Introducing Stephanie Allen, Program Manager

As you may have seen in our last Ecua Update, we are lucky to welcome Stephanie Allen as the newest member of our staff. She started as our new Program Manager earlier this year.

Stephanie originally heard about Starfish through a year of Service with Rostro de Cristo,  a Catholic volunteer program that invites young adults practice a ministry of presence within marginalized communities in Ecuador.  While there, she met Beth, one of our co-directors and co-founders.

Looking back at that meeting, Stephanie says, “I was interested in working with Starfish because of their mission to empower Ecuadorian youth through education as I had seen first-hand during my time as a volunteer in Ecuador, the barriers that exist to pursuing higher education and breaking the cycle of poverty for young people in and around Guayaquil. I truly believe in Starfish’s mission and am grateful to have the opportunity to work with our team to serve our scholars!”

stephanie allen homeWith volunteer experience in Ecuador already under her belt, she already has great ideas for Starfish, and has enjoyed getting learn a lot about Starfish during her first two months in the position. “My hope is that in my position as Program Manager, I’m able to support our Ecuadorian staff to provide the best service we can to our scholars and their families. I also look forward to the opportunity to expand our programs to be able to serve even more students and pursue partnerships for Starfish here in Ecuador. Most of all, I hope to continue to learn and grow in this role!”

Before starting at Starfish, Stephanie spent 2+ years as the Director of Volunteer Programs and Medical Outreach at Make-A-Wish New Hampshire and had spent a few months working in intercultural exchange in Cuenca, Ecuador.

She also has extensive volunteer experience. “My previous volunteer experience includes volunteering with the elderly, a year of service in Ecuador working with youth, and currently, as a volunteer translator for Kiva. My volunteer experiences are what ultimately led me into a career in the nonprofit sector.”

Speed Round

Stephanie agreed to a speed round of “favorites” questions to help us get to know her better.

stephanie allen 2

Favorite quote?
“Do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

I love this quote as a reminder that everything that we do, from the big to the small, can have a positive impact on those around us if we act intentionally and give freely of ourselves.

Favorite food?
Ice cream!

Favorite beverage?
Lime Polar seltzer

Favorite hobbies?
Reading, hiking, traveling to and exploring new places, and spending quality time with my family and friends.

Favorite place?
Driving around and exploring the beauty of New Hampshire with my mom, a hammock in Ecuador on a lazy Sunday, anywhere where I am surrounded by good company!

Favorite game?
Puzzles – number, word, jigsaw – I like them all!

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#StarfishSearch Winners (and other highlights)

This past weekend, 9 teams competed in the 2nd Annual #StarfishSearch Scavenger Hunt. The 35 participants represented 3 countries and 7 states.

Participants had 72 hours to complete 53 tasks – some focused on community service, some on creativity, some on exploring Ecuadorian culture, some on raising awareness for Starfish, and some that were just silly.

Although these pictures / videos didn’t win, here are some of our favorite moments from the search:

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When asked what their favorite item was was, participants said:

  • “The one we had the most fun with was riding on the handle bars of the bike singing the bicycle song!!” – Julia G
  • ” I can’t choose one! I had so much fun!” – Jenn Z.
  • “I loved making colada morada” – Anna J

The Winners:

The information you’ve all been waiting for – who won the search?

First Place: Mischief Management

– Kim Pulsford (Captain)
– Jenn Z
– Joe G
– Julia G
– Pete L
Mischief Management had team members in Ecuador and the United States and they completed all but 7 of the 53 tasks. They ended the hunt with 1,654 points. They continually impressed us with their submissions and creativity. The unanimous favorite item from their submissions was their nature art of Juan José Flores, also known as The First President of the Republic.

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2nd place: Los Que Come Cuando Hay

– Josue P (Captain)
– Arelisa R
– Diego B
– Genesis R
– Geovanna Sandy G

Los Que Come Cuando Hay was a team based entirely in Ecuador. They finished the scavenger hunt with 1,441 points. They were the only team to get the Starfish Foundation mentioned on the radio, the only team to write in chalk on a pack animal, and one of only two teams to draw a starfish on a bald human head. We were most impressed by them getting on the radio, and the judges favorite item was their handstand at the border.

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Favorite Photo: CONSTELACIÓN ALFA Y OMEGA

Another team comprised entirely of Ecuadorians, Constelacion alfa y omega also ended the search with over 1,000 points. They really impressed us with their submission for item #15 – Create an image of a famous Ecuadorian from history using only objects found in nature. Caption the photo (when uploaded) with the person’s name and why you chose them. We choose this as our favorite photo because of the attention to detail and the realism in the face.

