Cara Baldari does not think of herself as a kid person. Yet she devotes most of her time to their well-being.
During the day, the 31-year-old Pennsylvania native is a senior policy director at First Focus, where she is an advocate for legislation to help children and families experiencing homelessness. Once a week she volunteers at Homeless Children’s Playtime Project in Washington, which offers parents and children a place to relieve stress. She also teaches in the religious school at Temple Sinai in Washington.
When did you become interested in advocacy work?
I got really involved in the Jewish community in college, and Jewish life particularly through Hillel. Through that I got involved in a lot of social justice volunteer work and social activism. I was very involved in helping to start Students Taking Action Now Darfur, which tries to raise awareness and take action against the genocide occurring in Sudan. That introduced me to advocacy work and how elevating an issue can really make a difference.
How do you see social justice and Judaism as intertwined?
One of the things I really love about Judaism is the big role that social justice plays. Jews feel that it’s kind of our mission to stand up for the rights of others, to make sure others are not persecuted the way we’ve experienced, and the sense of the community that comes along with that. I’ve really tried to take that to heart in the work that I do.
You volunteer at Homeless Children’s Playtime Project once a week. What do they do?
It’s a volunteer-driven organization, and the idea is that play is so important for kids. Kids who are living in shelters may not have space to play, and parents always have to have them within sight according to some shelters’ rules.
The idea is to have volunteers coming in every week so the kids get to know them and feel comfortable, and [volunteers] help the [kids] unwind. We play with them, read to them, have a healthy snack and give the parents a break.
How is your work at First Focus and your volunteer work connected?
Every day here at First Focus I’m working to advocate for policies to reduce child poverty and improve outcomes for low-income children and families, but I don’t often get to directly interact with those families and children. It’s really important to see firsthand what they are experiencing, as well as making sure you’re involved in the local community. So I’m working on federal policy, but this way I am also connected with what is going on in D.C. in my own community.
And you said you are not a kid person?
A lot of what I’m doing on a daily basis is involving kids, so it is kind of ironic, but I am really enjoying it. I’m quickly realizing the importance of advocating for kids because they don’t have a voice of their own. They have parents and other community people speak up for them, but they don’t have a voice of their own. It’s really important to make sure there is work being done to make sure their needs are being met. n
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