From a young age, Tara Nierenhausen would bring “puppies, kittens, and people in need” home. “I was born with it,” she said. “I’ve just always cared. I see the good in people and I want to bring the good out in people.”
This spirit and passion has followed her throughout her career, which she said is no longer just a career but her whole life.
As the executive director of Community’s Child in Lomita, California, Tara has spent the past 12 years helping women and children successfully move from shelters to transitional living facilities, supporting community outreach programs, and helping lift up disadvantaged families in the community.
When she moved to California in 2001, Tara started working at a crisis maternity center and quickly realized there was no second step for women after they left the shelter. They were going back on the streets – and this time with a baby. She knew she had to take action.
“I stepped out in faith and knew this is what I needed to do,” Tara said. She went to California State University, took a nonprofit management course and started fundraising. In 2005, she bought a small house in the area and set up a transition home. Community’s Child was born.
Ellena Zimmerman was living in an emergency shelter when she was referred to Community’s Child. “I was pregnant and had an older child, and it was the only place that opened its doors to us. Tara made me feel so comfortable; she has an open heart and is there with a hug or advice when you need it,” Ellana said. “She’s like a mom to me now.”
Through Community’s Child, Ellena was able to flourish, working with Tara on graphic design for Community’s Child’s events. Her work helped her get a scholarship for college and an internship at Toyota Financial Services, which is one of Community’s Child’s biggest sources of volunteers. Those employees have been so inspired through their experience that Toyota Financial Services nominated Tara for the Daily Point of Light award.
“I feel like I’m the conduit, and the Toyota Financial Services volunteers are the points of light,” Tara said. “They are the ones who come together under Community’s Child to have this huge impact on the community. The impact is incredible – because of them we help 4,000 to 6,000 children a year.”
Working together, the impact of Community’s Child and Toyota Financial Services is much larger. When Tara was presented with the Daily Point of Light award, it was announced that Toyota Financial Service’s volunteers and Community’s Child had served more than 20,000 children in their time working together.
“That was the ‘wow’ moment for me,” said Tara. “It was the recognition of what we can do together.”
The events Tara runs through Community’s Child infuse service and support with dignity and humanity. “We don’t believe in hand outs, you have to give these families a hand up,” she said.
Programs include large events, like a recent Christmas celebration that served 300 families and 700 children. Staffed by 250 Toyota Financial Services volunteers, families were able to get a photo with Santa, make cookies and do crafts together. Parents were able to stuff stockings for their children, and get educational and support service information while the kids were entertained, and go home with a bag of toys so Christmas miracles could come true.
Tara also works with a variety of community partners to help better the lives of people all year long. She works with a local hospital to set up annual health screenings and identify issues and gaps that Community’s Child can’t fill.
Four years ago, the health screenings revealed a high level of anemia in children who were from disadvantaged families. Tara immediately went to work.
Now, the Healthy Bags program collects healthy groceries that are delivered to schools on Fridays, so children can take them home and have food throughout the weekend. Not only does the program improve the children’s health, but it’s increased their attendance and engagement in school. More than 500 bags are distributed on a weekly basis.
“I believe that a community is only as healthy as its weakest link,” Tara said. “And I believe we have a social responsibility as a community to make sure that our entire community is healthy. I think a community gets stronger when everybody is involved in participating and making sure that we’re all healthy and taken care of.”
Her spirit and enthusiasm are contagious.
“Tara’s passion has inspired me to want to work with the community,” Ellana said. “I’ve seen how the work impacts the community from a different aspect. That’s what guided me to go into community relations. A lot of people want to do better and give back because of her.”
Tara encourages everyone to volunteer in any way they can.
“I believe every volunteer has something that they care deeply about,” she said. “We’ve had children from the shelter who got to go out and learn to surf, because that was someone’s passion. We’ve had people come in and teach baking, because that was their passion.”
Most importantly, she says don’t be afraid to get involved. “You will always get more than you ever give. You will be so fulfilled, it’s just amazing.”