Best Photo - Constelation #15
Eugenio Espejo, Fue un prominente investigador, científico, médico, historiador, escritor, abogado, periodista, pensador, quiteño ideólogo, político y prócer de la independencia de Ecuador. [Eugenio Mirror, was a prominent researcher, scientist, physician, historian, writer, lawyer, journalist, thinker, ideologist, politician, and a hero of Ecuador’s independence.]

Favorite Video: Seas the Day

Seas the Day was our only two person team, and impressed us by earning over 1,000 points despite having the fewest number of participants. They had one member from the United States, and one from England (our first European participant!). They had a lot of wonderful submissions, but we were most impressed by their stop motion video for #22 (Tell the Starfish story in a stop motion video). It was clear that a lot of time and effort went into creating this item, and it deserves recognition.

best video - seas the day #22.png

Thanks for Making us Laugh: Goin’ Starfishin’

Goin’ Starfishin’ was a three person team from Maryland. This team had a lot of fun throughout the hunt and it clearly showed. As judges, we went through the submissions many times, and every time we went past this item we stopped to admire it – not only was it visually appealing in terms of composition and lighting, but it also always brought a smile to our faces. They captured the expressions of the arm-wrestling competitors perfectly, and we thank them for making us laugh with their submission for item #31.

Made us Laugh - Goin Starfishin #31

Thank you to everyone who participated! You were all amazing, and we loved all your submissions!

We hope you’ll join us again next year. If you missed this year’s hunt, but want to make sure you’re on a team next year, email amanda.benton@thestarfishchange.org and we’ll make sure you get a personal invitation to join next year’s search.

 

Happy 5th Birthday Starfish!

Earlier this week, the Starfish Foundation celebrated it’s 5th birthday! That’s five years of providing scholarship, tutoring, and leadership development to youth living in extreme poverty in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Over that time frame, Starfish has grown and grown – and currently serves over 120 scholars in Guasmo and Flor de Bastion.

Jenn and beth.jpgThe idea for the Starfish Foundation developed after co-founders Beth and Jenn volunteered for a year in Ecuador, where they volunteered at a shelter for former street kids. A lot of these kids had no family or little support at home. Though many of them had the motivation to study, they lacked financial resources to be able to attend school once leaving the shelter.

Though public schools in Ecuador are free, families often still struggle to provide all the necessary materials (uniforms, books, school supplies, etc) while living on minimum wage and trying to feed a whole family. For many, the easiest solution was to not go to school. The Starfish Foundation works to fill a need that focuses on the importance of education as a catalyst for future success of each student and their communities, and provides scholarships and mentoring to students in financial need who have the motivation to continue their studies despite challenging circumstances.

But the success comes not just from funding scholars, but also seeing bright, caring, thoughtful individuals find the means to achieve their goals. It’s about seeing faces light up with smiles. It’s about promoting confidence through talent shows and interviews. It’s about creating a sense of community through outreach. It’s about improving our environment by encouraging sustainable living and recycling. It’s about service and instilling the values of hard work and giving back to the community in our scholars. It’s about big dreams, and big plans, and big ideas.

It’s about giving every scholar the boost they need to be the best version of themselves.

Over the last 5 years, there have been a lot of incredible moments for Starfish. Some highlights for Beth include:

  • On the trip last year, there was a moment when we got together all the “original” Starfish Scholars. It was kind of like the end of A League of Their Own – very nostalgic to remember back those early days, but impressive to see how these young adults (now) have grown up and are now giving back to Starfish as employees or volunteers!
  • Bringing my parents and best friend (basically my sister, in Spanish they call her my ñaña) to see Starfish. They are SO supportive and it was so special to have them meet our Scholars and their families!
  • The experience of growing our Board this fall. It was really the first time we had done anything quite like this – but the interviews with so many WONDERFUL people were delightful. I have loved getting to know our new members and seeing their positive energy. They have already started to give back in so many extraordinary ways!
  • Our 5th birthday! It was a tiring week, and a challenging time to see our country divided in the election, but in the midst of stress and discord, it was something to celebrate. The amount of people who wished me a happy birthday that day — I wondered if I should double-check my birth certificate 😉

As we look back, we’re so thankful to everyone who has been a part of this journey – we’re thankful for the support, friendship, prayers, and donations. As we look back, we know it is also important to look ahead, and look forward to continuing to grow and serve in the coming years. Some of our goals include:

  • Putting together a robust U.S. Operations team. We’re well on our way to doing so – an amazing set of Managers / Advisers for Development, Communications, and Volunteer Management, efficient Admin team of our Sr. Admin Assistant, Accountant, and Tech Guru, and an amazing team of Social Media interns. We have work to do, though, in creating the best structure to maximize capacity and efficiency – and I’d love to see us get to a great point with that.
  • Officially registering in Ecuador, buying land, and building our dream “house.” It’s the longest, most complicated process EVER, but we are nearing the end, and that’s pretty incredible.
  • Supremely increasing the attendance at our Giving Tuesday and An Evening for the Stars (Baltimore Benefit Dinner) events. We have some SNAZZY new tricks up our sleeve (this year, for example, just your presence at any Giving Tuesday results in a $10 donation to Starfish – thanks to a generous match!)
  • Seeing the amount of people who learn about Starfish continue to increase!

