VIDEO Above: In a rare sit down interview, Zara, AHO Founder and Executive Director shares her personal background, the early years and what led her to founding AHO with no funding or team nor support. Hear in her own words what continues to keep her going and inspired each day.
“…a calling of the heart”
On January 21, 2005 the Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity Project (AHO) was founded by Zara Babitzke to address a critical need for the growing numbers of homeless teens and young adults ages 18 to 25 in Marin that no one else was helping.
AHO started as a calling of the heart when the first ever program for young people 18 and over Zara designed for Sunny Hills Services (SHS) in 2003, lost funding. This meant that the youth Zara had been working with, who had been making progress and trusting her, would be abandoned and on the streets with no support. Zara could not let this happen. With no funding or team, and little community awareness or understanding of the issue, AHO was born.
Zara came from a family much like the youth AHO serves. She understands from personal experience what youth want and need from the adults in their lives as they grow through this challenging and critical transition to adulthood. Zara has been homeless herself. The AHO program model is based on Zara’s personal experience, 21st Century Skills for Success and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where not only basic resources of safety and security are provided, but youth are valued for their voices as spokespersons of their experience with community and political leaders.
At AHO, each young person has the support they need to overcome their current circumstances and achieve their personal goals.
At AHO, each young person has the support they need to overcome their current circumstances and achieve their personal goals. AHO provides everything a parent would typically provide, along with a comprehensive safety net of stable housing, guidance and community connections. The youth AHO serves typically have not been in the social service system of mental health, probation or foster care, and thereby would not be eligible for any help navigating this critical life transition if it weren’t for AHO. As a result, they would likely end up as homeless adults.
The youth AHO serves typically have not been in the social service system of mental health, probation or foster care, and thereby would not be eligible for any help in navigating this critical life transition.
Since its inception, AHO is Marin’s only nonprofit focused on homeless young people and is leading the way in addressing the growing trend of youth homelessness in Marin County, Greater Bay Area and Sacramento, CA.
A final testament to AHO’s unique program is the fact that youth alumni continue to reconnect with present day youth to share their successes, work on new projects and advocate for their peers within the community.