#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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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.



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


“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.

Interview with Lucy Vargas, Starfish Student

Hello again and welcome to the month of March! This week, my travels to Ecuador led me to an interview with Lucy Vargas, one of our very own Starfish Foundation students. I love discussing a wide range of topics with our students, but this week I decided to discuss the future with Lucy.

screen-shot-2017-02-25-at-9-26-38-pmI asked Lucy to tell me what she wants to be when she grows up. Being a very dedicated and determined student, Lucy replied, “My dream is to be a Commercial Engineer when I grow up. However, there are also other careers that I am interested in, like being a veterinarian or a pediatrician. I know that these are three careers that demand effort and dedication. Nevertheless, I will try very hard in order to achieve my goals.” I was instantly impressed with Lucy’s answer and had to know more!

Lucy told me that she has different reasons she is drawn to each of these careers, but that, “behind each of these careers is something that inspires me.” When it comes to commercial engineering she said, “Commercial Engineering fascinates me a lot because my dad worked in a company alongside other engineers. Their goal was to design homes that would later be built, in which several people would be able to live.” I loved Lucy’s enthusiasm to not only design buildings and homes, but to help the people who would live in those homes.

Lucy’s passion for helping didn’t stop there. Her reasons behind becoming a veterinarian or a pediatrician are both based on her desire to help living creatures. “I like the idea of being a veterinarian, because I love animals, especially dogs. In fact, I have a dog named Tobby, who is brown and white and handsome. Finally, being a pediatrician appeals to me because children are my inspiration. They are like little angels. I have two little siblings, who I consider to be little angels sent by God to brighten up my family.”

Thank you again for the great chat, Lucy! Everyone at Starfish is so proud of you and we can’t wait to see what your future holds, either as a commercial engineer, as a veterinarian, as a pediatrician or even something else!


Original Interview:

“Yo de grande quiero ser una profesional de Ingeniería Comercial. Sin embargo, también me gustaría estudiar otras carreras como veterinaria y pediatría. Se que son tres carreras que exigen esfuerzo y dedicación. No obstante, me esforzaré mucho por conseguir mis metas.

Detrás de cada una de las carreras que pienso seguir, hay algo que me inspira. Por ejemplo, de Ingeniería Comercial me fascina mucho porque mi papá trabajó en una compañía junto con otros ingenieros que se trazaron como meta construir viviendas para que puedan vivir algunas personas.

Veterinaria me gusta también porque me encantan los animales y en especial a los perros. De hecho yo tengo uno que es hermoso de color café y blanco y se llama Tobby.

Finalmente, Pediatría porque los niños son mi inspiración. Ellos son como unos angelitos. Yo tengo 2 hermanitos. Considero que son unos angelitos enviados de Dios para alegrar a mi familia.”

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.


Integration Day…in the eyes of a volunteer.

Volunteer Andrew shares with us his experience of last Sunday’s integration Day in Flor de Bastión!

A group song to unite the two Starfish neighborhoods.

Jenn celebrating with the June birthday girls!

“I got to experience the grand fiesta known as integration day where the refuerzo students from Guasmo got to reunite with their counterparts in Flor De Bastion for a day. This was definitely something that I will not soon be able to forget. Just taking a bus load of kids to Flor was an interesting experience. 

Andrew & Danny with the Guasmo crew after their bus ride!
Once we got to Flor de Bastión the party was a really fun way to just relax with the kids in a way that we normally can’t during the week when the kids all have school. Dancing is very important here in Ecuador and I got a a chance to experience that fact first hand on the dance floor. Even Jaren, my 8 year old best friend in Ecuador, can pull of those Michael Jackson moves effectively. 

Jaren showing off his dance moves!
Sra. Elena, mom of 3 Starfish scholars and a huge supporter, pulls Andrew & Danny out onto the dance floor!
On top of dancing we played a few really cool games and we had some special presentations. A few of the kids from Flor presented some love songs they had been practicing, one of which was in English.
Dayanna and Maria Belen singing & dancing!
Mayerly, Andreina, Briggette, Genesis and Nagelhi showing off their dance moves!
On top of that the Guasmo kids wrote and presented a play of their own about the negative effects of drugs and alcohol which they some how managed to achieve in a comedic light. 
Solange and Valeria performing the skit.
The best part though was just getting the chance to see how the community really came together here to celebrate what Starfish has to offer. I know that a lot of work went into making Integration Day possible and it really wouldn’t have been possible without the people who donated the time and material and space to make this all possible. 
Starfish employees from both neighborhoods with Starfish directors Jenn & Beth
Starfish scholar Cristhian with his mom, younger sister Noelia, and  siblings and Starfish Employees Tyrone and Jasmin.
It is clear to me that Starfish is primarily a community organization, the outside money helps make everything that Starfish does possible but in the end it is the communities in both Flor and Guasmo that work together to take advantage of what Starfish has to offer.”
Jenn & Beth

An Evening for the Stars!

