Hope Claar has a tough job.
As a senior group supervisor at the Nevada County Juvenile Hall, Claar must wrangle with the consistent need to balance the schedules and desires of the 18 full-time and 13 part-time employees, along with watching over and attempting to guide the troubled young people who temporarily inhabit the building situated off Highway 49 just north of Nevada City.
“Yeah, it’s a big job,” Claar said. “This building is in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so just to do the scheduling alone is a lot to manage.”
But by all accounts, Claar handles it with aplomb.
“Hope Claar brings passion and a sense of purpose to her job,” said Chief Probation Officer Michael Ertola, who was recently selected to head the probation department, which includes juvenile hall. “She understands that compassion, accountability, respect and empathy go a long way in impacting the youth in her care.”
Empathy is not always easy to employ on a day-to-day basis, as some of the young people are disturbed or drug and alcohol affected with significant behavioral problems.
“You want to be somebody the kids are willing to confide in,” Claar said. “But you also need to be firm. You learn a lot about yourself and human beings in this job. One of the things you learn is that kids respect somebody that is fair and consistent.”
Claar joined the employee ranks of juvenile hall in 2001 and became a full-time employee in 2002.
“I needed to get out of the job I was in, and somebody suggested I should work at the county jail,” she said. “But I decided that what I wanted to do was work with kids rather than adults. I thought that maybe I could make a difference, and if there was a difference to be made, it could be made in the life of a child.”
Claar said she has seen accomplishments in that arena during her decade-long tenure at juvenile hall and that it constitutes one of the more rewarding aspects of her job.
“Not all of the kids are bad,” she said, adding that some are simply led astray by peer pressure, have difficult family lives or make bad decisions due to influence of drugs and alcohol. “Not all of these kids are destined to live a life of incarceration.”
A key element of the juvenile hall program is education — whether it be young people staying abreast of their high school classes, learning how to effectively control their anger or enrolling in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
“We have year-round school, even in the summertime,” Claar said.
While much of the focus is on allowing the children under her supervision to rectify their wayward pathways, sometimes Claar and her staff meet with incorrigible kids who are destined for a life of criminal exploits, a fact that can be both discouraging and scary, Claar said.
A couple of years ago, Claar remembers an incident where a male juvenile was being disruptive in his cell (kids are kept two to a room).
Claar and another employee arrived at the cell to escort the individual out of his room, and after she opened the door, the boy attacked Claar, lunging at her and taking a swing at her.
Fortunately, her co-worker responded in time to prevent the dangerous attack from turning physical and was able to subdue the offender before any injuries were incurred.
“It was more scary afterward,” Claar said. “I’ve never been physically hurt at this job. That time, it was thanks to my co-worker — he was able to interfere.”
Support in times of crisis is critical to the tight-knit employee network at the juvenile hall, Claar said.
“My co-workers are a great bunch of people,” she said. “We are like a big family: We know each other, we respect each other, and we have each other’s back.”
Incidents of actual violence between the juveniles staying at the facility and staff are uncommon, Claar said. More often, the interactions are positive, as the authority figures attempt to relate to the kids.
There have been instances during her career when kids who have passed through the juvenile hall doors have come up to her at the grocery store and thanked her while providing her updates on their travails.
“It’s a small community,” she said.
The juvenile hall has had as many as 30 juveniles housed at the facility at one time, although the average hovers closer to 22. Only 13 were staying there when Claar was interviewed in mid-December.
The average age of those incarcerated at the hall is about 13 years old, Claar said. She has witnessed a 9-year-old come through the hall.
“Sure, sometimes you (get discouraged) for a minute,” Claar said. “But I don’t get as discouraged as when I first started my career.”
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4239.