I hope you can agree it’s been an incredible Journey, and yet an even more amazing one awaits us. I also hope you’ll join me in wishing Starfish a very warm and loving HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

starfish-birthday

So far in 2015…

2015 is already off to a great start.  As we begin the new calendar year, we are also gearing up for the end of this school year here in Guayaquil.  That hasn’t stopped us from adding a few new things to our schedule though!

In January, we started off the year re-energizing a partnership with DIGS, a group based in Guasmo Sur that helps young people with develop creativity and teamwork skills.  This year we’re taking our partnership one step further.  Starfish has three teams that will compete in the March tournament hosted by DIGS in Mi Cometa.  Teams practice once or twice a week with their leaders.  Stay tuned for more info about their final projects in March!

In other exciting news, after receiving the grades from the first semester of studies, we selected our top Scholars to join us on a fun field trip to Bucay! Bucay is a town on the edge of the mountains.  We were able to escape the Guayaquil heat for the day and enjoy a water park complete with multiple water slides, fields to play on and a delicious meal!  We can’t wait for the year end grades and we hope to celebrate with even more students who have worked hard to raise their grades!

Lastly, January also marks the despedida or goodbye to our longest volunteer to date.  Nancy has been volunteering with Starfish since July and will now continue her good work in Colombia before heading back to the U.S. to see her family and begin college.  Our students and educadores will certainly miss Nancy.  Thank you for all that you have done!!

May updates – Tests, Volunteers, Books & More!

May sure has been a busy month at Starfish!  We started the month off with some “exámenes de nivelación” or some grade-level tests to see what our students remembered after their long break from classes.  A lot of the students found the material very challenging so we will be using these tests and other resources throughout the year to reinforce basic concepts and assure that our students are not just passing their classes, but also learning the material!

Students in Guasmo finishing up their tests.

Our 6 part-time employees are adapting well to their new roles and forming friendships with each other and the kids.  Our first volunteer of the year has assumed the role of “Profesor de Ingles” or English teacher and our newest volunteer Maria just got in yesterday.

Jasmin, Maricruz, Tyrone and Jenn in Flor de Bastión

May has also meant a crazy month of running back and forth to the center of the city looking for books for the students.  Technically it is illegal for schools to require that students buy textbooks, especially since they are so expensive, but that doesn’t stop about 50% of schools from doing it anyway.  Though we encourage our students and families to stand up for their rights, we don’t want the students’ grades to suffer in the meantime.  In accordance with our mission to not give the families money but rather the supplies they need to be successful, Starfish buys the books.  However, this is not as simple as going to the bookstore with the list of books you need.  It means going from store to store around the city and maybe finding 1 or 2 of the 30 or 40 books at each store.  Thankfully book season is ending soon so we won’t have to buy any more books – until next May!

A sample of some of the books bought this past weekend!

The task of purchasing uniforms in Guayaquil

Remember how all students in Ecuador, even at public schools, must buy 2 or 3 costly uniforms?  Try figuring out where, and how to buy them at a fair price when the entire city is trying to do the same thing.  I had the opportunity to accompany Paola, mom of two of our Starfish scholars – Maria and Steve, on her trip to the center of the city to try to get uniforms.  

Paola, Maria and some of the other Bravo children.



We left that day with a complete uniform for one, with the hope of buying the other the coming week.  At one store, we bought pants and Paola was able to get us a $0.50 discount.  Next we found a shoe store where we were able to get a discount for buying both the regular shoes and physical education shoes at the same time.  Next we found socks.  Later we found a lady walking around on the sidewalk selling belts for $1.  We left the hardest part for the end.  For the biggest and most famous high schools in the city, finding shirts was easy.  However, Steve is going to a high school in Guasmo that isn’t as well known.  We went to several vendors before we found one man who was willing to go look for us.  After about a half an hour he finally came back with the shirt we needed and the physical education uniform specific to the high school that completed our set.  With Paola’s expertise, we spent about 2.5 hours and $62 to complete Steve’s uniform for this coming school year! 

Read more about uniform and school supplies demand and prices: http://www.eluniverso.com/2012/03/25/1/1445/demanda-utiles-uniformes-crece-antes-clases.html

–Jenn Zocco, The Starfish Foundation In-Country Representative