Richard Lazaro-Alonso, who recently won the university’s Student Volunteer of the Year award, grew up in foster care. Lazaro-Alonso also spent parts of his life homeless.
His experiences led to a passion for helping out those who grew up in similar circumstances.
“Growing up, my support system was the people who volunteered their time to foster children,” Lazaro-Alonso said. “They helped me get to where I’m at today. That’s why I’m passionate about helping those who are in the same shoes I used to be in.”
Each semester, Lazaro-Alonso volunteers at least 150 hours of community service to nonprofits that assist youth in foster care and the homeless. Lazaro-Alonso volunteers at Aspiranet, Quality Foster Care, the Bulldog Pantry and the Poverello House.
“A lot of the places I volunteer at pertain to homeless or low-income families and foster kids,” Lazaro-Alonso said.
His childhood is what helped spark his passion for volunteering.
While he was growing up, Lazaro-Alonso’s parents had several problems and the family spent time living in Section 8 housing and on the streets.
“My parents would disappear for days at a time,” Lazaro-Alonso said. “Nobody could get a hold of them so we would get kicked out.”
Eventually, neighbors called Child Protective Services, and at the age of 7, he was placed into foster care.
“I spent time living in 12 different houses while I was in foster care,” Lazaro-Alonso said.
When he was 18, the family he was living with kicked him out of their home.
He then took a year off from Fresno State because he was homeless and didn’t have the funds to continue attending school.
“I sat there and thought, “I’m going through the same cycle,'” Lazaro-Alonso said. “So I set goals and decided at that time going to community college was the right place at that time. I also got a job.”
To help him get back on his feet he joined the Transitional Housing Program, a program through Aspiranet, which gives former foster kids financial assistance, housing and helps them find a job.
After returning to Fresno State, Lazaro-Alonso joined the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, where he served as community service chairman. He is now president.
This past year, his fraternity won Outstanding Community Service and Philanthropy of the Year, as well as Organization of the Year, Both due in large part to their involvement in the community.
Now that he has the opportunity to give back, community service is a big part of his life.
“It’s important because you can touch and change somebody’s life,” Lazaro-Alonso said.
Eventually, Lazaro-Alonso wants to become an advocate for kids in foster care.