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.

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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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Spotlight on Volunteers and Educators

The Starfish Foundation relies on both volunteers and educators from Ecuador to run successfully. This week, we’re catching up with William (an educator) and Jhon (a volunteer), to learn a little more about them, their interests, and how Starfish has benefited their lives.

William- March 2Question: Please introduce yourself
William: My name is William Segura, and I am an educator in the Starfish Foundation.

Question: What is your average day like outside of Starfish?
William: After arriving home from work, I quickly get ready to go to the university. I eat and prepare my necessary materials. I really like my time occupied with things that are important to me; it makes me feel that my dreams are being accomplished.

Question: What do you like to do for fun?
William: My friends and I like to go out to places in my city, Guayaquil, and enjoy what it offers. Of course, it’s quite hot here. Occasionally, we get together to celebrate someone’s birthday or to practice sports.

Question: What have you learned from working at the Starfish Foundation?
William: In the foundation, I have honed skills that I didn’t know I had. Speaking in front of students and patiently explaining assignments to them are things that I didn’t think I could do. I’ve also learned that with sacrifice and hard work, you can accomplish unimaginable things.

Jhon B - volunteer.jpegQuestion: Please introduce yourself
Jhon: I’m Jhon. I was a Starfish Scholar throughout high school and I graduated from the foundation; now I am a new volunteer.

Question: When you’re not volunteering with Starfish, what do like to do?
Jhon: In my free time, I practice sports. I like to have fun with my friends by playing board games, such as chess and checkers. In this way, we see who is the smartest, and we laugh a good bit.

Question: What’s a random fact that you want people to know about you?
Jhon: My favorite animal is a crocodile. I like them because most of the time they are solitary, but they are also seen in groups, and they’re really strong.

Question: What have you learned from the Starfish Foundation?
Jhon: In the foundation, I’ve learned about values and how to practice them each day. Putting one’s values into action is the most important thing. I know that I must be a good example for the rest and always do good deeds.

We’re so thankful for both Jhon and William for everything they do!

Ecuador Happenings

Over the school break, the students participated in various clubs including dance, experiments, entrepreneurship, make-up, hair styling, pastry-making, painting, and crafts. There were a variety of activities and the students participating showed great interest in the learning experiences.

In April we hosted our annual Scholarship Ceremony. It was an exciting morning for the students as well as for the Starfish group. The students were very happy to receive all their uniforms and school materials to kick off the new school year. In addition to receiving their needed items, it’s a chance to celebrate their successes from the previous year and congratulate them for the effort they put into their school work.

During the teachers’ vacation week, the administrative team took charge of updating the classroom to welcome the students back to a better-organized space. The students came in on different days to participate in integration activities and get to know each other.

To kick off the school year, we hosted a Math Workshop and a Language Workshop. In the Math workshop, we reviewed basic operations. Scholars were able to play games while benefiting from both visual and auditory learning techniques.

For the Language Workshop we started with the topic of how to write a letter; this is very important because it gives the students the opportunity to learn to express themselves in written form. These workshops will continue throughout the year. Future topics will include subject and predicate, adjectives, synonyms, antonyms, homophones, and homographs.

This Year’s An Evening for the Stars was a Night to Celebrate

We celebrated our 5th annual benefit dinner and silent auction on April 21! So much fun was had by all – there was great music, great food, and tons of great individuals from all around the world!

“My favourite part of this year’s dinner was connecting with other like-minded people who believe in the Starfish mission. It was a night filled with inspiring conversations and wonderful demonstrations of support,” said Erica, a long time volunteer who traveled from Canada to attend this year’s event. “I traveled to the dinner from Canada because I’ve been a long time supporter of Starfish from a distance, and I wanted to meet everyone else who has also been donating their time, energy, efforts and resources to help further the cause of high-quality education in Ecuador. I am so happy to have met all these wonderful supporters at the dinner, and I can’t wait to go again,” she added.

