#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.



A Day in the Life of a Starfish Scholar

Ever wonder what a typical day is like for one of our Starfish Scholars? Well… we asked and they answered:


Juleysi, age 12:juleesi.jpg

Right after my school day ends, I return home, hand in hand with either my mom or my dad, who come to pick me up from school. I attend the Starfish Foundation but when I do not have to go, I do a lot of housework with my mom. I love music and during the day I listen to music, even when I do homework. Also, I like to read and on occasion, I’ll go out and play with my friends who are very fun, after I’ve finished my homework.


Leonardo, 10th grade:

When I have free time, I spend it at home, listening to music. I like reggaeton music and watching TV programs. The coolest thing that I do during my free time is play soccer. I really like playing soccer. Last year, I was even part of a soccer training group at the Foundation.



Milena, age 14:

When it comes to my hobbies, I always mention that I like to sing, dance, chat, and listen to music. These are the things that I do when I don’t have homework and the days when I don’t go to the Foundation.


Ponce_Emerson_carnet_2017Emerson, age 12:

When I am not in school, I have a great time with my friends, playing soccer, freeze tag, and many other games. Also, my friends and I like to sing, dance, jump, etc. We have a lot of fun like this.




Josselyn, age 14:

When I get out of school and arrive at home, the first thing that I do is quickly go to see my youngest little sister. I am the oldest of three siblings. At home, when I have free time, I spend it watching TV, chatting, and sometimes I get hungry so I go to eat something. I also play soccer with my neighborhood friends.


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.


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.

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.


A Taste of Ecuador in the Eyes of Volunteer Elisabeth

I travelled through South America for 3 months and Ecuador was definitely my favorite country. The natural beauty and diversity was amazing but what made my visit very special was the people. Through Starfish I got to know the “real” Ecuador, not only what tourists see. My host family were the most happy and welcoming people I have ever met and made me feel at home every day, despite the very different living conditions between England and Ecuador. There was no hot water in the house and no glass in the windows, but it seemed to be irrelevant because they were so grateful and happy every day for what they had. I hope to take that happiness back to London!

Written by Summer 2014 Starfish Volunteer in Ecuador, Elisabeth

Vacation Week at Starfish

As you may remember, this school year started in May instead of April and will continue through February.  Along with the shift in start/end date, the government decided to shift to a standardized 2-semester “quimestre” system instead of the trimester system formerly used in most schools.

One exciting side affect of this standardization of the schedule – All schools take exams during the same week, and consequently have vacation at the same time as well.  This gave Starfish the opportunity to have our first ever week of Vacation activities.  While schools gave the students 2 full weeks of vacation, we held special Starfish sessions for the first week with extended hours, giving the second week free for students to travel with their families.

Below, Argenis, Anthony and Arelisa from Flor de Bastión tell us about their week of vacation with Starfish.

Italian class with Sylvie!

“Our vacation was very fun because Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we were at Starfish.  The first day was Tuesday, it was great.  We made cards to respond to the ones our Pen Pal wrote.  We worked with Sylvie – She was teaching us Italian.  We also had another group of games where the kids had a lot of fun.  To finish this day, we had a snack (broccoli, carrots and other veggies).  Almost nobody liked it but we had to eat anyway 🙂

Pen Pal letters!
Anthony and friends playing our new Connect 4 Launchers game 🙂

The second day some students did crafts – some beautiful butterflies, and another group did jewelry – bracelets, pens with their names on it.  This day the snack was better – banana milkshake with strawberry and popcorn.  We finished that snack haha.

Prepping Wednesday’s snack in Guasmo – thanks Steve and Isaac for the help!
Sylvie learned how to make bracelets on Wednesday in Guasmo – and taught David on Thursday in Flor!

The third day we began with an important meeting about the use of Social Media and about the consequences.  Later we played a fun game led by Starfish Employee Tyrone Tumbaco.  It was really fun.  And this day ended with a delicious snack – yogurt with granola, bananas and crackers.  It was fun, but not too much because it was Sylvie’s last day 😦 “

Maricruz presenting on Social Media

Tyrone’s hot seat game that was a huge hit with the kids!

“Nuestras vacaciones fueron muy divertidos por que los dias martes, miercoles y jueves la pasamos Estrellitas.  El primer día que fue el Martes.  Fue muy bonito.  Hicimos cartas para responderles a nuestros amigos de correspondencia.  Trabajamos con Sylvie – Ella nos estaba enseñando “Italiano”.  Tambien había una sección de juegos en la cuál los chicos disfrutaron mucho.  Al finalizar este dia nos esperó un ansioso refrigerio (brocoli, zanahoria y muchos legumbres más).  Casí nadie queria pero de igual manera tenían que comer. 🙂

El segundo día algunos chicos hicieron manualidades, unas lindas mariposas, en otro grupo hicieron bisutería (plumas con nombre).  Bueno este día el refrigerio fue mucho más bueno, batido de guineo con frutilla y canguil.  Así finalizamos jaja.

