STARC: A golden group celebrates the great Five O | St. Tammany Community News

It all started with a mother brave enough to say “no”.

No, she would not put her little girl in an institution as the doctors suggested.

No, she wouldn’t “go on with her life.”

And no, there is actually room in society for those who are not neurotypical.

That mom was Laura Delaup, the founder of what was to become one of the largest nonprofits on the North Shore: STARC. And 50 years later, STARC is still working to break down barriers for people with disabilities.

The band will celebrate their milestone anniversary with a nightly art gallery and auction on May 26 at the Salmen-Fritchie House in Slidell from 5-7 p.m. It will feature works by people who participate in the STARC arts program and will be a combined event with the St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce after-hours business.

But it all started in the 1960s when Delaup’s baby girl, Heaven, was bitten by a mosquito after a hurricane. She was infected with encephalitis, and the inflammation caused by the infection caused severe brain damage and seizures. But despite doctors’ snappy opinions of her condition and recommendations to discharge her, Delaup leaned in. The family tried different doctors and treatment facilities, but in the end found that the services and locations were simply not suitable. So she rallied the community behind her and quickly discovered that there were others, just like Heaven, with developmental disabilities who needed support.

Delaup convinced parish officials to help him in his mission, and with $2,500 in start-up funds from the state, STARC, which now stands for Services, Training, Advocacy, Resources and Community Connections, was born in 1972.

It all started with just six families, two employees, and a borrowed room at a church, but quickly grew to today, and STARC serves more than 700 people, employs 250 people, and has nine facilities in St. Tammany Parish. . From mileage support to generous donations, volunteer work and community membership, STARC has thrived over the years to become the force it is today.

“We’ve only just started to grow,” said Diane Baham, STARC’s first-ever teacher and current director of information. “Everywhere we turned there was a need, and we realized it was people of all ages.”

The group started out serving only children, she explained, and its original name was The St. Tammany Association of Retarded Children. However, over time these children stopped participating in the program and there was a gap in services for adults with disabilities. In response, STARC evolved, expanding its mission and name not just to help children, but to support people with disabilities for life.

“It’s like putting this little puzzle together,” said Diane Baham. “The last piece always falls, then there’s another puzzle.”

STARC now offers job training, advocacy services, child care, respite care, professional jobs, and residencies for people in its program.

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“STARC is the only organization on the North Shore that offers a full range of services from birth to death,” said Diane Baham.

It also offers music therapy, art therapy and several family services, which is why the organization is celebrating its anniversary with an evening of art. All artwork on display and for sale at the event is produced by those in STARC’s Art Therapy Program. Delaup described the art as “phenomenal” and that some of these people have a “God-given talent” that the program was able to bring out.

The group is well known throughout the community around Mardi Gras time for their bead recycling service. People in the program collect beads, wash them and repackage them for future use. They are then sold to the Carnival clans. The bead recycling program is part of an effort to teach skills and employ people with disabilities.

STARC also has a janitorial program where individuals can join teams of cleaners who service local businesses and facilities. Executive Director Mark Baham explained that STARC gives these people the opportunity to learn a job and earn a salary – an invaluable experience for those trying to find their place in society.

“They meet people from the community while earning a salary, paying taxes and gaining independence,” said Baham, who was elected executive director in 2019 after his mother left.

Still, her humble beginnings with a brave mother and a baby girl named Heaven are an integral part of STARC’s culture to this day, said Diane Baham. Every twist, twist and expansion of the program has grown alongside Heaven, which has continuously beaten the odds. What was once a group of people who were not expected to live very long are now outliving their parents. Some participants in the program are over 70 years old.

Heaven, now 56, still has an intellectual disability and has never been verbal, but is living her best life in a group home in Mandeville, Delaup said.

“She has her own friends, her own environment, and it’s so gratifying compared to the image they gave us in the ’60s,” Delaup said. “She hasn’t said a word of her life, but she has communicated to us more than anyone I can think of. She thrives in her environment.

As for the growth of STARC, Delaup and Diane Baham, who were there from the very beginning, attribute its success to a God-given mission.

“It’s so amazing to me, and I give all the credit to the Lord first because he guided me in this direction, and to my daughter because she is the greatest teacher that has ever existed” , said Delaup, who still works with the organization as a consultant. .

Diane Baham added that it was a journey of friendship with Delaup, and that STARC has become a “meaningful and necessary service”.

“We worked together, we cried together,” she said. “We have been together for a lifetime and we consider what we do here as a ministry. It’s not just a job. »

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