STARC: A golden group celebrates the big Five O | St. Tammany community news

It started with one mom brave enough to say “no.”

No, she would not put her baby girl into an institution as the doctors suggested.

No, she would not “get on with her life.”

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

That mom was Laura Delaup, the founder of what would become one of the north shore’s largest nonprofit organizations: STARC. And 50 years later, STARC is still in the business of breaking down barriers for those with disabilities.

The group will celebrate its milestone anniversary with an art night gallery and auction May 26 at the Salmen-Fritchie House in Slidell from 5 pm to 7 pm It will feature work from people who participate in STARC’s art program and will be an event combined with the St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours.

But it all began in the 1960s when Delaup’s baby girl, Heaven, was bitten by a mosquito after a hurricane. She was infected with encephalitis, and inflammation from the infection caused severe brain damage and seizures. But despite doctors’ surly views of her condition and recommendations to send her away, Delaup leaned in. The family tried different doctors and treatment facilities, but in the end, found that the services and locations just weren’t a good fit. So she rallied the community behind her, and soon discovered there were others out there just like Heaven with intellectual disabilities who needed support.

Delaup won over parish officials for help with her mission, and with $2,500 of state seed money, STARC, which now stands for Services, Training, Advocacy, Resources and Community Connections, was born in 1972.

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

“We just started growing,” said Diane Baham, STARC’s very first teacher and current chief information officer. “Everywhere we turned, there was a need, and we realized it was people of all ages.”

The group began by only serving children, she explained, and its original name was The St. Tammany Association of Retarded Children. However, over time, those children aged out of the program, and there was a gap in services for adults with disabilities. In response, STARC evolved, expanding its mission and its name to not only assist with children, but to support those with disabilities for life.

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

STARC now provides job training, advocacy services, day care, respite care, vocational employment and residential living facilities for those in its program.

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“STARC is the only agency on the north shore that provides a full array of services from birth to death,” said Diane Baham.

It also offers both music and art therapy and a number of services for families, which is why the organization is celebrating its anniversary with an art night. All art displayed 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 individuals have a “God-given talent” the program was able to bring out.

The group is well known throughout the community around Mardi Gras time for its bead recycling service. People in the program collect beads, wash them and repackage them for future use. They’re then sold back to the Carnival krewes. The bead recycling program is all part of an effort to teach skills and employ those with disabilities.

STARC also has a janitorial program in which individuals can join teams of cleaners that serve local businesses and facilities. Executive Director Mark Baham explained STARC gives these people an opportunity to learn a job skill and earn a paycheck — an invaluable experience for those trying to find their place in society.

“They get to meet people in the community while earning a paycheck, paying taxes and gaining independence,” said Baham, who was elected executive director in 2019 after his mother stepped down.

Still, its humble beginnings with a brave mom and a little girl named Heaven are very much part of STARC’s culture to this day, said Diane Baham. Every twist, turn and expansion of the program has grown alongside Heaven, who has continually beaten the odds. What was once a group of people who were never expected to live very long are now outliving their parents. Some in the program are in their 70s.

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

“She’s got her own friends, her own environment, and it’s just so rewarding in comparison to the picture they gave us in the 60s,” said Delaup. “Ella She hasn’t spoken a word in her life de ella, but ella has communicated more to us than anyone else I can think of. Ella she’s flourishing in her environment. ”

As for the growth of STARC, both Delaup and Diane Baham, who were there from the very start, credit their success to a God-given mission.

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

Diane Baham added it’s been a journey of friendship with Delaup, and STARC has become a “meaningful, needed service.”

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

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