Thursday, May 29, 2014

Reflection on Values - What is Excellence?

Today I want to draw attention to our values, one of the results of the retreat we had with our advisory board back in March of this year.  We were able to re-define and focus our mission statement and our core values that guide us in our work both in the U.S. and with our scholars in Ecuador.

Joselyn, younger sister of a Starfish Scholar, is a big part of our Starfish community,
always willing to lend a helping hand.
Our core values are: Community, Life-long Learning, Determination and Excellence.  Excellence is the one, that for me really encompasses the heart of our mission.  Creating a community of scholars, our Starfish family, makes us unique because we create an environment where success is possible together.  We encourage our scholars to seek knowledge in all aspects of their life through life-long learning, and I'm pretty sure I never knew what real determination was before meeting some of our Scholars who have had to persevere in the face of challenges I never even imagined.  However, I keep coming back to Excellence.

Gema & Jasmin helping Julio with a school project.
What is "Excellence" to you?  To me, it is a mindset.  It is the mindset that is going to change our Scholar's lives, no matter what their social or economic circumstances, and no matter what craziness occurs in the world around them.  To me, excellence doesn't have so much to do with being "the best" at something, but rather not conforming with the status quo.  If you are frustrated that the government says they are going to pave your road but they never get around to it, or the workers are slow or irresponsible and turn a 6 month project into a 2 year project - does that make it okay for you to do the same with your studies? your job? your own neighborhood projects?  Because the rest of your friends choose not to go to school on the first day because "we don't do anything on the first day," does that mean you can extend your vacation one more day as well?  No - as an excellent Starfish Scholar (or Starfish supporter/friend/donor/volunteer,etc.) you know that you may not see the fruits of your labor right away, and others may wonder why you bother to put in that extra effort, but you know you are being the most excellent "you" that you can be!

Abraham, studying hard at "Refuerzo"
Excellent people lead others - sometimes at the head of a classroom, sometimes from a government position, and sometimes quietly by example in your family, school or community.  All of these leaders are equally important.  This year we challenge our Scholars to not settle for the status quo.  With this knowledge that we all know they can be excellent, there are no longer excuses.  That B+ is good, but could it be an A-?  We believe it can.  We challenge our Scholars to challenge themselves and each other. Striving for excellence will change their lives and it can change yours too.  Strive to be excellent in everything that YOU do, and expect big things from our Scholars this year!

"Be the change you wish to see in the world"(most often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi)

Betsabeth with her parents at her graduation this past March

Thursday, May 22, 2014

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!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Meet Alexander - First Year Scholar!

Meet Alexander - a first-year Starfish Scholar, also entering his first year of high school at the age of 16.  Alexander is not your typical student, and because of his age, he will have to study on the weekend "A Distancia," something like getting your GED as an adult in the U.S. He will probably be the youngest in his class, but he is excited to have the opportunity to continue studying.

Alexander previously studied at another foundation here in Guayaquil that offers a formal education, as well as a soccer team, catechism - and a place to live for many of its students.  Alexander doesn't remember how he ended up alone, because he was very little, but he does not know his biological family.  His first memories are being passed from foundation to foundation as they found the right fit for him.  His passion is soccer.  At the last foundation where he was he was able to join the team, and will continue to play with them during the week while he studies on the weekends.

Alexander (center) with his First Communion Sponsors.  (Starfish Scholar Lili on the right).
At the last foundation, apart from soccer, he also found a place in the youth group.  Alexander is a reserved teen - openly admitting that if he's not out playing soccer with his friends, he'd much rather be in his room listening to music by himself.  However, while participating in Catechism and youth group, he met a great group of people - some of whom were already Starfish Scholars!  One of them, Lili, became his sponsor for First Communion this past December.  (In Ecuador you have Sponsors or Godparents for every important accomplishment in the Church and school, not just Baptism and Confirmation.)  Lili brought him to her home to share the holidays with her family, and after 2 weeks, he was already part of the family.  Lili's mom went to the foundation to do the paperwork, and now Alexander is the latest addition to Lili's family - and to our Starfish family.  We are excited to empower him to make his dreams come true.

Alexander at his surprise birthday party this past January!
Alexander with his adoptive mom, Elena, after participating in the Ecuadorian tradition of
 having your face smashed in your birthday cake!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A successful start - Exciting growth at Starfish!

School officially started this past Monday and we are already off to a great start.  In the first week we've already enrolled over 90 students, including our 41 Starfish scholars.

Starfish Scholar Sofia and some of our new students with their beautiful mother's day cards!

Check out the newly painted classroom and tiled floor in Guasmo!
Our employees worked very hard over our school break getting our classroom spaces ready for the new year - and preparing some new activities and lessons.

Ayudantes - Betsabeth, Lissette, Cynthia and Yuliana with Jenn before the meeting.
As the students get settled back into school before they have much homework, some of our daily Starfish activities have included ice-breakers, group activities, soccer, crafts and even a few math & accounting refresher courses!

Cristhian and Mirka, participating in an introductory activity.
Pamela, presenting her group's values story. 
Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more updates from our scholars and our constantly growing programs.

Joselyn, participating in an ice-breaker.
Dayana, and her awesome new backpack!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mil gracias - Many Thanks to our friends at COMIL!

For the second year in a row we have been blessed with donations and support from the wonderfully compassionate and generous STUDENTS at the Militar High School "Combatientes de Tapi N.6" in Riobamba, Ecuador.  That's right, other high school students have taken it upon themselves to donate new and gently used books, notebooks, and other items to their new friends at Starfish here in Guayaquil as part of their Values class.  This year in particular, they helped us double the size of our Starfish library, which was created last year with their generous donations!  This was all made possible through a great initiative we call "Kids Supporting Kids", started by our friend Monica.  Check out her blog to hear more about some of her other initiatives!

Some of the "ayudantes" helping to sort through and categorize books for our growing library!
We're really excited to receive donations from another part of Ecuador.  While we are forever grateful for all of the support we have received from the U.S. and around the world, receiving donations from another city here in Ecuador has been an eye-opening experience for our Scholars.  They are able to learn first-hand the important lesson of how inter-connected we all are - and the great responsibility we all have to each other as global citizens.

Some of the students and teachers from COMIL plan to visit us at Starfish during the school year and we hope to keep in touch through a pen pal program so that we can continue to exchange ideas, inspiration and friendship with these inspiring youth!