While ShelterShare is not a total solution to homelessness, our mission is to simplify the process of contributing, and most importantly to provide desperately needed supplies to the agencies that support individuals experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable populations.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Valencia.
Anthony Valencia is a social entrepreneur and an artist. He is President and founder of ShelterShare, a nonprofit organization that connects donors with homeless and domestic violence shelters through a user-friendly online platform. Anthony is mission-driven, energetic, and uses his creativity to solve problems. He is known for diving into difficult projects with enthusiasm and generating ideas by the dozen.
His artwork can be found at businesses, boutiques, and galleries, and his sculptures are displayed at the Ontario International Airport in Southern California. When he’s not dedicating his time to making an impact, Anthony enjoys painting, sketching, photography and sculpting. He is constantly involved in art projects and believes there is a special connection between creativity and entrepreneurship.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Igrew up in Claremont, California — a suburb of Los Angeles. Often referred to as “The City of Trees and Ph.D.’s,” it’s a small college town known for great schools and a lively art community. My family and I enjoyed many of the activities Southern California has to offer and its perfect weather. The mountains were in our backyard, and we occasionally visited the beach or Disneyland, both of which were less than an hour away.
I developed a strong work ethic at a young age. When I was about seven years old, I built my first lemonade stand (this would be the first of many small ventures I started as a kid). After I assembled the lemonade stand, I began painting its wood posts and decorating the banner with cool illustrations. I did this because I enjoy making art, but I also remember wanting to make a sign that was eye catching enough to draw in customers. This is really when I started to develop entrepreneurship skills, and I also had fun incorporating my artwork into the projects I started.
You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Nonprofit organizations have always relied on community support for their livelihood. These agencies work hard to reach out for donations, and it’s a never-ending challenge. ShelterShare was created to give a voice to these shelters, and to provide them with the supplies they constantly need. Our platform simplifies the process of donating goods to homeless and domestic violence shelters by listing exactly what each shelter needs. Our website gives donors a personalized experience when choosing specifically what they would like to purchase for the shelter. Many people don’t realize that they can make a direct impact in someone else’s life with just a few dollars. By creating this platform, we have been able to engage donors of all ages and financial standpoints by allowing them to give what they can and help others.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Growing up in Los Angeles County, I became aware of the homeless crisis at a very young age. I always felt a calling to do something, anything, to help solve or alleviate the situation. The compassion I feel for those who are struggling, along with my knack for problem solving, inspired me to devote my time and energy to help others in need. When I started to research ways I could get involved, I noticed a pattern at most of the shelters I came across. They constantly worked hard to collect donations by doing fundraising events and food drives to support their mission to help others and to keep up with the demand for supplies. While ShelterShare is not a total solution to homelessness, our mission is to simplify the process of contributing, and most importantly to provide desperately needed supplies to the agencies that support individuals experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable populations.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
Every year the city of Los Angeles releases statistics for the number of individuals experiencing homelessness. The number was 52,765 in 2018, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. This number continues to grow every year, and I knew I had to take action. People are constantly asking for ways they can help this situation. This prompted me to devise a mechanism that would bridge the gap between donors and the shelters that need constant support. Most people have busy schedules, and many lack the time and energy to go out and purchase the items that shelters need. ShelterShare was created to make the process of contributing as easy as possible.
When COVID-19 became a global pandemic, many were told to shelter in place. This put individuals without shelter at increased risk of becoming infected. Unemployment rates and the increased rate of domestic violence caused many shelters to become overwhelmed quickly. Our platform became a valuable mechanism for shelters and for donors who wanted to provide support from the safety of their home.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
Research. A lot of research went into starting ShelterShare. How exactly will my project make an impact? Is it sustainable? I looked for weak points in the current system in place for homelessness in Los Angeles. I asked city officials and nonprofit leaders about their thoughts on the crisis and what they thought could help alleviate the problem. I already knew there were countless people who wanted to be involved and make an impact, but they didn’t know how. I finally connected with shelter staff members to introduce the idea to them. I was pleasantly surprised to receive so many positive comments.
Evaluate. Another thing I had to do was evaluate exactly what ShelterShare needed in order to succeed. I had to invest money of my own to get things started. I made a list of goals and placed bullet points underneath each goal that showed exactly what was needed to reach my objectives.
Look for resources. I found numerous helpful online articles, books, and people. I networked extensively through local events and nonprofit mixers, and utilized LinkedIn to ask other nonprofit professionals for feedback and support.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
One of the most interesting and uplifting moments occurred when I first made contact with a homeless shelter in San Francisco. ShelterShare is based in Los Angeles County, and I wasn’t expecting the shelter to agree to partner with us because we were over 350 miles away. When I called the shelter, I spoke with Christina Alton, who is the Community Partnerships Manager at Hamilton Families. I explained how our service worked and that we had volunteers in the Bay Area to deliver supplies. Her response was enthusiastic, and she informed other staff members who were ultimately happy to be involved with us. Nearly every shelter I reached out to after that was grateful and excited to receive support from our service. I wasn’t sure initially what kind of response to expect, but the feedback I received was amazing.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
When ShelterShare first started supporting shelters in San Francisco, I made sure there were several volunteers who could help deliver donations in the Bay Area. We started receiving donations for shelters not long after we posted their items on our website. I took note of the donations that needed to be delivered and contacted the volunteers and shelters to let them know we were going to deliver supplies. Unfortunately, of the few volunteers who originally agreed to help, only one was “potentially” able to make the delivery. This was a very stressful situation at the time, and I started reaching out to other people I knew in the area. A few days passed, and I couldn’t wait any longer. I made a decision to drive six hours to San Francisco the next morning and make the delivery myself. That night I got word from my friend Justin Juo that he could make the delivery with his friend. This was such a relief!
