Thursday, September 24, 2015

Volunteer Reflections: Merry

Greetings, Starfish supporters! This summer we are especially excited to share the reflections of our current cohort of Starfish interns, who are supporting us in our social media and fundraising projects. Today's post comes from Merry, a member of our Summer 2015 Social Media Team.

¡Hola! My name is Merry, and I am one of the interns on the Social Media Team this summer. Working with Starfish for the past couple of months has been nothing short of incredible, but upon being given the opportunity to pen a short blog post about nearly any topic of my choosing, I balked. I thought about it for an embarrassingly long amount of time. What kind of insight could I--a rising junior in high school, almost-seventeen-year-old, mediocre driver, avid traveler--share with you all? Maybe, I thought, I could share with you how, and more importantly, why I’m here: my own personal Starfish story. We all have one; here is mine.

I first learned about the Starfish Foundation a little less than two months ago, as an ambassador at the HOBY PA East Leadership Seminar 2015. Beth spoke to us as a member of one of the panels, and it was immediately clear that she was no stranger to the type of crowd gathered before her that day. Having listened to panels and discussed leadership from the morning into the afternoon, we ambassadors had good enough reason to be a little tired, perhaps distracted, even uninterested; it may sound cliché, but when Beth spoke, we were captivated. She spoke with infectious passion of co-founding a nonprofit after returning from a year of volunteering, and of the emphasis Starfish places on education for future success. I experienced a moment of--this is true? This stuff can happen? I can help out, make an impact, shape a future? Really?

When Beth reached out in search of summer interns, I contacted her as soon as I could. But why? I have a busy enough schedule. I’m dancing almost seven hours a day, six days a week. When I’m not dancing, I have physical therapy sessions nearly every other day. Junior year is approaching fast, and my desk is laden with stacks of SAT practice tests, summer assignments, and textbooks. Why did I fill out that application the moment I found out it existed?

 I think it’s because, as Anne Frank so eloquently put it, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Even taken out of context, this quote stands true. Despite the business of our schedules, the tumult in our lives, the hundreds of day-to-day plans and problems and chores and errands we have, we still want, and need, to be and do good. Not simply because we should, but more so because we can. By volunteering our time and skills, we at once give and receive some of the longest lasting gifts; in Starfish’s case, we give students chances to further their academics and discover their interests while allowing their families to focus on providing for themselves. In return, volunteers receive so much--experience in every aspect of the word for sure, but more importantly, the single most rewarding feeling in the world: the gratitude of students and their families.

 This feeling of knowing I can make a difference in someone’s life with the skills and passion I already possess is what caused me to apply for this internship. It feels not overwhelmingly good, but also overwhelmingly right. Incidentally, I think you’ll find as you finish reading this post that all of our stories are extremely similar. I think you’ll find that, at the end of the day, we all want to throw a few more starfish back into the ocean.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Volunteer Reflections: Ariana

Greetings, Starfish supporters! This summer we are especially excited to share the reflections of our current cohort of Starfish interns, who are supporting us in our social media and fundraising projects. Today's post comes from Ariana, who is a member of our Summer 2015 Social Media Team. She co-created the first ever Starfish podcast!

A month ago, I was riding in the front seat of my dad’s truck heading to the equestrian center and looking out the windowing thinking about how it was going to be an outstanding day. It was the day that I had been looking forward to since I graduated pre-k, because it was my high school graduation day. The 45 minute car ride seemed to take hours. The hour wait to walk in side by side my fellow classmates seemed to take days. But, when I was finally on the stage, the minutes, hours, days, even years of anticipation would not have prepared me for the rush of emotion nor realization that was about to hit. 

For 13 years I went to school challenging myself to learn something new everyday (because if you aren’t going to learn anything, why go?). Each morning I’d get up with my sister and we’d talk to each other, laugh, eat breakfast and then grab our lunch and head down to the bus. 13 years of the same morning routine boiled down to one day of importance.

As I looked out over my 400 or so classmates, I thought back to all the lessons we learned and friends I made and thought, man, this is going to be a good life. Then it hit me. Yes, its going to be good life because I know most of those people, because my two best friends were sitting out in the crowd, because the group of people before me are going to do something to change the world. But, after graduation, I am only going to talk to about 7 or 8 of them. No, the reason it is going to be a good life for me is because I have something that I truly treasure and that will help me in the future, that’s my education. You see, in the crowd of the students where the teachers. They lined the sides of the rows looking at our smiling faces with both prideful smiles and tear filled eyes and I couldn’t help but thank them silently for the hard work they put in it. Education is a privilege, and sadly, it’s not one that everyone has.

