Q&A With Babies of Homelessness Founder, Star Lalario
All successful nonprofits begin with visionary leaders who supply the enthusiasm, determination, and support to turn their inspirations into thriving entities. Babies of Homelessness’s start was no different.
Watching the vision grow
Founder Star Lalario’s vision for Babies of Homelessness (BoH) began five years ago. She created an organization to provide families facing homelessness with the basics and a sense of hope and support that she felt they were not receiving from other agencies.
During the past few years, BoH has grown and matured. Star has seen her idea grow into a strong organization. Today, BoH has 3 full-time employees and a small, dedicated volunteer base who deliver essentials to thousands of families in our community. And although BoH is gone through some inevitable changes, its cores values of compassion, integrity, diversity, and confidentiality remain the same.
Recently Star sat down to answer these questions.
Tell a little about yourself (employment, family, previous volunteer service, etc.)
I am a Mama of two boys and am the director of talent acquisition for Sotheby’s International Realty. I’ve had extensive experience volunteering; I started as a ‘candy striper’ at a nursing home at the age of 7. Then after adolescence, I wanted to give back, at women & children’s shelters and at food banks.
What do you, personally, spend most of your time on?
With the new role I have within my company and the raising of my boys, I am trying to improve my life-work balance and still not lose touch of my passion for BoH, which will never go away.
Name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you. Why and how did this person impact your life?
I have to say my foster parents, actually, my third set of foster parents, Doug and Julie Bowling, had the most significant and positive impact on my life. They showed me that people were trustworthy by offering me unconditional love and bringing out the potential in myself I had never seen before.
You have mentioned that you experience homelessness as a child. What would you like people to understand about that experience?
As a child, we experienced extreme poverty as my father was a Marine and often deployed. My mom came from a limited educational background. My mother left my abusive father when I was 11, and I was bounced around foster homes for a few years. Once reunited with my mom and siblings, she never could quite get her financial footing and provide us with consistent housing. After bouncing around from friends’ houses and basements, ultimately, we went into Ogden Hall, a Women and Children’s Shelter in Spokane, WA, where we lived from my 7th grade up through junior year in high school.
Why did you start Babies of Homelessness?
This started more from my frustration with what I saw in my community regarding homelessness. I was volunteering at the Everett Women and Children’s Shelter when I saw a story about a young toddler found in an unsanctioned encampment with a soiled diaper, fungus-ridden toenails, eating donuts out of the garbage, and with no parental guidance. This was in an area I drove by almost daily. It broke my heart thinking about this little child “surviving” in such deplorable conditions. I then realized as much time, compassion, and energy I was putting into volunteering, a completely unseen demographic hadn’t yet had the ‘luxury’ of being in a shelter. I had this overwhelming feeling that I had to do something. It literally kept me awake at night! So, I started by volunteering at Union Gospel Mission’s (UGM) Search and Rescue to better understand the homeless population, the locations, and the reasons causing homelessness. I truly tried to grasp the number of children and babies out there. I then started making care packages containing diapers, wipes, formula, and toddler snacks to give to the Search and Rescue vans. I established a relationship with the Union Gospel Mission, who would call me when children were spotted to see if I could assist by providing essential needs. I quickly realized there was a significant stigma to the homeless population that never rang true in my personal experience.
What was it like at the beginning of BoH?
The beginning was very reactive and emotional. I took pride in making in-person connections with the parents, putting eyes on the babies to ensure their safety, and offering resources to the parents. I remember sitting in the libraries for hours with some moms helping with job searches and resumes. This was rewarding. As much as it was about providing the basic baby essentials, I also wanted to establish trust and create a relationship with the mom and or dad, so they trusted me and allowed me to get closer to help them move forward and ensure their child’s safety.
What were some of your biggest challenges starting out?
The biggest challenge starting out was getting our name out there, so ‘unseen’ families knew they had a resource to call in an emergency.
How has BoH grown or changed over time?
The impact and number of families served have been positively outstanding! I feel we have grown out of the personal touch and community outreach as our vision has shifted to serving a broader audience (families working with human service agencies, etc.). Although that allows us to serve more, I would like to try to retain the empathy level that sets us apart.
How has BoH improved overtime?
We have become a more legitimate organization, more professional, and implemented a sound business model.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a nonprofit?
Do a lot of research and identify your overall goal and mission and then break it down into the logistics of implementing that vision. Also, consider how big you want to get in the event the opportunity is there and surround yourself with a team of people who share that vision that you feel can add value to the growth and sustainability.
What makes you proud about BoH today?
I’m incredibly proud of the staff we have created. I’m proud of the variety of skill sets and experiences we have within the Board. I’m incredibly proud of the volunteer base we continue to attract.
Where do great ideas come from at BoH?
From all of us.
How do you encourage others in BoH to communicate the mission to their friends, family and colleagues?
I think it comes genuinely with the people we have selected. It’s an authentic conversation without having to encourage anyone to do so.
What do you appreciate about the board members, ED, staff, volunteers, and donors?
I appreciate that we have one common passion for the mission and the vision. I am consistently in awe and humbled with the amount of support, dedication, and passion people have supporting Babies of Homelessness.
What is the hardest decision BoH had to make, and how did you evaluate the tradeoffs involved?
These are continuous because I have more of the start-up, grassroots, and intimate feel mindset and it’s sometimes hard for me to conform to different structures and ideas pulling us away from the initial mission. But I understand everybody has the best intention for the organization and the desire for a larger impact. I try to evaluate the tradeoffs by having an open mind to the possibility but still try to convey the importance of keeping intact what I feel makes us unique.
What do you feel are BoH's goals this year?
I would like to see a balance of direct service, community engagements, and personal touch to the families. I would also like to see the partnerships fostered with those on the front lines (CPS, DHSH, transit drivers, hospitals, first responders, libraries, etc.) coming in consistent contact with the families we serve.
Why are your goals important?
I feel like my goals will continue to support the originating vision and mission, which I feel is important for the organization’s longevity.
What would you tell a new volunteer about BoH?
THANK YOU for allocating time and dedication to our mission. We value your partnership and what you bring to the organization. Please be mindful that you always represent BOH and adopt the core values to the best of your ability when serving our clients.
“ JessicaWe're extremely thankful that you guys are not just helping with diapers and food but giving us names and numbers of other resources that we've needed. The difference is that you treat every family like they're a family and that they are also individuals. ”
“ AbdulSupporting everyone in difficult circumstances is their goal. We feel comfortable with the presence of such people. This means that life is still fine. ”