Pamela teaching Milena and others how to make pens with your name in string!

El tercer día empezamos con una reunión importante sobre el uso de las paginas electrónicas (como Facebook, Twitter, etc.) y sobre las cosas malas y las consecuencias.  Luego hicimos un juego muy divertido dirigido por el ayudante Tyrone Tumbaco.  Fue muy divertido.  Bueno y este día lo finalizamos con un rico (!!!) refrigerio – yogur con granola, guineo y galletas.  Fue muy divertido.  Pero no mucho porque Sylvie se fue 😦 “

Escrito por: Argenis, Anthony y Arelisa

Snack on the last day 🙂

Joel’s experience at Damien House!

Joel had a great time at Damien House a few weeks ago…find out about his experience through his own words!
Joel, participating in “refuerzo” or tutoring with another Starfish scholar, Betsabeth.
“Hi, I’m Joel.  I’m a scholarship student at The Starfish Foundation.  We visited Damien House, a foundation where there were people with Hansen’s disease.  It was interesting because I didn’t know a lot about this disease.
Jonathan, our tour guide, explaining about Damien House and Hansen’s disease.
I wasn’t used to socializing with elderly people, I thought it was boring, but I was wrong.  They welcomed us, and I met them one by one.  They gave us a tour of the foundation.  After, they told us we could visit whatever part of the foundation that we wanted to.  I went to the men’s section.  They taught me to play dominoes together with some of the other students.  When we went to the women’s section, they gave us the advice that we should keep studying, and not to go down the wrong path.  I really liked it.  I’d like to be able to go back some day.”
The women’s section!

“Hola Soy Joel.  Soy un becado de Starfish Foundation.  Nosotros hicimos una visita a la Fundación Padre Damián, una fundación donde había personas con la enfermedad de Hansen.  Me pareció algo interesante porque conocía poco sobre esta enfermedad.

Yo casi no estaba acostumbrado a socializar mucho con personas de tercera edad, pensaba que era aburrido, pero me equivoqué.  Ellos nos recibieron muy felices, los fui conociendo uno por uno.  Nos dieron un recorrido por toda la fundación.  Después nos dijeron que podríamos ir a visitar a cualquier parte.  Fui a la parte de los abuelitos.  Ellos me enseñaron a jugar dominó junto con otros becados y aprendimos a jugar.  Cuando fuimos a la parte de la abuelitas, ellas nos aconsejaron que sigamos en los estudios, que no nos vamos por el mal camino.  En mi opinión a mí me gustó.  Quisiera que alguna vez se vuelva a repetir.”
Joel (black shirt) with Starfish scholars Danny and Anthony and their new friend!

New video – Starfish Family United at Integration Day!

Remember Integration Day in June?  Recent Fairfield U grad and Starfish intern, Maria, made an incredible video high-lighting this event.

Singing, dancing, learning and uniting as a Starfish family — it’s all there!

Watch the video today!

Some Starfish students relaxing after a long day of fun at Integration Day!

The Starfish family – united!

Think about your future…

During our July monthly meeting for our scholarship students we reflected on important values in the lives of our scholars and how this affects their future.  Our reflection began with a card sent by our friends at COMIL through the Kids Supporting Kids project.

Our friends sent us motivational letters and one in particular stood out, “Dicen que los niños son el futuro de la Patria.  Yo pienso que los niños son el presente,” it said. “They say children are the future of our nation.  I think children are the present.”  Such wise words from a high school student.

Marlon was the first to jump up and share his reflection on the importance of continuing studies!
We reflected on these words in light our our own Starfish story to help the world, one by one.  While talking about values such as honesty, respect, friendship, humility and solidarity, we also reflected on our past, present and future.  Later, we decorated our classroom with some wonderful motivational drawings and messages!

Genesis, reflecting on her goals and dreams!
But while talking about our dreams, of course we had to have some fun too!
Flor de Bastión scholars starting off the meeting with a “dinámica” or ice breaker!
After the Flor de Bastión meeting we continued renovations on our tutoring space.  Rumor has it we’ll be done shortly – don’t forget to check back next week to see how much progress we’ve made!
Families of Starfish Scholars and tutoring students working together.
Theme of the day: “La unión hace la fuerza” – “Union is strength”

A sneak peak of June at Starfish

At Starfish we try to keep the kids engaged in their learning by doing many different activities.  Today, Abraham and Santiago both finished their work early and decided to show us their drawing talents.  Check it out!


Beth came to visit us this past week, and we have yet another new volunteer – Danny!

Danny and Beth showing their Villanova pride at the Starfish Integration Day.

Stay tuned for more updates on Beth’s visit, Danny’s volunteer experience and last Sunday’s “Integration Day” where the students from both neighborhoods got together to share in a special day as one big Starfish family.  Here’s a sneak peak!

Starfish students, new & old at the first “Integration Day” of 2013 in Flor de Bastión.