Portage, with her husband Dave. Throughout those years, the 38-year-old mother of two also volunteered for a dizzying array of positions in four organizations: the Portage Chamber of Commerce, the Portage Kiwanis club, Safe Sitter and the Portage Parks and Recreation Foundation.
“I really enjoy doing community service,” says Burhans, who’s originally from Schererville and went to Lake Central High School. Last year, she was named “Distinguished Club President” by Kiwanis International, which is dedicated to “changing the world, one child and one community at a time.” Burhans is the immediate past-president of the Portage club. She’s also served as the club’s secretary and vice-president, and is currently chair of its membership committee.
She also coordinates the club’s Dictionary Project, which she created while serving as vice president in 2006. Each year, the club fundraises to purchase dictionaries that are given to all third graders in Portage Township schools. “Most of us have the internet, so you wouldn’t think a dictionary would be such a big deal,” says Burhans, who lives in Portage. But children like having their own dictionary. “Every one of those kids is extremely grateful—they’re using it, they’re interested.”
Burhans, whose children are age 7 and 10, is also the Portage coordinator for Safe Sitters, a national organization dedicated to teaching young adults 11 and up how to be responsible babysitters. “It was fairly selfish at first,” she acknowledges with a laugh. “When I had kids, it was really difficult to find someone you trusted to babysit. That was the original theory behind it.” Since she created the Portage program four years ago, it has graduated 35 people. Classes are held once every three months, depending on need; Burhans has certified sitters herself.
Co-owner and manager
3101 Willowcreek Rd.
Of course, if she can’t find a sitter, as small business owners she and her husband have been able to bring the kids to work. “We definitely enjoyed that flexibility, of being able to have our kids around,” she says. But the flip side of that flexibility is financial instability. “When you own a business, sometimes everything else comes before your paycheck,” she says. “That’s definitely the hard part.”
But after seven years in business, The eState has found its niche. Sales have increased more than 300 percent during the last few years, largely due to a more visible location (on Willowcreek Road) and a lucrative gold and silver market (the store is not a pawn shop, but does buy gold and silver coins and jewelry). The business’ growth was likely helped along by Burhans’ presence in the Portage Chamber of Commerce, to which The eState belongs. She sat on the Chamber’s board for four years and served as chair of the organization’s Ambassador Committee, which welcomed new businesses to the community and taught them how to network.
Joy Lundstrom, who has volunteered alongside Burhans in the Kiwanis club, says Burhans has offered great leadership and insights to the organization. “She’s got a loving heart and has everyone’s best interests at heart,” says Lundstrom, a Valparaiso resident. “She’s a forward thinker. I don’t know how she does it—she’s just everywhere.”
Indeed, Burhans is also vice president of the Portage Parks and Recreation Foundation, and somehow finds time to coach gymnastics at Lisa’s Gymnastics in Portage. Her team won 2nd place in USA Gymnastics’ Indiana competition in 2009, and 3rd place this year.
The secret to balancing her business, family and community service, says Burhans, is a support system. “With all of the stuff that I do, and for anybody that’s thinking of starting a business, you have to make sure you have a great support system,” she says. “We’re a husband and wife duo. We both have to make sacrifices” to balance family and business. The crucial thing, she says, is “having somebody you trust, who has your back, when you need to be out doing something else.”