Page 43 - BusinessWest 40 Under Forty 2024
P. 43

      Four years ago, Jordana Starr found a rabbit. Then she decided to find some more.
“It started in 2020 when a friend of mine,
a rabbit owner like me, saw a posting about a loose rabbit. So we decided to try to capture this domestic rabbit who couldn’t survive outdoors,” she recalled. “It was a success — we captured the rabbit, got him neutered, and found him a home.”
Soon after, they launched a Northampton- based nonprofit dedicated to doing that work on a larger scale, then procured space for
a shelter after a large rescue of 45 rabbits. While Starr’s original partner eventually left
the organization, she still leans on a group of committed volunteers who help with
day-to-day operations, fostering rabbits, transportation, and more.
“There’s a nationwide crisis of people trying to surrender pets,” she said.
“So we have to triage; we can’t take every pet, or we’d be handling
thousands of pets. We can handle maybe 50 in the whole rescue at a time — maybe a dozen requests every week.”
For instance, “if someone is bored with their rabbit, but they’re
safe, warm, and well-fed, we’ll probably turn those away. If a rabbit has been abandoned
and neglected, or is very sick, we’re more
Jen Walts
Owner, Wind & Water Doula Care: Age 35
likely to act in those scenarios. We get them spayed, neutered, and take care of all their medical needs — and some have high medical needs.”
The team will try to bond rabbits if someone wants more than one, and they make sure families spend time with the animals they’ll be adopting.
“When you first see them make that connection and bond — you see them falling in love — you know you’re completing a family in an important way. We know the work we’re doing is really paying off from the phone calls and letters from people thanking us. We’re not only making a difference for the rabbits, we’re making a difference for humans.”
It’s quite different work from Beerology, the home-brew shop Starr and her husband, Mike Schilling, have co-owned in Northampton since 2016. Meanwhile, in her spare time, Starr loves international travel, ballroom dancing, and performing in theater. In fact, she landed her first professional role last summer with Faultline Ensemble, playing a rookie EMT in a play called Counting Pebbles; the group is hoping to win a grant to tour the show in six cities.
“It’s about trauma and resiliency,” Starr said — both of which she’s had to navigate plenty for some furry friends looking for a better life. BW
—Joseph Bednar
 For a decade, Jen Walts was a high-school teacher. And she’s still an educator today — in a much different way.
“I experienced an empowering birth and realized one of the main reasons why that experience was so positive for me was that I was well-educated and had a support team that I could turn to for more wisdom and resources,” she recalled.
It was so empowering, in fact, that Walts decided she wanted to bring that experience to other women — and Wind & Water Doula Care was born.
“I knew I wanted to shift into the world of birthing, but with education at its core, empowering families to soak in as much knowledge as they can in such a transformative time.”
Offering holistic prenatal support to
support families through labor, birth, and early postpartum, Walts believes in bodily autonomy and informed consent through the birth process, empowering families to identify core values that shape their birth preferences, including, in some cases, the affirming, relaxation-inducing method of breathing techniques known as hypnobirthing.
“It’s an intense understanding of the physiology of labor and birth, so they feel less anxious about the process,” she explained. “It’s not happening to them; instead, they can move through it with some valuable coping tools. I call it preparing your mind to trust
your body.”
Walts has attended or supported more than
75 births and taught childbirth education to more than 100 families.
“Jen is an active listener to parents, and she offered us generous and detailed strategies from pain management to postpartum planning,” one client testified. Added another, “she exudes a reassuring and calm presence that felt so helpful throughout the shifting dynamics of birth.”
Walts said too many families fall victim to “information overload” from social media. “That can be helpful to some extent, but
it can also be overwhelming and can really disconnect you from your intuition and what you want for your family. I’m working on the outside of any medical system; I want to get into what values they have, what values they want to show up in their birthing.”
Walts was recently appointed program co-coordinator for a grant-funded program that will increase access to doula care for families birthing at Seven Sisters Midwifery and Community Birth Center in Northampton, which could help fill a persistent need for doulas locally.
A big question for women, she said, is “how do I advocate for myself in a system that’s built for efficiency? We’re taking back autonomy and voice in the healthcare system.” BW
—Joseph Bednar
2024 A43
Jordana Starr
President, Western Mass Rabbit Rescue: Age 39

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