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

This post was written by a guest blogger, Kaitlyn.


Now is Your Time to Be the Change

If the Starfish Foundation were a child, we would already be in elementary school. These past few years have been a wonderful whirlwind of development, growth, and change, and we are (of course) always looking towards the future.

But it is also worthwhile to reflect on the past in this moment, and recall the story that inspired the name of our foundation. Out of a beach covered with thousands of starfish, when it seems hopeless to save them all from death, a young child chooses to throw them back into the sea. Instead of give up hope after the expanse of the problem, the child continues to save starfish one by one. Her reasoning? It will make a difference for each individual starfish she touches.

Ecuador flag

When you participate in the Sponsor-A-Scholar program with Starfish, you are directly helping a child successfully complete a year of school, but you are indirectly becoming part of a chain reaction that propels entire communities for the better. The Starfish Foundation’s motto of “one student, one star, one by one” reflects this. By a simple sponsorship, you are certainly changing the life of that one child. But even moreseo, many individual efforts like yours come together to make real change. This is why sponsors are essential to Starfish’s operations.

As a sponsor, you also have a chance to be a pen pal with the student that you sponsor. This provides not only a fun way to keep in touch with someone from another culture, but also a chance to learn and grow across countries’ borders. You can hear firsthand about Ecuadorian food and games, a student’s dream to succeed in school, and the work Starfish is doing to empower the students, all in a single correspondence! Being a pen pal is not a required part of being a sponsor, but it is an amazing opportunity that many sponsors take advantage of.

If this resonates with you, we encourage you to reach out to our team and maybe even become a sponsor yourself. There are currently still a few amazing Starfish Scholars who do not have a sponsor for the 2017-2018 school year, including:

  • Lady C – Favorite subject = Science; loves to read and play soccer
  • Alexander L – Favorite subject = Language Arts; loves to play soccer
  • Josue L – Favorite subject = Science; loves to play soccer
  • Joselin L – Favorite subject = Math and Science; loves to listen to music and read
  • Genesis R – Favorite subject = Social Studies; loves to swim and play soccer
  • Melissa R – Favorite subject = Phys. Ed; loves to play soccer

To find out more about how you can sponsor a scholar for the current school year, please visit our website.

Luck O’ the Ecuadorians

Greetings, Starfish supporters! This week, we’d like to share one of our current campaigns: Luck O’ the Ecuadorians.

This St. Patrick’s Day, we invite you to raise a glass to our students in Ecuador and contribute just $7 to their educations. Because it costs $1 per day to support a Starfish scholar, your $7 would pay for an entire week! $30 would cover them for a month–and so on.
We know that St. Patrick’s Day is a time for fun and lively festivities. But we’d also like to offer it as a time to give back. We hope you will consider gifting the cost of one St. Patrick’s Day drink (or any other item) to our students. It’ll brighten their days as much as any leprechaun’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
For more information, please visit our event page or website.

Sponsor a Scholar today!

Have you had a chance to check out the changes on our website?  There are updated pages on the need for Starfish, Community Partners, our Employees, bios from our Core Team, and a chance to meet all of our 41 Starfish Scholars for this school year.

Please also don’t forget, we are still looking for sponsors for this current school year.  Please let us know if you are able to financially sponsor these young students and/or if you would like to participate in our Sponsor a Scholar pen pal program.  Even if you are not able to financially support a student for the whole year, you may still be eligible for the pen pal program.  The following students are still without pen pals for the current year:




Contact Jenn & Beth for more information!

From Baltimore to Ecuador!

From Baltimore to Ecuador!

On March 7, The Starfish Foundation hosted its first Baltimore “An Evening For the Stars” that welcomed over 100 guests where they celebrated the foundation’s accomplishments and heard its future dreams. Many guests traveled from corners of the United States to show their support for the Starfish Scholars in Ecuador, deserving recipients of educational scholarships through The Starfish Foundation.

Mike, Kathy, Beth, Don & Dave, part of the organizing crew for this event!
The check-in table!
“An Evening For the Stars” was an night of festive food, sights and sounds with an Ecuadorian flare! The chef served a menu of Ecuadorian favorites including tortilla shells filled with rice, beans and chicken, served with sweet plantains. Brightly decorated tables of yellow and aqua filled the room, topped with creative school-themed centerpieces, pen-pal letters from Starfish Scholars and their photos. The silent auction table was loaded with colorful treasures by Ecuadorian artists and unique handmade frames filled with pictures of Starfish Scholars.

Silent Auction table!

Our wonderful music for the night!
Rev. John Swope, SJ, the evening’s Keynote speaker, explained the importance of helping others in our world, just as we care for those in the United States. Beth Awalt, co-founder of The Starfish Foundation gave an enthusiastic presentation and showed videos of co-founder Jenn Zocco working in Ecuador alongside smiling Starfish Scholars! Beautiful live music filled the hall as new friends met and old friends laughed together all evening long. We give thanks to everyone who attended and to the volunteers who pulled this sensational event together.

Fr. Swope, SJ during his inspiring speech!
Kathy, Danny & Dr. Klingler – this year’s award winners!

During “An Evening For the Stars” The Starfish Foundation’s spirit traveled across continents from Baltimore to Ecuador.

Reflection written by Kathy Awalt, Administrative Assistant for Starfish and one of our dedicated organizers of this wonderful event!

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 🙂

Sponsor a Scholar updates!

As you may be aware, this year we started a “Sponsor a Scholar” program, based off of the success we had with last year’s pen pal program.  This year our students have been paired with a new friend in the U.S., a “Starfish Sponsor” to exchange communications about life, school, culture and more.  

Our Starfish Sponsors include many of you – volunteers, donors, and other loyal supporters!  Starfish Scholars and Starfish Sponsors will write to each other 3 times a year with various updates.  
Our Scholars write about what they do in school, what their families are like, what they like to do in their free time – and their topic for the first letter – “What is your dream?” Our Sponsors respond with stories of their own lives, what it’s like to live in the U.S., etc.  Some of them even used this as an opportunity to practice Spanish!

Yamileth & Yesenia working on letters with volunteer (& Starfish Sponsor!) Danny.
We have just completed our first round of letters for this school year.  It is important to note that this program does not require any additional financial support has all of our sponsors have previously demonstrated their commitment to Starfish through time, money or other support.
Next year we hope to have more scholars, and more room for your participation!  If you are interested in getting involved in this or any other program, never hesitate to email us!
Solange, in her school uniform, making sure that her new friend in the U.S. receives a colorful card!