Are You Ready for Starfish Search?!

In exactly one month the 2nd annual Starfish Search will be upon us!

If you participated last year, you know that the Starfish Search is a time for you to gather your friends, embrace your creativity, and have a Ton. Of. Fun. while raising awareness (and funds) for the Starfish Foundation.

 

This year we’re making a few changes to make this years hunt bigger, better, and bolder than ever before.

  1. We’re upgrading the hunt from 12 hours to 72 hours … that means you’ll have 6x as much time to complete items. The list will be published at 8am EST on the morning of October 28th. You will have until 8am EST on October 31st to complete and submit your tasks.
  2. More items! There will be more chances to express your creativity, more chances to do service for others, more smiles and laughs, and more opportunities to share your love for the Starfish Foundation. Ah, the memories we’ll make!
  3. Teams can now be compiled of members from around the world! That’s right – You don’t have to live in the same town (or even same country) as your teammates. So gather up your friends and family and see how well you can do!
  4. New prizes – Don’t have the time or energy to be super competitive and go all in? No worries! You can still win amazing prizes. Pick you favorite items and focus on making your submissions as thoughtful/creative/funny/impactful as possible, and you may be chosen for a special prize!2

Are you sold yet? If so, there are TWO ways to participate:

  1. Create your team. Find 1 – 4 other people who want to compete alongside you (from anywhere in the world), pick a team name, and sign up today.
  2. Make new friends! When you sign up, indicate that you don’t have a team and we’ll connect you with Starfish supporters and friends around the globe.31.jpg

So how does the whole thing work?

Each team member will need to pay $20 per person (or $90 if registering five people at one time for a team). All members registered by October 14th will receive an official Starfish Foundation t-shirt (while supplies last) – you may be asked to wear this shirt throughout the hunt at various times.

On the morning of the hunt, we’ll post a list (in English and Spanish) right here on our blog that will have a number of fun and weird tasks for you to complete – some will be about raising awareness, some will be about community service, some will be to learn more about Ecuador, and some will be just for fun or to test your creativity. Once you sign up, you’ll receive additional information and hints in the time leading up to the hunt. Team captains will receive instructions on how to submit items and tips for organizing their teams.

How exciting is that?? We know this year is going to be even more awesome than last year (And that’s saying something), so go on… Get your friends and family in on what may be the most fun they’ll have this fall!

Any questions, feel free to email Amanda at amanda.benton@thestarfishchange.org

 

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Things I’ve Learned (Part 2)

When you talk to the students at the Starfish Foundation about what they’ve learned this year, you’ll hear everything from math to geography, the importance of plants to the finer points of accounting. They are dedicated to their work, and excited to continually learn new things through both school and the Starfish Foundation.

But in addition to the reading, writing, and arithmetic that everyone is expected to learn, the Starfish Scholars are all learning another important lesson: the importance of relationships.

“The most interesting thing that I have learned this year is the value of friendship with my classmates at the Foundation. I have also learned about many very good subjects that help me in school, such as history and language”
– Emerson, a 12 year old scholar.

Time and time again, this lesson is echoed by the students who are reflecting on their experiences with Starfish – in addition to safe place to learn and grow academically, the Starfish Foundation is fostering team building, healthy relationships, and a sense of community – something essential to emotional and mental well-being.30389139440_e827dfeb47_z

“The most important thing that I have learned this year is to be respectful with my classmates and my seniors, because it is with these people that I coexist. With respect, you can live in a good environment anywhere you go. Another very important thing that I learned is about companionship. Along with respect, fellowship is one of the values that are important to everyone and we should all try to improve.”
– Josselyn

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Milena adds, “This year, I have met many new people that have become my friends. I have had a lot of fun with these new friends doing activities that take  place at the Foundation,” showcasing how the Starfish Foundation not only brings bright young minds together, but encourages them to thrive in social spaces.

It has been proven, over and over again, that friendships are vital to learning, self-confidence, life skills, priority setting, emotional health, and empowering people of all ages to make societal changes. That our scholars are able to develop relationships, and recognize their importance, through their participation in the Starfish Foundation, is vital to their current and future happiness and success.

We close today with a Maori proverb:

“What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people”. ( He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata).

Education: A Catalyst for Change

Guest Blogger: Jane Lorenzi is a senior at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, studying International Affairs and Spanish. She has been part of the Starfish family since 2014 and has volunteered both in Ecuador and the United States. She has also spent time in Chile, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic and is fiercely passionate about justice issues in Latin America.

