When the pandemic brought much of the world to a standstill in spring 2020, many people hunkered down and resigned themselves to Netflix and TikTok.

Not Claire.

Instead of bingeing Tiger King, Claire took advantage of her extra free time to take a first-time homebuyers’ class online. To her, “there was no better time to complete it.”

This type of drive isn’t unusual for Claire. She brings a distinct determination to everything she does, whether pursuing a nursing degree, pushing legislators for increased rental assistance, or advocating for fellow families of color at her daughter’s school.

Claire entered EMPath’s programs in 2011. First a resident of Hastings House, EMPath’s large congregate shelter in Brighton, and now in Career Family Opportunity (CFO), our five-year flagship program, Claire has made tremendous progress on her goals and become an advocate for critical basic needs programs.

With support from her EMPath mentors, Claire moved from Hastings into permanent housing in 2013. In 2017, after overcoming a slew of obstacles thrown in her path, Claire completed her degree at one of the most intensive nursing schools in Massachusetts. In October 2021, she passed her board exams and accomplished her long-time goal of becoming a registered nurse.

In the years since leaving shelter, Claire has also gotten married and “watched my daughter grow academically, spiritually, and athletically.” She has worked with EMPath’s Financial Specialist to budget, build her credit, and pay off much of her debt. With the homebuyers’ class now complete, she hopes to buy a home in the near future.

Claire is a steadfast advocate for herself and those around her. “Anything that matters to you, you need to advocate for it,” she says.

Affordable housing is particularly close to her heart. “Something that absolutely grinds my gears is the housing crisis in Massachusetts. Gentrification and rent increases are a major issue. How is a person supposed to stabilize themselves when costs are so high? How can you be self-sufficient when there are weeks you can barely put food on the table?” she says.

“This pandemic should be an eye opener for folks that have the power to change these things. Policymakers need to know what’s going on. The amount of money that is being given for housing assistance is not balancing out with the reality of the cost of living. If rent goes up to $2,100/month and someone is working full-time and barely making $2,100 but only getting $300 in housing assistance, that’s unacceptable. You don’t have to have a degree in quantum physics to know there is a big problem with that math.”

In early 2021, Claire joined EMPath to speak at a lobby day to push for increased funding for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP), which provides subsidies to help families pay rent. “I would like officials to see my journey and see what a difference access to shelter and housing assistance made for me,” she shared at the event. “We need more funding for programs like MRVP, public housing, and other programs to make housing more affordable.”

Claire also sits on a financial council at her local church, participates in an advocacy group with Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA), and is a member of a coalition of families of color in her daughter’s school district. Through that group, she serves as an advocate for fellow families of color to make sure their children are getting the services they need and accompanies parents to school meetings if they don’t want to go alone. “You can’t speak up and you need a meeting because your child isn’t getting what they’re supposed to? With Google and a cup of coffee, I will be there to advocate for you,” she shares proudly. “I’m the one that when I call the school about something wrong, I get a call back within five minutes.”

Claire is grateful for EMPath’s support through many ups and downs over the past decade. “My mentors have been my biggest cheerleaders,” she says. “When you don’t complete a goal, they understand that life happens, that some things are in your control and some aren’t. Mutual respect goes a long way. I hope families in shelter now have awesome mentors like I did and that they succeed.”

Claire’s current mentor, Caroline, says “Claire embodies Mobility Mentoring®.”

“Claire has shown immense resilience and has navigated obstacles, barriers, and systems. I’m grateful to work with her and I tell her that frequently. At this point in her journey in CFO, she writes goals on her own and sends them to me. That’s our long-term goal for everyone we work with at EMPath. Claire is a constant reminder of why I do this work.”

Claire hopes to graduate from CFO in the coming year. In the long-term, she may consider a law degree. But for now, she says, “I have found peace and happiness in my life. I have high hopes for the future.”

“A lot of people, before they hear of EMPath, they’re not aware there’s a support system that’s there for them. Many people are so used to facing challenges on their own. But there is support out there. You don’t have to figure out things on your own.”