People often ask me how to start a non-profit. The answer is clear: Passion, clear purpose, a powerful mission, and the perseverance to reach out to many and build through tough times – a complicated but effective path. A path not unlike the one a for-profit start-up takes but with one difference. That difference is the coming together of a caring and committed community.
Human Options is the product of just such a caring and committed community of individuals. In the beginning there were only a few of us sharing a passion to help build a community where no woman or child would ever be afraid in her or his own home. All change and growth came from the power of the original passion and the willingness to take risks and grow from nothing.
I began my official role as founding director in October 1981. The trunk of my car was my office. The three co-founders who were our first board of directors and I reached out to people we knew and called groups of people we didn’t know. We had to risk rejection and continue to move to new possibilities. We were energized by the women and children we saw who needed a safe place to stay and counseling to rebuild their lives.
Slowly by talking to small groups of people in our community – informal groups in the home of a friend, meetings of clubs, and churches – we began to build a community of caring. We broke the barrier of lack of education and disbelief that it could happen in our own community. We listened to stories of brave women who had been victims of domestic violence and we began to understand the isolation and intimidation that keep the reality of domestic violence hidden.
I began running the hotline October 18, 1981. In one year we raised $78,000 through donations by our community of caring and foundation grants to open our first small shelter in Laguna Beach. Since 1982 we have grown by listening to our clients, doing formal research to document the effectiveness of our programs, and jumping on new opportunities. Our program has grown from the small shelter to provide safety, healing, and a way forward at our emergency shelter, transitional housing programs, counseling centers, and prevention education programs.
Since 1981 we have served 32,081 clients in our residential and counseling programs and 306,367 in our prevention programs in the community.
We have changed many lives, but mine has perhaps been changed the most. I have been blessed with a lifetime of purpose, work that makes a difference, work that fits my talents, work that I love.
With appreciation to Human Options’ co-founders – Carolyn Churm, founding board president, and Margaret Thoreau and Anne Wright, founding board members. Together we made a difference in 1981, now in 2014, and into the future!
Blog by Vivian Clecak, LSCW, CEO and Co-founder