Two weeks ago, a dream became a reality. Dr. Klingler’s Social Entrepreneuship class had come up with the idea of “An Evening for the Stars” last spring — a benefit dinner, hosted at Villanova, for our Starfish Scholars. Lo and behold, one year later, it was a major success!

The event was incredible. People came from far and wide — some even traveling from Connecticut and New Jersey! In total, there were about 40 guests in attendance, plus the wonderful Business Without Borders (BWB) team, who staffed the event.

Highlights of the night included:

A beautiful table of raffle prizes, including a purse donated by Profugo, and incredible silent auction items, like picture frames (handmade by Kaitlyn Dormer, a BWB member and co-organizer of An Evening for the Stars), Ecuadorian crafts and photos of our Scholars.

The a cappella performance by Minor Problem — and the “outstanding” cheer from some HOBY volunteers!

Martin Garcia’s speech — Martin was Starfish’s first volunteer intern in Ecuador, and his words eloquently described how much of an impact the Starfish Scholars have on his life.

The extraordinary array of food, including beans and rice and fried plantains — so Ecuadorian!

So many of our supporters coming together — Jenn’s and Beth’s family, Dr. Klingler and Dr. Arvanites from VSB, past and present BWB members (including BWB co-founder and Starfish Accountant Dave Grady and current BWB president Danny Newell), HOBY friends, Villanova alum and more.

In total, we raised:

  • $1,641.50 from ticket sales
  • $1,190 from the silent auction
  • $270 from the raffle
  • $3,320 from other donations

Overall, that’s $6,421.50! This doesn’t include a few expenses that we are still reconciling, but overall, the event was a huge success in both ‘fund-raising’ and ‘friend-raising.’

We owe a huge thank you to quite a few people.

Firstly, gracias to Kaitlyn Dormer and Erin Digan, who organized the entire event. From soliciting donations at the Villanova Print Center to negiotiating with the great staff at Dining Services, they worked their charm around VU to have the greatest impact possible for the Scholars. Kaitlyn’s graphic design skills are impressive, and their ideas to make recycled craft centerpieces was truly a hit. We cannot thank you both enough!

Additionally, we’d like to thank Dr. Jim Klingler (pictured here, with wife) and Dr. Deb Arvanites (not pictured) and for their generous advice, support and enthusiasm for Starfish.

To Business Without Borders, we are so grateful for your constant energy for Starfish projects.

VU Dining Services did a fantastic job at catering the event, Minor Problem provided excellent entertainment, the DJ provided great music, and VU Print Center made the materials possible.

Our most heartfelt gratitude to Martin Garcia, for the ripple effect he’s created at Villanova for Starfish. We’re impressed by you, Martin, and we are so happy to have you as a part of the Starfish family.

Last, but certainly not least, we thank our families for all the support and assistance with this project. It was great to have you be a part of this event, and we couldn’t do Starfish without your support!

Gracias a todos, por todo.
Con carino,
Beth and Jenn

Ecuador’s President on Education

In a March 31 press conference, Ecuadorian President Rafeal Correa said, “There will not be development without education.

Correa is one of the most respected and well-liked Ecaudorian presidents of recent times, especially among the poorer population.  Correa was not born into a particularly wealthy family and as a child, he also had to overcome his situation in order to rise to the position of power and influence he holds today.  One of his major initiatives has been to improve the education system in Ecuador.  In his March 31 press conference televised on all public channels in Ecuador, he spoke of a plan to create incentives such as paying a minimum salary for those university students who choose to study education in order to become teachers.  He believes that this is the most important major one can choose.  He remarked that often times good students who are looking for quick money choose to study medicine for financial reasons, but he stresses that these elite students are the ones that Ecuador needs in teaching positions.  With the elite teaching its citizens, Correa and the Ministry of Education believe that their country can progress and develop.

Another interesting fact that Correa noted: According to university entrance exams – there is no difference in the aptitude of students coming from rich and poor families.  Sometimes there is a difference in knowledge if more economically fortunate students have had more access to resources, but in aptitude rich and poor students alike scored the same.  He believes there is hope for all to succeed, to help Ecuador and to help themselves break the cycle of poverty.

Source: Televised March 31 press conference