Fresno State student’s tough past fuels his volunteer spirit
Richard Lazaro-Alonso is on a mission to help others, particularly vulnerable youth in foster care or children whose families are homeless.
He’s walked in those shoes himself.
At age 7, he began a 12-year journey through 12 foster-care families in the central San Joaquin Valley. At 18, when he was too old for foster care, he was homeless for a few months, sleeping on park benches and on friends’ couches.
Lazaro-Alonso, now 23, a junior majoring in criminology at Fresno State with a minor in social work, wants people to have a better understanding of youth in foster care and those with families that are homeless. So he’s doing something to help.
While attending Fresno State, he has volunteered more than 300 hours with nonprofit organizations that serve foster children and provide food and clothing to the poor and homeless. For his efforts, Lazaro-Alonso received a Fresno State Spirit of Service Award as 2012 Student Volunteer of the Year.
Spirit of Service awards are given to students, faculty, staff and the university’s nonprofit community partners for their commitment to community engagement at Fresno State.
“I’ve had good times and bad,” Lazaro-Alonso says. “I don’t regret being in the system. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Born in Fresno, Lazaro-Alonso remembers that his parents were heavy drinkers. He says his mother, Tammy Lazaro, also had a drug addiction, and his father, Miguel Lazaro, physically abused him. He no longer is in communication with his mother; his father died about three years ago.
“My main scars are from him,” says Lazaro-Alonso,
pointing to a three-inch mark on his face.
He remembers his mother or his father missing from the family’s home for long periods, which gave him a sick feeling that nobody cared about him and his siblings.
The last straw was when Lazaro-Alonso and his siblings were left alone in their home for about two weeks, he says. Neighbors called police. Child Protective Services removed the children from the home — and Lazaro-Alonso entered the foster-care system.
Bounced from home to home, he says he still held out hope.
“No matter how wrong your parents were, you always wanted to go back,” he says.
But it never happened.
At 12, he grew more disappointed with his mother, who for long stretches would miss the times she was supposed to visit him. So, at a court hearing, he told officials that he longer wanted to see his mother. He hadn’t seen his father for years.
He was uncomfortable telling others about his background. Not until high school, when he played football as a running back/defensive back at Clovis East, did he confide in then-Clovis East coach Tim Murphy.
“He was like a dad to me; he was the only one who knew about me,” Lazaro-Alonso says. “When people hear ‘foster care,’ they usually think ‘troubled youth.’ So I just didn’t bring it up.”
He never doubted he would go to college.
But it was a rough start at Fresno State. He dropped out after the first semester. He attended classes at the Willow International Community College Center for three semesters before returning to Fresno State.
Because of his experiences growing up, he says, he majored in criminology so he could “make a difference in that area.” His minor is in social work.
He also joined a fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, known for its community service. He began volunteering at Quality Foster Care and Aspiranet, both Fresno organizations that provide services for youth in foster care, and at the Bulldog Pantry and Poverello House, which help the poor and homeless. He also has volunteered with Fresno Community Food Bank and the Boys to Men mentoring organization.
“Looking back, the individuals who showed that they cared were the ones who volunteered,” he remembers. “Those individuals contributed to me turning the corner.”
Michael Eberhard, president of Fresno State’s Intrafraternity Council, nominated Lazaro-Alonso for the Spirit of Service Award. He also has worked with Lazaro-Alonso on special service projects for Pi Kappa Alpha.
“He does it with a passion,” Eberhard says. “He does it from the goodness of his heart. He does it because he knows what it can do for people.
“If anyone truly deserves this award, this guy does.”
26 May 2012