Getting to know your neighbor
Erin Callahan is the community development director for the village of Los Lunas.
Erin Callahan has been the community development director for the village of Los Lunas for nearly eight years. She lives in Albuquerque, and has three children, Sebastian, Nick and Owen Chavez. Her father, stepmom, brother, sister-in-law and nephews also live in Albuquerque. Her mom lives in Indiana. She has a very large extended family scattered throughout the United States. She is one of 20 cousins on her dad’s side, and eight on her mom’s side, with many with children of their own.
Q: What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?
A: “Often about home improvement or craft projects I am working on or want to start. I’ve been improving a small dirt backyard by rearranging some paving stones, laying ground cover, and I just finished landscaping a tiny corner of the yard.
“I make my own clothes so I think about patterns a lot. Sometimes, I just think about all the things I have to schedule for the week which is not very exciting.”
Q: What’s a myth about your profession you’d like to bust?
A: “My profession is city planner, but after working for local government for almost eight years it’s also government employee, and I think a myth about the government is that it exists by itself. The government is just a set of rules that we have agreed on through our representative democracy, and a group of people who work to either enforce or update those rules.
Erin Callahan and her boyfriend, Braden, in New York City in June 2022.
“It’s not always a perfect system with rules that work for everyone, but there is lots of opportunity to be one of the people who works to help people understand the rules that are being enforced, and if the rules aren’t working for everyone to change the outdated rules.”
Q: What were you like in high school?
A: “When I was in high school, I felt like I was very awkward and shy until my junior year at least but, looking back, I was a little nerdy but outgoing and liked to try new things.
“I played the violin until I was 16, and I did track and swimming and, when I was old enough to drive, I went out to local punk and ska shows, and I did a lot of swing dancing and ballroom dancing.”
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?
A: “My dad has given me lots of advice about personal finances, all of which is great. The best and most obvious one is, ‘Try not to have any credit card debt.’ That interest really adds up!”
Q: What did you want to be when you grew up?
A: “I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was a kid. I used to think I wanted to do something with math, but I really struggled with calculus and then lost interest.
“I was a very good student but I didn’t feel like high school gave me any idea of what kind of jobs were out there, so when I went to college the first time, I ended up dropping out. I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I was 26.”
Q: Who inspires you?
A: “My kids! I have a 13, 16 and 18 year old. My younger two just finished their school years, and did a great job despite the fact that virtual school during COVID was a huge setback for them. I don’t know how I would have managed it at their age.
“My oldest is one of the most focused people I have ever met, and will be attending the Naval Academy starting this summer.”
All three of Erin Callahan’s children are, from left, Owen, Sebastian and Nick.
Erin with her oldest son, Sebastian, at his graduation in May.
Q: If you could work any other job for one day, what would it be and why?
A: “Anything with my hands that is not in front of a computer. I love the opportunities afforded to me by my job but once I leave for the day I can hardly even look at a personal email. I would love to do landscaping and prune trees and shrubs all day. It would be great to be outside all day, climb trees sometimes, and also pruning trees and shrubs is just so rewarding.”
Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: “Sewing, and lots of it. I run almost every day, at least two miles in the morning, and longer trail runs on the weekends. Lots of cooking. Constant yard work and home improvement projects. In the evening, relaxing with my kids and my boyfriend and to watch a good show.
“If I have a whole free day, I like to go on a long hike. Mostly, I try to avoid looking at a computer because I am on a computer all the time for work.”
Q: What’s something about you most people don’t know?
A: “I teach at UNM School of Architecture and Planning from time to time, and this past spring semester, I co-taught a studio class for planning, architecture and landscape architecture students with two other professors.
“The students worked on a resilience plan for wildfire prone areas, and they worked hard and did a really excellent job. Six of my eight planning students just graduated!”
Erin Callahan and her UNM planning graduate students in May 2023.
Q: What three books would you to take to a deserted island?
A: “‘Imagica,’ by Clive Barker. ‘Black Leopard, Red Wolf,’ by Marlon James. Both are horror/fantasy books. And the ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ series, by Rick Riordan.
“Yes, that’s five books but they are pretty short so I’m going to sneak them in! I read a lot of serious books about social issues, and I also love books about doomed journeys (like ‘A Perfect Storm’ or ‘Into Thin Air’) and I just don’t think that’s what I would want to read if I were stranded on a deserted island.”
Q: You find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
A: “I would pay off my house and my car, put some money in savings, and make sure my family have their debts paid off as well.
Q: Who is your best friend and why?
A: “Probably my boyfriend, Braden, since we like the same things and spend lots of time together! I’ve never had a consistent best friend since I was about 10 years old. As an adult, I just have different, really good friends.”
Q: What’s your favorite song to sing when you’re alone?
A: “I sing all the time to every song I hear. Lately, I’ve been singing along with ‘Tall, Tall Trees’ by Alan Jackson. I’ve always liked singing Marc Cohn, Peter Gabriel, St. Lucia, The Lonely Island … it’s a real mixed bag!
“In addition to singing, I also like to whistle movie themes, especially ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Jurassic Park.’”
Q: Where is your happy place, and why?
A: “Winsor Trail in the Pecos Wilderness. Over the past 25 years, I’ve hiked this trail many times into the Pecos on Winsor from the Santa Fe Ski Area, and also up from Jack’s Creek on the Pecos side. It’s just the most beautiful trail with creeks and streams and lush vegetation. It’s very long so you can get to several alpine lakes and connect to get up to a lot of high peaks.”
Q: Have you had a life-changing experience that led you to where you are today?
A: “Yes, oddly enough a career placement test at UNM Career Services. Once I had kids and realized I was not very employable at 26 years old, my mom recommended that I go take a career placement test to get an idea of what to go to school for. That test matched me to landscape architecture, which led me to an intro class in the School of Architecture and Planning, which led me to learn what city planning was and realize it was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Not just the test but having a career that I love have all been life-changing!”
Q: What teacher had the greatest impact on you?
A: “Professor Claudia Isaac from the Community and Regional Planning Program at UNM. I took several classes from Professor Isaac and she was also my thesis chair for my master’s degree.
Erin Callahan’s dogs, Percy and Xena.
“She is very involved in civil rights and affordable housing issues, and also has a great teaching style that allows for the class to discuss and learn together. She was tough but fair with me on my thesis and I have always appreciated her guidance.”
Q: What is your favorite movie scene and why?
A: “Nearly every scene from ‘Battleship,’ one of the best and most underrated movies ever made, but especially the scene where they get the USS Missouri ready to go fight the aliens after being a museum for so many years.
“It’s my favorite because the old veterans teach the young sailors how to use the old technology, and because all the veterans in the scene are actual veterans who served on the USS Missouri in real life. How cool is that? And it’s an awesome ship in general.”
Q: If you could have dinner with one famous person — dead or alive — who would it be and why?
A: “Tom Waits. Music legend. One of my favorite musicians ever, with a really unique career, so it would be amazing to talk about his music and also he seems like a funny and down-to-earth guy.”
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: “I’m most proud of my kids for just growing up to be awesome people, and for setting goals and achieving them.
For my own achievements, I am proud to be here working for the village of Los Lunas. I would have never seen myself with a career like this when I was 18, and I know I am lucky to be doing something I love in a great community.”
Q: How would you like to be remembered?
A: “Helpful, patient and good at explaining things. I like to help people build their own capacity, whether that is through parenting or managing my team at work or building an understanding of regulations with community members, or sometimes teaching the next generation of city planners over at UNM.
“I get to interact with a lot of people in my daily life, and I hope they all walk away feeling like I helped them understand something better.”
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