Jane photo - credit Anna Jordan
Photo Credit: Anna Jordan

I’ve come to realize that material things rarely, truly empower people. Rather, it is the intangible things, such as education, that garner the most transformation. Education does not create dependencies; it sustains and empowers, allowing women in particular to be independent.

In a society where theft is a constant fear, education is a beacon of hope. What you learn in and outside of the classroom cannot be taken from you. Education is the catalyst for change, for development, for dreams that become realities, for peace.

Education allows individuals to empower themselves. With knowledge, they can make informed choices — about their health, about their relationships, about their futures. And it is perhaps the greatest hope that this knowledge will translate to understanding and tolerance, which in turn will work to create a more peaceful, just, compassionate world. A world in which every human being is given the opportunity to grow and evolve and improve and empower himself/herself and others, where every person is treated with dignity, respect, and love.

That’s what makes Starfish so cool.

It empowers its students to become leaders in their communities by supporting their academic needs. Focusing on education is a grass-roots approach, which puts power in the hands of locals who more fully understand the complex nature of the injustices that exist in their own communities.

That is not to say simply going to school will fix all the problems. The education system in Ecuador is broken in countless ways (I’ve yet to hear a positive anecdote about the Ministry of Education). Poorly trained teachers, ill-equipped classrooms, and relatively ineffective curriculum based mainly on rote memorization can deter children from being passionate about learning and/or interested in going to school. It’s often hard to explain to the students how important education is when their school day is more or less miserable and boring.

There are rays of hope though — that despite broken systems, going to school is definitely not all for naught. That education really does ignite change.

Like when Mikey beams about how much he loves English class and practicing his English with us volunteers.
Or when Cristhian talks about his passion for the sciences, biology especially, and how he doesn’t need help with science homework because he understands it.
Or when Maria Belén, one of Starfish’s first students to graduate high school, attends university to study medicine, pursuing her lifelong dream of becoming a pediatrician.

These remarkable students represent the beginnings of a new generation: a generation of passionate, inspired leaders and doers and shakers.
That sounds like a pretty beautiful future to me.

A future that Starfish is shaping, poco a poco.

Volunteering Helps You Gain a New Appreciation for Life

Guest Blogger: Ellie McNalty is a high school Junior from York Pennsylvania where is actively involved in volunteer work – primarily with Mini-THON which raises money for pediatric cancer patients and Aevidum, which is a peer mentorship and mental health advocacy group. She’s also on the student advisory council for Four Diamonds, the parent organization for Mini-THON. She first heard about Starfish at HOBY this June.

Volunteering is not only a rewarding experience, but it is also an incredible way to learn a new appreciation for life. I find that every volunteer position I hold not only helps others, but it teaches me so many things about myself and my perspective of the world.

I am going into my junior year of high school, and I am quite involved in organizations within my school and community. I am an officer of two service based clubs (Mini-Thon and Aevidum), a member of a student leadership council to a non-profit (Four Diamonds), a small group leader at my church, and more. I’ve long since learned that high school is crazy, but getting ready for college is even crazier.

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Though some students join clubs for the purpose of college applications, I have a completely different motivation for why I’m super involved. I volunteer because helping other people brings me so much genuine joy on a day-to-day basis. I’ve worked with many students who seem to be volunteering for the wrong reasons, and they never seem to be satisfied the way that I am when I see the effects of my work.

Every group that I’m involved in benefits someone or something that is truly in need. I am heavily involved in a program at my school that raises money for pediatric cancer patients, and I can easily say that I’ve been around for many moments of success and just as many moments of failures. But no matter what happens, I can never give up on my responsibilities as a volunteer. Yes, it definitely gets stressful and overwhelming at times, but when we reach the final moment of our big event, the incredible number of people we see before us looking to contribute is always so worth the effort we put in to get there.

I volunteer so that I can give opportunities to those who don’t have them.

I am so blessed to be a healthy teenage girl, and I want to use that gift to give to those who aren’t as fortunate. I am so humbled to have been a part of the team that raised over $65,000 for kids with cancer; it’s moments like that which remind me that my struggles are so small compared to the needs of others.

Volunteering has helped me to become such a better person. Not only does it bring me immense joy to help others, but it reveals the strengths and weaknesses within my own life. I can’t say I’ve never had a bad attitude while volunteering, and I know that I am far from perfect, but I will never stop being super involved because volunteering is a part of me. Helping others is an incredible thing, and I volunteer so that I can help as many others as I possibly can.

