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.

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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.

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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.

Alexis and Itaty’s Service Project

Guest Bloggers Alexis and Itaty share the success of their year-end Starfish service project.

Our project was to repair a part of the playing field at the Foundation in order to benefit the Foundation members. Scholars, staff, and volunteers benefit from the use of the benches that will be available for any event at the Foundation.

To be involved in a team project is not easy at all, and there have been many inconveniences with the distribution of duties, but this project helps us learn to work together and problem solve – valuable skills for the future! It also helped us gain practical skills and and that we can use our ideas to make the Foundation even better in the future.

Overall, we managed to have good teamwork and we achieved our project objectives, which can be summarized as: “Fix up the Foundation playing field and the area around the playing field”.

Together we were able to build wooden benches at the ends of the Starfish Foundation playing field. In order to raise funds, we organized movie nights. Even though we could not raise all the funds necessary for our project, the Starfish Foundation helped us financially to buy wooden boards, sticks, nails, etc.

We also had the help of some friends and fellow students, who were instrumental in making our project goals a reality:

  • Jhon
  • Josue
  • Luiggi
  • Elkin
  • David
  • Jordy
  • Diego
  • Dervis

We also had help from the therapeutic group, director and administration of the Starfish Foundation, and we are very grateful for their support and collaboration.

If we were able to do this project over, we would plan additional fundraising activities, in order to meet all the expectations of the project. We would have liked to improve the nets of the playing field so that the balls won’t roll into the neighbor’s property or house. That was one of the goals that could not be met, but we hope that future projects will continue to be innovative and support the interests of Starfish.

Starfish Clubs Inspire Learning, Teamwork, Creativity, and Service

At the beginning of this school year, our Starfish staff and volunteers committed to both improving our existing clubs and adding additional recreational, learning, and growing opportunities for our scholars. With less than 2 months left in this school year, we take a look back at how our clubs have grown and improved.

Clubs focused on computer skills, chess, crafts, theater, and dance joined our well-loved soccer club and a new & improved community service club.

soccer

In early May, the soccer club and the Arts and Crafts clubs took off with a great start. The Community Service clubs also met to discuss ideas for the upcoming school year. Throughout the first part of the year, they focused on money earning activities to fund their projects – primarily by holding raffles and selling candy or food items. They have worked on projects such as office cleanup, and the “Paws up in the Air” project where they partnered with a local animal rescue to volunteer with fund raising activities.

The soccer club, has always been a favorite, but this year it’s been taken to a new level with improved training and scheduling. There are now 3 groups that each train two times a week. In the Arts and Crafts Club, the students are continually learning different techniques and experimenting with new skills and materials. For example, they once made wallets and change purses out of foam paper.

In June, volunteers helped coordinate a science club where we do hands-on experiments, as well as a theater club that focuses on improvisation – adding two more clubs to the mix. In August, the dance club began – for their first meeting they learned break dancing techniques! The students are always excited to try new things.dance

In December, the music club rehearsed Christmas music for a presentation at the Christmas party. The techniques that where learned were vocalization and music notes. In addition, participants also created a music video and uploaded it to social networks.The music workshop ended with a reflection activity.

All our clubs look forward to continuing to meet throughout the remainder of this school year, and continuing to grow and improve in 2018.

A Year in Review Part 2

Today in Guayaquil, Ecuador, the weather forecast has a high 82 degrees. So, while those of us in the North East United States are facing below freezing temperatures, and even colder wind, we can cozy up, and think of Ecuador – and all the wonderful, amazing things, the Starfish Foundation has been up to over the second half of the last year.

In last week’s post, we shared our successes, accomplishments, and highlights from January 2017 – June 2017, so this week, we’ll pick up where we left off.

July:

  • We hosted a workshop, to help the students discover potential careers. Students wrote down possible professions they would like to have in the future, and we had professionals from those professions come in and give a presentation and explain their experiences. They also answered any questions and eased doubts that the students had about the profession.
  • We brought the parents from Flor and Guasmo together to discuss the dynamic between parents and children and their behaviors. They did this through performing a play and the winning group was asked to perform at our annual Talent Show.

August:

  • Everyone’s favorite talent show! The students and parents demonstrated their talents in each of the following areas: dance, singing, theater, drawing, magic, and more. It was a night full of emotions in which everyone shined on stage. All the winners of the Talent Show were awarded with a movie night and ice cream!
    – We began a dance club. For their inaugural class, the students met with great enthusiasm to learn break dance techniques.starfish1
  • This month’s tutoring theme was “universal history”, where we touched on different eras from world history. At the end of the month, students formed small groups to present on an era that was interesting to them. Many students also dressed up and made their own props for their presentation. We really have a creative group of students!

September:

  • During September, the school for parents was led by psychologist Edwin. This month’s topic was the influence of music on the behavior of children.
  • As you know by now, students in their second to last year of high school (U.S. equivalent of 11th grade) participate in a community service project at Starfish. One of our first groups of this school year chose to educate their peers and the surrounding community about the mistreatment of women as their project. They began this month with weekend workshops.
  • This month as our tutoring thing we reviewed how to use the different centers that reinforce skills and expand on other topics that we have covered. Our centers include – reading, writing, technology, strategic games, and a rotating center based on the current month’s theme.
    -Students and staff enjoyed one week of vacation between semesters. During that week, only a few staff members worked, while also supervising a “minga” or work day to clean up our facilities!

