There are two things Claire Phinney is drawn to professionally: education and advocacy. So, when the family education director position at Families First Children’s Museum opened late this summer, it intrigued her. “It’s the kind of work I feel really passionate about,” she says. After applying and getting the job, it’s proving to be a great fit. Helping people doing one of the toughest jobs there is—parenting—is especially rewarding for Claire because she loves making life easier for others. “It’s something that makes me happy,” she says.
Claire, a Seattle-area native with deep roots in Montana comes from “a family of helpers.” With an undergraduate degree in early childhood education and development (and later a master’s degree in human development with an emphasis on conflict transformation and nonprofit leadership), she started her career as a preschool teacher. Although she loved the job, she realized she could have even greater reach outside of a school. “I wanted to have an impact on more than just a classroom of kids,” she says.
That led her to nonprofit work, where she was first employed as the program development coordinator/tribal liaison for Washington Association of CASA/GAL Programs and then as the educational advocacy regional coordinator/curriculum development specialist by Treehouse for Kids, which is an organization dedicated to helping foster children. After moving to Missoula, where she’s lived for more than 9 years, she also served as executive director of WORD (Women’s Opportunity & Resource Development). These positions have prepared her well to take our parenting programs to the next level.
Many people are surprised to learn that assisting parents is at the core of Families First’s mission. Our children’s museum first opened in 2002, eight years after our parenting programs started. Claire will be spearheading efforts to enliven these programs, which to this point, have included group classes, individual consultations and parenting plan mediations. She hopes to grow these services, make them as relevant as possible to today’s families and work to better get the word about them out to the community.
That will start by looking for ways to reach families visiting the museum—and making services available in ways that are comfortable for them, even before they have to ask for help. But it will also include evaluating our overall services to make sure we’re offering parents the help they need in the manner they’d like to receive it. The goal is to make parents feel supported and empowered—whether they’re looking for ways to strengthen their relationship and give their kids the best possible start in life, or unsure of how to deal with a specific problem they’re having with a child at home. “Parents want to make things as wonderful as possible for their kids, but it’s hard to ask for help when a problem feels very personal,” states Claire. “I would love to have parents walk in here and feel as comfortable as if they had just walked into their own backyard.”
As the mother of two young boys who are “her world,” and who help drive her passion for ensuring children receive the best possible care from those who provide for and teach them, she knows that empowering parents is critical. “I understand the challenges that come with raising kids,” she says. “Everything you do matters. I, like any other parent, have challenges that feel insurmountable.” But, she adds, empowerment changes everything—how you feel, how you absorb information and how you interact with others. And that makes all the difference.
Currently, mediations and consultations are temporarily on hold as we restructure these programs and determine how to make sure they best meet community needs. We hope to announce plans for their future very soon.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about how our parenting services may be able to help you, call Claire at (406) 721-7690.