 

 

If you haven’t already heard, the silent auction during the benefit dinner went incredibly well – Over 170 silent auction items were sold in person and online. This is 13% more than last year! WOW!

Here are some other key highlights from this year’s dinner:

  • Over $110,000 was raised from sponsorship, program ads, ticket sales, and silent auction proceeds. This is a 35% increase from last year!
  • We had 218 dinner attendees. It’s an all-time record, and well over last year’s tally of 150!

And that’s all thanks to you, our awesome supporters, volunteers, and friends!

When asked to describe this year’s event in just one word, participants said:

  • Inspiring!
  • Caring!
  • Connecting!
  • Heart-warming!
  • Uplifting!
  • Fun!
  • Motivating!
  • Impressive!

They also said they learned a lot from the event – hearing stories of various students who gained life-changing opportunities and access to education, as well as hearing stories from volunteers and staff who have had their lives changed for the better because of Starfish.

Did you attend this year’s benefit dinner and want to give feedback? Please fill out this survey so that we can improve next year’s benefit dinner and silent auction.

The End of a School Year

As we start the new school year in Ecuador, we want to take a few moments to recap some highlights from the end of last school year.

Every year, the Starfish Foundation offers a prize to scholars whose grades improve over the previous (year / semester). This March, a vast majority of students received the prize, so a trip was organized to Pisagua, a natural spring-fed water park. The students had a great time and enjoyed themselves.

Another “prize” trip was organized to Ayangue for parents who participated in meetings throughout the year. Ayangue is a small fishing village best known for it’s beautiful sheltered bays with calm waters. The parents had a lot of fun, took a lot of photos, and even went on a yacht. It’s a great opportunity for the parents from Flor and Guasmo to meet one another. Student members of the Therapeutic Group also joined them, enjoying the peaceful beach, burying themselves in the sand, and of course, the outing on the yacht.

Some Club Highlights:

  • Makeup Club: The students were very excited to learn to use different makeup products. It was incredible the changes they could bring about in the photography session.
  • Craft Club: Student members made foamy ice cream and string lanterns.
  • Science Club: Students carried out various experiments including making their own rockets, inflating balloons with vinegar and baking soda, making air fresheners. They also learned to create sound waves, and water that doesn’t spill.
  • Baking Club: Students made marzipan fruits, chocolate and coconut balls, and fruit pizza.
  • Painting Club: Students made landscapes on posters using colored pencils and charcoal; it was very interesting and the liked it a lot because they learned various techniques. In addition, they drew on shirts and painted glass containers with fabric paint.

Once the students left for their break, staff and volunteers worked very hard to prepare so that this school year is full of even more successful programs and opportunities for our students.

From Volunteering to Pen Pals to to Friendship

I met David Tomala my first summer at Starfish, summer of 2016. I was serving as a month-long volunteer and taught English, led professional development for the educators of Starfish, and learned a bit about the school system in Ecuador. David was one of my English students! He always came to class prepared, and eager to speak English. He’d say, “Hi, how are you,” even when we weren’t in English class!

IMG_3147After my month in Ecuador I wanted to sponsor a scholar, and David was one of the students who was without a sponsor. I chose David because of his work ethic, how pleasant and friendly his demeanor is, and his desire to learn. I got to witness David playing soccer and hanging out with his friends at the Foundation multiple times a week, as students would often hang around after class, listening to music, dancing, and playing sports together. The other volunteers and I, too, would hang out at Starfish until after the sun had set each night, running around, playing games, doing more homework help if kids needed it, and chatting, I truly appreciate the togetherness that Starfish brings to families, the Flor de Bastion community, and the togetherness it brought among Starfish scholars and volunteers alike.