October:

  • Giving back to others and the community is at the heart of everything we do at Starfish. Scholars, educators, and volunteers from our community service club worked together to collect funds to help out, the garbage collectors of the Puerto Limpio corporation, some of the hardest working individuals in the city. We went through the streets of Mapasingue and the Las Monjas avenue to hand out snacks that we prepared with much affection for them.
  • Students took an educational field trip to the Municipal Museum to learn more about the history of our ancestors and about Ecuadorian culture.
  • mischief 5We held our annual Olimpiadas which ends with an exciting soccer tournament!
  • The weekend before Halloween, we hosted the 2nd Annual Starfish Search Scavenger hunt, where participants from 3 countries competed to complete fun, wacky tasks and raise awareness for Starfish.
  • This month, ICD Jenn took some time to teach one of the tutoring groups one of her favorite subjects – reading! The “Tarde 1” group got to read James & The Giant Peach, and participate in fun strategic and book club type activities throughout the month. The educators continued to reinforce basic math skills in the other groups, while observing the reading group to learn new strategies to implement in the future!

November:

  • We went on our annual field trip for students who received good grades in school during the first semester to reward their academic efforts. Our field trip was to the Ayangue beach, a very beautiful and quiet place that students were able to enjoy.
  • A month of service: MINI SAC completed its project “Paws up in the Air” for a local animal rescue organization. They volunteered at a fundraising event by helping to decorate and distribute food to the guests. Additionally, the Double R Group planned a Christmas party for the children with low resources that live in Mount Sinai.
  • Two more tutoring groups got to enjoy James & the Giant Peach during tutoring this month, while the other groups are working on improving writing skills. Students are responding well to the new strategies that our educators are implementing!

December

  • A month of celebrations and friendships! First our staff and students hosted a Christmas party for their younger siblings. It was set up like a fair with a bunch of different stands that had different activities for everyone to try (games, dance, a photo book, face painting, etc.). At the end of the day, each child went home with a toy donated by local university students!
  • Our Therapeutic Group worked with the theme “values and strengthening o friendship” – bringing the Starfish Foundation members together with students from the Immaculate Conception and  Sisters of Providence youth groups, as well as alumni from the Juan Martin Moye School. The completed in friendly games and sports matches, and ended with a lunch of  arroz con pollo al horno (baked chicken and rice) and salad. It was prepared by a volunteer group of mothers.
  • On December 22nd, our staff had a special dinner out together at a nice local restaurant. They really enjoyed the opportunity to spend time together in a more formal setting, and share in the joy of the Christmas season.

Thanks for looking back on a great year with us. We can’t wait to see what the new year brings. We hope everyone has a safe, happy, healthy, and blessed 2018!

A Day in the Life of a Scholar

Guest Writer: Maddy Okkerse

jordy loor.jpeg

“Within five years, I see myself studying one of these careers because I want to be a professional in order to be able to help my parents, but above all to give myself the lesson that what one resolves to do may be accomplished when you work hard to achieve it. “ -Jordy Loor

One-Hundred-Forty Students. One-Hundred-Forty Dreams.

The Starfish Foundation inspires scholars like Jordy to go above and beyond their social norm and to reach for the stars. Giving these students a place to study is only one part of the day as a Starfish student.

On their first day, April 24th, students arrived at the foundation wearing the shoes and uniforms provided by the foundation and attended classes. But these are not just your average students;these students are here because they want to be here. Many children in Ecuador of the same age have become involved with tobacco, drugs, or alcohol, but the Starfish scholars have healthy habits and long term goals. These students also attended workshops during the day providing crucial lessons – such as learning about HIV from a Peace Corps volunteers, Bonnie.

A_Day_in_the_Life.png

Along with workshops, getting to know the other scholars, and reviewing materials from last year, students also were able to attend some of the several clubs offered by the foundation, such as soccer, crafts, computer, dance, and music clubs.

“Here I have met many new friends. In the foundation we can mingle, create very good friendships and besides that also there we learn a lot with the workshops they give. All of this helps me to change and everyday I learn more.” – Maria Belen

Emulated by the staff, these students are also instilled with a love for service early on. From helping paint the classroom walls, to the SAC community service project, many students help to serve their community in someway. For this reason, many of the scholars are not only achieving academic success, but they also develop incredible character.

So a day in the life of a scholar is more than above average; from learning, to service, to dreaming, the success of a scholar never stops.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook to see what we’re up to on a daily basis.

#StarfishSearch Winners (and other highlights)

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

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

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

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

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

The Winners:

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

First Place: Mischief Management

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

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2nd place: Los Que Come Cuando Hay

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

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

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Favorite Photo: CONSTELACIÓN ALFA Y OMEGA

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

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

Favorite Video: Seas the Day

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

best video - seas the day #22.png

Thanks for Making us Laugh: Goin’ Starfishin’

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

Made us Laugh - Goin Starfishin #31

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

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

 

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.

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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