Executive director, HomeAid Sacramento
Amber Celmer had a big decision to make. In spring 2020 as the pandemic raged, she felt ready to leave her position as development director of Child Advocates of Placer County to spend more time with her three young children.
Then a new opportunity arose. A friend sent her a job posting that encapsulated her professional background, spent mainly in the building industry, and her personal background as a former foster child. The job was for executive director of HomeAid Sacramento, one of 19 affiliates of HomeAid America, which builds and renovates shelters for people transitioning out of homelessness.
“I put my name in the hat,” Celmer, 38, says. “When I realized 100 candidates dwindled to 50 and then it was down to two, I was going to have to make a decision.”
For most of her career, Celmer had kept quiet about her own foster care experience, although as a volunteer she had long advocated on behalf of foster youth, including to help get Assembly Bill 899, the “Foster Youth Bill of Rights,” passed in California in 2001. “It was this incredible pull that told me this is what I need to be doing,” she says of the HomeAid opportunity.
“I am not here to be shy — I am here to pack a punch.”Amber Celmer, executive director, HomeAid Sacramento
Celmer took the helm in June 2021. The local affiliate is the charitable arm of the North State Building Industry Association, which provides direct access to industry members for in-kind donations so projects can be completed at a portion of the cost. Founded in 1996 and based in Roseville, the local HomeAid has built and renovated more than 100 shelters, including the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento, where Celmer once lived.
Celmer’s childhood was marked with upheaval. Her father was a criminal, and she witnessed her mother being beaten and stabbed by men 16 times. She and her brother, sister and mother were often put in protective services. She stayed for a while with a grandmother in New Mexico, but mostly resided in Sacramento before being relocated to a foster home in Newcastle as a teenager, where she reunited with her siblings. She graduated from Del Oro High School in Loomis.
“I carried a lot of shame for my childhood being a foster child,” she says. “My being a foster child had nothing to do with me. It was only because the adults in my life let me down. … But I felt very shameful and so I didn’t talk about it in grade school and high school.”
After graduating from Chico State with a degree in sociology, she started a job at Centex Homes working in new home sales. She later worked at Valligent Technologies as director of strategy and business development. As executive director of HomeAid Sacramento, Celmer oversees partnerships with nonprofits that serve the unhoused population.
HomeAid recently built 11 tiny homes to serve 55 women and children for Saint John’s Program for Real Change. The women — who must be employed — can access Saint John’s services, and they pay below market rent. Another project involves expanding a shelter for displaced youth for the nonprofit New Morning Youth and Family Services in Placerville.
“Our passion is dignity rights,” Celmer says. “You will never find HomeAid Sacramento creating tents to help individuals. We believe strongly that if you provide an individual with dignified housing they are more likely to come out at the other end and be empowered. It provides them with a different set of tools to end the cycle of homelessness.”
Now as a leader in her field, Celmer is imparting advice to peers, including one who asked how her challenging childhood benefits her professionally. She says, “There was a time in my life when I did not think I would live past the age of 20, which prompted my answer to her question, simply that I am not here to be shy — I am here to pack a punch.”
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