David and I communicate via our pen pal letters, and we are also Facebook friends! This past summer of 2017 I went back to Starfish for one week. The timing of my trip aligned closely with the timing that sponsors were sending gifts to their scholars, so I took David’s glow in the dark soccer ball, took the air out of it, and brought it along with me to Guayaquil! I pumped it back up and hand-delivered his “regalo,” for which David was grateful, and the ball was being used within 5 minutes of presenting it to him!!

img_3081.jpgAbout an hour later, I was chatting with Mikki, the summer volunteer coordinator, and we were wondering if he knew that it was a gift for him to keep or not. My Spanish isn’t perfect, and at this point another girl was using the ball while David chatted with his friends. So Mikki went over to confirm that he knew that the ball was his. David’s response was that he knew that it was his gift and that his friend wanted to borrow it, so he was letting her use it. I remember being so humbled and impressed by his response; everything, even a brand new gift received that day, is for community. His attitude was so selfless. David wanted to share, so he did! I learned from David that day and carry that moment with me each day still.

I’m blessed to be David’s sponsor and to have known him for the past year and a half!

If you would like to sponsor a scholar and gain a Pen Pal you can! We have 4 different tiers of sponsorship, find out more at http://www.thestarfishchange.org/sponsor-a-scholar

This post was written by a guest blogger, Kaitlyn.

Training Others to Use Computer Software

For her Starfish Service project, Elizabeth trained parents in the use of basic computer programs such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Through talks and lessons, she informed parents of the basic concepts so that they could feel comfortable using the different software. Her goal was to increase their overall knowledge. Today she shares with us her thoughts on the project:

Elizabeth DelgadoThis project was focused on providing Word computer classes for the parents of the Starfish Foundation. Since Word is currently one of the most used computer programs for the presentation of documents, letters and writing, but still unknown to some people, I decided to focus on this topic, so that parents can have a basic knowledge of it.

The idea of ​​computer classes arose to help parents explore the Word program, as there are some parents who do not handle this application with ease, which is very important today, so they can help a little in the tasks of their children.

Parents attended lessons from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Originally I had 13 parents sign up for these classes, but only 4 participated. It is difficult to have the participation of parents due to their other commitments. Despite this setback, I am confident that those who attended learned important and practical skills.

This year, the class only lasted one day, and one hour, so if we replicate this idea next year, we are considering extending the program so there are multiple sessions.

Hispanic and Latina Women Who Change(d) the World

We’re halfway through Women’s History Month, so it’s the perfect time to shine a bright spotlight on the inspiring, go-getting Hispanic and Latina women who are raising their voices, sharing their stories, overcoming barriers, and changing the world.

alvarezJulia Alvarez, an Domican-American poet, essayist and novelist, gained national acclaim after her 1991 novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, illuminated what it’s like to be a Latina immigrant in the U.S. Her second novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, detailed the death of the Mirabal sisters during the Trujillo dictatorship in the DR. Her contribution to Latin American literature brought on future Dominican-American writers like Angie Cruz and Junot Diaz.

BeutlerRecently appointed to serve as vice chairwoman of the Financial Services and Government Oversight Appropriations Subcommittee, Herrera Beutler, 36, is one of the youngest and most visible women serving in Congress. The U.S. House Appropriations Committee earlier this year approved her legislative directive instructing Veterans Affairs to address why the agency is experiencing such a high rate of medical providers who leave the system. She is the first Hispanic in history to represent Washington State in the U.S. House of Representatives. TIME Magazine placed her on its 40 Under 40 list of top national leaders.

Alegria

 

Claribel Alegria: With over 25 published works, this Nigerian novelist is a powerful voice in contemporary literature in Central America. She has published volumes of poetry, novels, and children’s books. The George Washington University graduate focused on the people’s movement, which helped overthrow dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. She was awarded the 2006 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

Rita Morena is a legend. Known as a singer, dancer and actress, she has had an amazing career. She won acclaim for her role as Anita in the film adaptation of West Side Story, had a successful Broadway career and even performed at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. She was only the second Puerto Rican to win an Academy Award and is still the only Latino who has earned the prestigious EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony). Most recently she presented an award at the 2018 Oscars… in the same dress she wore when she accepted her Oscar for Best Actress 50 years ago.