I wouldn’t consider delivering critically needed supplies to a shelter a mistake, but there were other options and means of getting these donations to the shelters that needed them without traveling 700 miles roundtrip!
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
This organization would not be where it is today without its board members. Ron Wolff, who is treasurer and a retired nonprofit CEO, has been a mentor to me and a supporter of ShelterShare since I first introduced the concept to him. Our secretary Jeanne Sterba, a California Superior Court Judge Pro Tempore, has also been a major supporter of the project. Between the two of them, our organization is backed by expert consulting and legal advice. They are both reliable and dedicated.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
In May of this year while my team and I were delivering supplies to a shelter in Los Angeles, we spoke with a single mother named Valerie. She and her children were living out of her car. Valerie explained to me that she was unemployed due to COVID-19 and had not been able to find a place for her and her family to live. She was at the shelter to pick up various items such as diapers and wipes for her baby. Fortunately, we were in the process of delivering these items, and she was able to acquire them for her children.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Every city and county operates differently. One of the important questions to ask is whether the specific city is receiving community block grants. If so, how are the funds distributed? Do they have a Community or Human Services Department? Do they have any partnerships with schools, colleges, and organizations with interns or volunteers who can interview individuals, specifically those impacted by homelessness? Getting real answers to problems of this type requires hearing and evaluating the views of those impacted, so having volunteers and interns really helps. It helps to ask if governmental agencies have any current resources available to homeless individuals and families, and if so, what they are.
In order for issues of homelessness, poverty and inequality to be resolved in a city or county, the community and its officials must address the problem, evaluate the resources available and ensure funds are being properly allocated to the right programs.
ShelterShare is one tool that can help communities provide for programs near them that support survivors of domestic violence and individuals experiencing homelessness.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Work efficiently but don’t rush. This requires patience and practice. When you’re flowing with ideas and you are dedicated to making an impact, there’s always the chance that you rush through a task. This can happen if you’re multitasking or don’t have all the support you need. You can combat this by getting organized. You may not have a team to support your effort in the beginning, but organizing yourself and structuring your schedule will put you in the right direction. I started to structure my schedule and create an agenda for the workday. This was one of the best decisions I made.
- Take breaks. This was tough for me in the beginning, and I still need to remind myself to take breaks. Hard work and dedication are important, but it’s also important to recuperate through taking breaks and getting enough rest every night. I studied Organizational Leadership at Arizona State University, and often I would feel overwhelmed by deadlines that would sometimes get in the way of my work with ShelterShare. I would not have been able to balance work and school if I didn’t make sure I took breaks and had a structured schedule.
- Ask for help. The biggest mistake I made when first starting out was trying to do everything on my own. I was hesitant to ask for help and took pride in my ability to multitask and dedicate long hours to ShelterShare, but this only led to burnout. You might be capable of multitasking and getting most things done yourself, but some tasks require special attention and you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. Find other people who are interested in your idea, including people who don’t yet know about your project. Ask your network for input or assistance. Doing this helped me get in touch with someone who now helps track our weekly donations.
- If you make a mistake, don’t dwell on it. We all want to perform at our best and make all the right decisions, but mistakes happen, especially in the beginning. You know the old saying “You live and you learn?” I often remind myself of this when something doesn’t go as planned.
- Do not give up. Initiating a massive but important project is time consuming and challenging. Especially at the beginning, while you are building a support network, you may experience burnout or rejection. It can be discouraging. It’s important that you not take it personally. Evaluate the situation, take notes, sharpen your skills, and try again.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
The next revolutionary idea or impactful project could be a simple thought passing through your mind. Don’t let it escape you. If you have an idea, write it down. Even if you’re not convinced it’s the greatest idea in history, it’s worth documenting and thinking it over. A simple idea with even the slightest potential to make an impact can be revised, improved, and tested out. It’s always worth a shot.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s written several books, and the one that really inspired me was “Big Magic.” This book has helped me as an artist and an entrepreneur, because I personally find a close connection between my business ideas and my artwork. Big Magic is about “creative living beyond fear.” Elizabeth explains how people are often reluctant to pursue their dreams because they are afraid of failure or rejection. She lists some of the common reasons people hold back from taking action and starting a project by stating “Maybe you’re afraid you have no talent. You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or worst of all — ignored.” This fear can hold us back from bringing truly remarkable concepts to life. Another thing she notes in the book is how she received rejection letters from publishers for six entire years before receiving her big break.
Elizabeth does a phenomenal job at discussing ways that readers can start to build the confidence to take action when they have an idea, and ways in which they can continue receiving inspiration. It would be amazing to have a conversation with Elizabeth and hear about the projects she’s recently been involved with.
How can our readers follow you online?
I post some of my artwork on my website TheWireSculptures.com and Instagram @TheWireSculptures. Readers can also connect with me on LinkedIn.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!