This week, we spoke with Claire Clurman, executive director of Attention Homes, located in Boulder, Colorado. Claire has been with Attention Homes for almost nine years and has led the organization for the last three and a half years.
1. Tell us about you and your organization and the social change you are trying to achieve.
“At Attention Homes, our vision is to provide every young person with a safe place to live and the attention they need to thrive. The social change we seek is serving youth in crisis, trying to transition them from a life of instability—whether they’re dealing with out-of-home placement or actually living on the streets or in a very unstable living situation—trying to remove the barriers that prevent them from pursuing education, employment, well-being and permanent connections so they can become independent and self-sufficient young adults in their community.
“I’ve always had a great passion for nonprofits and specifically youth, whether serving on the board of an arts community that provided various art programs to youth, or an agency that provides substance use education and prevention, or serving as the executive director on an education foundation in California—I have always been passionate about serving the community, especially young people, and providing opportunities to those who lack access to them based only on how they came into the world.”
2. What keeps you inspired and going when things get tough?
“The young people we serve keep me inspired—their resilience in the face of incredible odds and barriers is just remarkable. When they don’t lose hope, neither should we. I also take a lot of inspiration from our staff who work directly with the young people—these staff are not well paid and they do this work because they want to see change in the world. They have so much compassion for the young people they serve. It’s hard not to be infused with that hope. Recently, we’ve gone through a difficult community engagement process to get some housing built for homeless folks. Our supporters and our community provided such an essential safety network of encouragement and hope around the work that we do and they lift us up.”
3. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to break new ground in a traditional field?
“Be true to yourself, know your values. If you don’t take the time to really think about the values you want to live by, do take the time to explore what your strengths and weaknesses are, and don’t be afraid to take risks. I’ve heard recently this great phrase: ‘There’s a great marriage between success and failure. You can’t have one without the other.’ That’s incredibly important, when trying to break into a new field, to not be afraid, to be willing to take risks, to learn from mistakes, and eventually you’ll land in a place where you’re supposed to be.”
4. What book do you recommend to everyone you meet and why?
“Being in the field I am, a book I encourage others to pick up is called An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. It’s a book about managing bipolar depression on its face, but it’s just an incredible book about learning to live with a mental illness and how to live a very fulfilled life with it. Whether you or someone you know struggles with mental health, it’s a beautifully written book that provides hope, strategy and clarity and focuses on how you can lead a very full and fulfilling life even when you struggle with certain barriers.”
5. How have you worked with Joining Vision and Action (JVA), and how has that helped your organization?
“We have worked with JVA with social enterprise consulting. It helped to focus our team on filtering down a lot of ideas that we had and providing some concrete structure and professional business planning around the effort. While we still have a long ways to go, it was really instrumental to be able to work with Adam Brock, in particular—he has a wealth of experience and was also really helpful in facilitating us through our decision-making, information-gathering and research process, in such a way that we emerged with what we feel is going to be really the best fit for us (this supportive housing project that we’re developing). We emerged with an earned income business strategy that would be the best fit and provide the most community benefit in terms of attaining our mission, while also being a viable business opportunity (in our neighborhood, in particular).”
6. What else would you want to share with us that we haven’t asked?
“I feel it is so critical to have organizations like JVA that are able to provide nonprofit business consulting and collaborative opportunities with other service partners because the nonprofit world is always locked in ongoing budget struggles … not being able to hire a certain level of expertise—lacking the sustainability to maintain those kinds of salaries and build it into nonprofits’ ongoing budgets—is a main constraint in this field. So, to be able to collaborate with JVA and tap their expertise is of immense benefit to us.”