Moreno 2

arrate

And of course, as the Starfish Foundation is in Ecuador, we will end our list of amazing women with Noralma Vera Arrata. As Former Ecuadorian Prima Ballerina, choreographer, and Director of the National Dance Institute (Instituto Nacional de Danza) she danced in London, Paris, Ecuador, and Cuba – excelling in both Ballet and Modern. In 1978, Vera founded her own ballet company and academy in her home city. After retiring from active dancing, Vera worked as a diplomat in Mexico and Cuba.

 

We hope these outstanding women will inspire all of you (yes! All of you! Not just the ladies) to put forth your best. It takes kindness, teamwork, communication, and hard work to make the world a better place – and today’s a great day to get started.

Reflections on Service – Kiara, Naghelly, and Mierly

Guest Bloggers, Kiara, Naghelly, and Mirely focused on the mistreatment of women for their year-end service project. Here they share their reflection on the experience…

As we completed this project, we personally acquired more knowledge about the mistreatment of women. When we met with adults from the community, and allowed them to express their opinion and talk openly about the subject, they were able to grow in their knowledge as well. Each person we connected with expressed their indignation and disapproval of hitting a woman because women must be respected, valued, cared for, and, above all, loved.service project.png

Currently, we find many women in the world who have been through this type of situation and they have to go to professionals to cope with these problems. The situation is very worrying and that is why many people give talks to prevent it, however, this is a problem that will always exist.

Naturally, these behaviors do not always come to light but remain in the depths of the family. The explosions of aggressiveness also reach children, producing equally serious psychopathological disturbances that dangerously interfere with the balanced development of their personality.

Our project was a little complicated because we had to give talks in shifts and we got nervous about talking to the adults. However, each time, we lost a little bit of our fear, and the adults supported us and gave us ideas we could use to continually improve our presentations.

service project 2

We were able to be successful because we researched the subject thoroughly so we could skillfully manage the workshops.

If we were to repeat the project we would recommend that there would be more group work, and that the presentations would include fun activities so that they can get the attention of the adults taking the class.

We’d like to give thanks to the Starfish Foundation for helping us. We enjoyed talking with the community and it was nice to spend that time educating others.

Friends From Another Continent

I was lucky enough to visit Ecuador twice, once before starfish was founded and once a couple summers ago.

Kim_painting_of_Cape_Cod_for_Pamela

I met Pamela and Arelisa the first time I visited. They were so sweet. They had prepared kind words to welcome our family and performed a fun dance. I loved that there was a mixture of music more familiar in South America and some songs from North American artists. It was great to find out we like some of the same musical artists!

Once starfish started, I was able to have Pamela as my pen pal. I was excited to hear about how she was pursuing her dreams through an internship at a hotel. I also loved hearing about her siblings and stories of their cat.

This year, when doing the starfish scavenger hunt, I was excited Arelisa was participating because one of the tasks was to send a package of something they couldn’t get. I sent a snowman ornament and some sour patch kids! I love that candy and I was excited to learn that Arelisa loves it too! She had only ever tried original so I put some of those in along with the best type, watermelon! I can’t wait to hear how she likes them.

kim's second trip 1

I remember them both as such bubbly and kind spirited scholars who became my friends. We have since become Facebook friends and I enjoy keeping up to date on their lives!

It’s meant a lot to me to be able to connect with friends from another continent. I have learned so much about their culture, celebrations, hobbies, food, etc and it has helped me in my own classroom. When we get international students, I feel like I can connect with them better thanks for my friendships with Pamela and Arelisa!

This post was guest written by Starfish Supporter Kim. If you would like to learn more about having a Starfish pen pal, check out our 4 tiers of Sponsoring a Scholar or visit our website to see how you can exchange letters and cards with one of our Ecuadorian students.