20 Under 40: Kristen Lillie fights for affordable housing
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Kristen Lillie does not like to stay too long in one place.
When she sat down for her interview for this award, Lillie had just left her position as director of marketing and a patient advocate at the Steamboat Emergency Center to pursue a personal marketing venture. She did not want to offer any details just yet.
As Lillie explained, ever since a childhood trip to Japan, an insatiable wanderlust has instilled in her a curiosity to seek new cultures and adventures.
That mindset gave her no shortage of experiences and passions to discuss, which ranged from a stint as the manager of a surf board shop in the Virgin Islands to a leadership role advocating for the recent West Steamboat Neighborhoods annexation.
“I have never seen anyone quite so active and connected to our local community,” Jennifer Greco, a former coworker at the Emergency Center, said of Lillie.
Born and raised near Detroit, Lillie attended Grand Valley State University on the opposite end of Michigan, near the state’s namesake lake. A student of hospitality and tourism management, she secured a position at Steamboat Resort, before she even graduated, in 2008.
Less than a month after her last class, Lillie packed her things and moved to the mountain town she fell in love with as a kid during family vacations.
Name: Kristen Lillie
Profession: Self-employed, former marketing director for Steamboat Emergency Center
Education: Bachelor of Arts in hospitality/tourism management, Grand Valley State University
She quickly pursued leadership opportunities within the community, joining the Young Professionals Network in 2009.
The next year, she left the resort and started work at the Yampa Valley Bank, specializing in loan administration. She also got involved in many of their volunteer programs.
But by 2012, the travel bug was biting. Lillie left the bank and moved to Seattle to work for a hospitality company, which put her degree to use.
In 2014, she moved to Switzerland to help take care of her sister’s children. Situated in the middle of the continent, she sought every opportunity to visit new places.
“I would use that as my station point and spend four, five, six days in different cities and countries,” she said.
The start of her next adventure, according to Lillie, went something like this:
“A friend of mine was like, ‘Let’s move to the Virgin Islands,’ so I did that,” Lillie said.
Though island life treated her well — particularly because she managed a chain of surf shops — Lillie craved the mountains around Steamboat and the community within.
She returned in 2016 with a job at a butcher and delicatessen that specialized in providing gourmet meats to high-end restaurants in town. Two years later, she got stir-crazy again and took a job at the Emergency Center, where she did in-patient registration. In just a month, Lillie took over the company’s marketing department and patient advocacy services.
There, she helped people navigate the often stressful and confusing realm of health care, helping families find ways to afford treatments.
While the work was meaningful, her proudest contribution to Steamboat happened outside the office.
During the recent — and highly contentious — affordable housing initiative, Lillie advocated for the annexation of West Steamboat Neighborhoods. She campaigned with Yes to Locals’ Housing Committee, helping with advertising initiatives and going door-to-door to garner support.
“I have seen so many young professionals leave town because they can’t afford to stay here or raise a family,” Lillie said of her motivation for joining the campaign.
In late June, voters approved the annexation in a special election. Michael Marchand, a project coordinator for West Steamboat Neighborhoods, said Lillie played an instrumental role in the campaign.
“This is a shining demonstration of someone committed to paving the way for the future of Steamboat,” she said of Lillie.
As Lillie put it, growth and changes are inevitable to Steamboat.
“I just want the changes to be positive for this amazing little mountain town,” she said.
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