“Summer” Vacation

29719927493_f784eb306d_bOn March 12th, We held our year end ceremonies in Guasmo; on April 24th, the new school year started. For the 43 days in-between Starfish staff and volunteers kept busy. Here’s some of what they were up to:

Staff in Ecuador started off the month of April purchasing all of the supplies for the new school year, as well as uniforms, shoes, backpacks, etc for our Starfish Scholars! We were also able to buy some fun new things for our classroom, like a giant whiteboard!

Once all the supplies were accounted for, they took to setting up and re-organizing our classrooms. Students and staff came together to put a new coat of paint on the walls to brighten the rooms up. The goal was a a better classroom environment and increased organization.

During school break, staff also participated in 3 professional development days. Topics included Teaching Strategies, Observational Skills & Growth Mindset.

Supplies bought? Check!
Classrooms organized? Check!
Walls painted? Check!
Professional development? Check!

So what’s next?

Staff also used April to get ahead on plans for this school year. Apart from our main programs – scholarship, tutoring & leadership development – we are also continuing with the therapeutic group run by our psychologist twice a month, our monthly school for parents, a soccer club, a new & improved community service club, as well as some new ideas for weekend clubs such as computer skills, chess, crafts, dance and more! Whew! We’re going to have a great school year!

We have 50 new students joining us in tutoring this year, with 140 students overall. We spent the first week getting to know each other, establishing classroom expectations for the year, reviewing material from last year, and setting goals for this year. We look forward to sharing updates for the new school year!

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for day to day updates, stories, and photos from our students, staff, and volunteers in Ecuador and around the world.

Throw Back Thursday: Lessons from Ecuador

This week, we’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane to see what various scholars, educators, and volunteers have learned through their experiences with Starfish:

“There is a universal language spoken through hugs, smiles, and laughter.” – Martin, volunteer

527e6-dscn2461“It’s important to give kids more ways to shine than just the classroom or the soccer field” – Danny, volunteer

“My wonderful opportunity to serve as an intern at the Starfish Foundation provides me with a greater insight of issues and circumstances worldwide, and has truly made me more grateful for the everyday things I have access to instantaneously. I have been handed so much in my life and I am thankful for the opportunity Starfish has given me to give back.” – Katrina, volunteer

“I have become more responsible, my skills have grown which makes me proud because I feel that I am a very capable person.” – Joselyn, scholar

“Without the people of the Starfish Foundation, I wouldn’t have learned more Spanish and how to work with their students. Additionally, without the students of Flor, I wouldn’t have learned how to work with English language learners and develop more skills as an educator.” – Katie, volunteerIntegration Day...in the eyes of a volunteer.

“I’ve learned to express myself and am comfortable speaking in front of the other people on various subjects.” – Julio, scholar

“Community can’t be taught, it must be built with time, trust, and consistency.” – Martin, volunteer

“Through reading, I learn more about myself and the world around me, and it has helped me to become who I am today.” – Sara W., scholar

2017 So Far

Wow everyone, I can’t believe it’s already April! Now that we’re three months through 2017, I think it’s time to take a look back at what we’ve accomplished so far!

January:

  • In January, our volunteer Ellie continued with the English classes with both the students and educators. Also, the students were able to hold a party for Three King’s Day, on January 6th. The party involved playing and having a grab bag for each student. Next, there was a meeting held on January 15th, in which scholarship recipients completed activities related to the leadership school. The students had a great time and enjoyed it a lot!

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  • We have also continued our tutoring classes! This month the classes were focused on nouns, sentences, comma usage and other grammar points.
  • Finally, we held a Community Service Workshop. Overall, January was a great month for the Starfish Foundation!

February:

  • In February, our volunteer Ellie completed the English classes with the students and educators. Great job, Ellie!
  • Students presented their final projects at Starfish, where they were able to demonstrate the skills they learned at our new and improved classes these past 5 months. Their project was called “Around the World,” and each group was to pick a country they had never researched previously. Then, they were to research, make a PowerPoint and present to the class, while including a creative piece such as traditional dress, traditional food, etc.Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 10.58.11 AM
  • The high school students also carried out three projects with the community in February, which they’ve planned throughout the year. Stay on the lookout for our upcoming blog posts to get an update on their projects!
  • This month, our tutoring classes were held in conjunctions, upper and lowercase letters and public communication.
  • Finally, the Leadership School held their second workshop this month, where the topic was how to be a good leader. Activities were created for students to find out their flaws, virtues, interests and values and then how these attributes make them a good leader.