 I started volunteering at The Starfish Foundation by being a pen pal. Through that, I got to know a wonderful girl in educator who had huge aspirations for her future and was so excited to be going to school. “I chose to go to school because it helps me learn simple things that will help my future and help my family” was one of the very first things she told me and it was a humbling experience. Here in the USA we go to school because we have to. In Ecuador, they go to school cause they want to. The value of education, in some of our minds, is equal to dirt. But, the value of education in their minds is equal to gold, and it is rewarding to know.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Volunteer Reflections: Holly

Greetings, Starfish supporters! This summer we are especially excited to share the reflections of our current cohort of Starfish interns, who are supporting us in our social media and fundraising projects. Today's post comes from Holly, a member of our Summer 2015 Social Media Team. 

“I hate school. I hate Mondays. I hate waking up early.”

“School stands for Seven Cruel Hours Of Our Lives.”

“School is like a prison.”

Admit it. So many kids in American education system have had these thoughts. There is an evident lack of motivation to excel in school, especially among students in economically depressed communities. In 2010, social researchers observed 11,000 seven-year-olds and found that those with parents in professional level jobs were at least eight months ahead of peers from the most disadvantaged homes, where parents were often underpaid and unemployed. Studies from the New York Times, the RSA, Harvard, and much more have analyzed similar situations. There is substantial evidence that the children attending school from impoverished environments are prone to less motivation and resources to succeed. This triggered something in me because school is huge part of my life and doing well in it has been a constant goal for me. 

Why is school so important though? Why do we need to be motivated? Ever since I was little, my parents ingrained in my mind that learning, understanding, and even grades were essential to success. As I grew up, I questioned what “success” was and what school had to do with it. So after some consideration, these were some thoughts I had:

 The classroom provides the students the exposure to be curious and develop the opinions that will push them to shape the world in their perspective. Our teachers and peers alike expose us to diversity and which inevitably leads to appreciation. Whether it is through science, literature, or a vocation, education fosters the creativity for us to pursue our own personal projects. And success is unique to every individual, but the branches of it all come stem from our education.

Fortunately,  in America we provide our scholars with numerous programs, laws, scholarships, and equipment for our students. The U.S.  education system can be truly exceptional and provides mobility to anyone who has the passion to change a chunk of the world. With No Child Left Behind, programs for students with disabilities, scholarships for minority students, and so much more, there are many opportunities to succeed.

This is why the Starfish Foundation exists to grow education in places with fewer opportunities. School in Ecuador is free; however, the students themselves pay for all the supplies and uniforms, making it impossible for some families to send their children to school. There is not a lack of motivation, but a lack of resources. Programs like the Starfish Foundation facilitate education for children who are in desperate need and want of it. We can turn donations into priceless opportunities for one scholar at a time.

So why education? It is the tiny spark that leads that turns the gears to our future.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Lessons Learned in Ecuador

This week's post comes from Danny, who participated in this year's trip to Ecuador.

Having visited the Starfish Foundation in Guasmo and Flor de Bastion two years ago, going back to Ecuador with the rest of the crew from the U.S. was a good opportunity for me reconnect the great work going on and the development of the Starfish community. I was also lucky to have a stellar schedule of meals in homes, playing soccer, a talent show, professional development for the employees, and much more. After going on this trip, I’m excited to stay connected with Starfish, see more students graduate and watch the Starfish students and employees pursue their goals.

In line with another volunteer who posted a list of lessons learned, here is a list of 10 lessons learned during my visit. Lessons learned from trip to Ecuador:

1. Ecuadorian kids are way better at salsa dancing than American kids.

2. While taking spontaneous midday naps at various homes may not be culturally acceptable in the U.S., that kind of hospitality exists in the Starfish community.

3. The concept of ‘without lettuce’ is not always quickly understood by restaurants.

4. I take for granted environmental factors such as air quality and water quality that I experience every day in the U.S.

5. It’s important to give kids more ways to shine than just the classroom or the soccer field (The talent show was AWESOME! Also, shout out to one of my favorite TED talks.)

6. If you were worried that your love of selfies might not be acceptable during your visit to Guayaquil, don’t worry, you’ll fit right in.

7. Hospitality and financial security are not correlated, as demonstrated by the numerous desserts given to me solely out of good will.

8. Be kind to foreigners. I’m super grateful to people who were kind and patient with my poor Spanish while in Ecuador.

9. It is unfortunately still too common that financial barriers prevent some kids from pursuing their dreams or sometimes even thinking about pursuing their dreams.

10. The community that has developed in the Starfish Foundation is way greater than just some students receiving scholarships.