By Griffin Swartzell
Claire Sanderson loves being part of the family business. Her mother, Noreen Landis-Tyson, is the president and CEO of local nonprofit Community Partnership for Child Development … giving preschool children a head start. Sanderson started volunteering with the organization when she was a kid.
CPCD gave Sanderson her first job as an enrollment agent when she was 16, and she says her experiences working with financially disadvantaged families were hugely influential on the direction she has taken in life.
“That was the first time I was really exposed to, in my selfish 16-year-old eyes, what people experienced, how hard life could be and how truly lucky I was to be in the position that I was in,” she said. “That was the start of the passion for nonprofit work for me. It allowed me to really understand something I wouldn’t have understood otherwise.”
After college, Sanderson returned to Colorado Springs and took a job as CPCD’s digital and content marketing manager. She lives with her husband, Keith, and their 4-year-old son, Asher. They enjoy exploring the city’s parks and green spaces, as well as bicycling.
Are you from the Springs?
I was born and raised in Colorado Springs. My parents moved here about seven years before I was born, so I am a native, and they more or less consider themselves natives as well. I went out of Colorado for college, but I came back. This is home for me. Always has been.
Where did you study?
I started at CU Boulder for about a year and a half, and I really didn’t like it there. It just wasn’t my vibe. My parents met each other in a small town called Bowling Green, Ohio — they worked at the same TV station together. Because my dad had graduated from Bowling Green State University, I actually qualified for in-state tuition, so I chose to go to Bowling Green sort of on a whim, to see if I liked it and to get out of Colorado. And it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was a different experience from what I had ever had before. Bowling Green doesn’t have a ton of kids from out of state, so I got quite the unique experience.
How was that different from the Springs?
Things just move slower. People knew each other. … There are all these little towns all across northwest Ohio, and even southwest and southeast Ohio that people came in from. It was so interesting to me just because we’re much more sprawling in terms of the towns that we have in Colorado, and they are much more condensed. Most of them were from very small towns of not more than like 10,000 or 20,000 people, while Boulder had a ton of people, and most of them came from big cities. Another cool thing for me about Bowling Green was that it was a campus of 15,000 students and the whole town itself was 30,000 people, so half the town was the school. And I loved it so much because unlike Boulder, it felt so small. I would walk to class and see the same people over and over.
I majored in, believe it or not, popular culture. [Bowling Green is] one of the only two schools in the country that offers popular culture as a major, and I chose to major in it, honestly, because I thought ‘Hey, this sounds cool — who can say they’ve got a major in pop culture?’ And I did a minor in sociology along with it. [The program] turned out to be really different from what I thought. It was [centered on] the psychology and sociology of why people are drawn to what they’re drawn to, how people respond and react to the world around them and what culture and media and the things that are put in front of you, cause you to go towards. Whenever somebody has asked me about it, I call it marketing without the numbers, which is basically what it is. It was a very cool experience, much more thought-provoking and much more intense and in-depth than I [expected], as any experience is.
How did you move into your role as marketing manager for CPCD?
I grew up very much in CPCD. There’s no way to deny it — my mom is the CEO, and she has been for many years. My mom started there when I was in fifth grade, and she started as the grant writer. I would spend my summers [doing] whatever was needed. I was ‘voluntold,’ often, to go and help at CPCD. When I was 16 was the first time I was actually employed by CPCD, in the enrollment department. I would go out every day to a different location in town and I would enroll families in the program. Mondays, I would be at the Department of Human Services, and Tuesdays I would be on Fort Carson, and Wednesdays I would be at a library.
Looking back now, it is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done. My mom always raised me to understand that I grew up in a very lucky way — in a way that a lot of people didn’t get the luxury to grow up. … When I was volunteering with CPCD, I was just doing paperwork or whatever my mom needed me to do. But once I was old enough to start actually working at CPCD, I was exposed to these experiences that I didn’t really know existed … [because] you don’t really know until you see it. CPCD itself is something that I’m incredibly passionate about, separate from my mom or from all of the things that she has done and the success that she has had. I have such a deep love and passion for the families that we work with every day.
What are your professional goals?
I’m not one of those people that have set themselves into a specific place in terms of where they want to be or what they want to be doing. What I want to be doing is work that I’m passionate about. What I want to be doing is helping people, and I want to be taking care of my family. And as long as those three things are there, then it’s [enough]. I don’t have a direct path that I see right now — and that’s kind of exciting for me.
I fear the unknown, as I think a lot of people do, and allowing myself, in the last few years, to open up to the unknown has been a great growing tool for me. I don’t think I ever want to go away from marketing, or go away from storytelling of some kind, but I can definitely see myself potentially doing that for a hospital or for something in the for-profit sector, if you will. It’s not something that I ever thought I would get myself to, but I’m there now. If it’s something that allows me to tell stories of people that are doing amazing things, I’m all for it.
How has the coronavirus lockdown affected your work?
We follow school districts as of right now, because the vast majority of our classes are within the schools themselves, and we’re in six different school districts across El Paso County. We’re very lucky that they all chose to come together and shut down together, because had that not happened, that would have been very hard for us to contend with. What it’s doing right now is causing us to try and find some ways to connect with families … virtually.
We have a whole system called [Classroom] DOJO that we use for our families. It’s an online system that connects a family directly to their teacher and allows them to see what their kiddo is doing. … It’s not a system that’s required, and it’s one that we try and let teachers grow with and users stay comfortable with, but we’ve had to revert ourselves almost entirely onto it, which has been a little hard for some of the teachers that don’t use it as much. It has also been hard for the parents, because a lot of our parents are not in a position in which they have easy access to internet. Our families are very transitional. They’re usually in really tough situations. So we are trying to support families as much as we can. …
We’re trying to support them just emotionally as much as we can and support them in the immediate needs that they have. We’ve been trying to connect them with resources in the community that they need.