March:

  • This month was the end of the school year for students!
  • In March, we received over 100 scholarship applications and are excited to welcome 54 full scholarship recipients and 16 conditional scholarship recipients!
  • We also held our year end ceremonies in March. In Guasmo, the ceremony was on March 12th and in Flor de Bastion, the ceremony was held on March 17th! For the students with the best grades, we went on a field trip to Bucay at the end of the month.
  • Coming up, we have a new summer reading initiative! Starfish students are expected to read daily, complete a reading log and attend weekly sessions for 1 month to discuss what they’re reading, with our educators.

These past three months were absolutely great and we can’t wait to see what the next three have in store!

Until next time,
Henry

“I Choose to Learn” and Other Initiatives

In addition to the work done with our scholars, The Starfish Foundation also works with adults and other members of the community through “The Parents School” and “I Choose to Learn”. I spent some time this week learning about these various initiatives so I could share the information with you.

The Parents School happens once a month (the last Sunday of the month). During this time, Psychology professionals conduct workshops and therapies. Although children are not required to participate in parents school, about 15 to 20 scholars are involved per month.

At the first meeting of The Parents School staff took the time to get to know the concerns of and ask suggestions from them to use for future meetings.choose-to-learn

These monthly meetings also allow them to make connections and converse with other parents, as well as for Starfish staff to meet with and have a better understanding of their lives. The open communication helps everyone see from each other’s point of views, and encourages everyone to be open-minded.

In October, the topic of the month was “Equity in Household Activities.” Given by psychologist Edwin Alvarado, its objective was to understand the difficulties that the parents have when designating household chores.

During this session, parents and children worked in groups to make posters “indicating the discomforts of families and possible suggestions when designating the tasks at home”. Through this, participants realized the importance of their functions within the home, and parents gained an appreciation of the importance of having patience, as well as good balance between showing love and the authority.

What an important lesson! Next I got to hear about the “I Choose to Learn program” offered.

I Choose to Learn was originally a program aimed at mothers, but is now open to both mothers as well as youth in the community (both scholars and non-scholars). The goal is to help these individuals create items or complete tasks that generate income. Some projects include making wallets, purses, holsters, change purses, hairbands, and foam crafts.

The methodology for maintaining income is that for each item made, the participants will sell it and then half of the profit is for them and the other half is to buy the materials.

I wish them the best of the luck as they become aspiring entrepreneurs!

Until next time,
Henry

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.

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Día de los Difuntos

In Ecuador, every November 2nd is a national holiday. This is the day that cemeteries are decorated with crosses, crowns and flowers. This is done to immortalize loved ones that have passed away to eternal life. This is the day that the ones that pray meet with the ones that have already met death.

On the days leading up to Día de los Difuntos, Ecuadorian families clean their loved ones’ coffins so when the day comes they can fill their day with prayers for them or share customs that the loved one used to do when he or she was alive.

Lastly, in remembrance of this day, people make colada morada and traditional guagas de pan. On this holiday in November, families get together to visit the loved ones that have passed.

Fun Fact: Colada morada is a traditional Ecuadorian beverage prepared with black corn flour and fruits such as naranjilla, babaco, pineapple, blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries

Fun Fact 2: Guagas de pan also known as T’anta wawa is a type of sweet roll shaped and decorated in the form of a small child or infant. They are generally made of wheat and sometimes contain a sweet filling.

I checked in with some of our educators and staff in Ecuador to see how they and their families spend Día de los Difuntos.

Jessica Párraga says, “Each November 2nd, my family usually gets together in the morning at the Gardens of Hope Cemetery  to visit our family members that have passed away. In the afternoon, the entire family goes to one of my uncles’ houses to have lunch, and play secret Santa which is another one of our traditions that lets us get together again for Christmas…For us, the Day of the Dead is a holiday where my entire family gets to be together.

William Segura says, “It is an incredible holiday!”

He continues, “In my opinion, the November holiday is one of the most fun, along with Carnival. My entire family gets together to share experiences and make delicious food, which is the most representative thing about this holiday. The food is delicious because it incorporates fruits from the mountain, flours, and more. During Día de los Difuntos, many families take advantage to visit their loved ones. My family is no exception. I have relatives spread throughout the country and every holiday I get to go to a different place.

What I love the most about this holiday is eating guaguas de pan, which are little dolls made of bread  – and they taste great! – with colada morada made of pineapple, mango and citrus fruits.”

It was lovely getting to learn more about this extra special holiday in Ecuador and experiencing some of our staffs’ family traditions. I thank Jessica and William for sharing their stories with me.

Happy November!
xxx Henry