Shelby’s Story

Thanks to the generosity of all who give to scholarship funds for alumni of Starr, countless individuals are able to pursue their passions—and their futures. One alumna, Shelby Kasen, has made her dreams a reality. Originally published in Starr Commonwealth's 2019 Annual Report, below is her letter of appreciation for all who have made that possible.


When thinking of all the goals and plans I have for my life, I often take pause. The truth is, there was a time when I had no future. Not only did I not think I would see my 18th birthday, a large part of me didn’t want to. By the time I was a freshman in high school, the abundance of trauma in my life, both self-inflicted and cast down by others, had convinced me I didn’t have what it took to make it. 

All of this changed when I came to Starr Commonwealth.

My transition to Starr was not easy. After almost giving up, I realized that being willing to admit that I needed help was a huge step, and the turning point of my time on campus. I was starting to value myself more, and value my wellbeing–although I didn’t realize that was what was happening at the time. While the healing took many forms, ultimately the biggest things that changed were the value I assigned to myself, the respect/trust/value I assigned to my support system (especially my family), and the courage required to stay alive.

When I left Starr, I knew that my past didn’t have to define me, and that life is full of opportunity. I realized that it was not fair for me to project my pain onto others, and that assuming what others may be thinking, or feeling, was doing nothing but hurting me. I learned how to communicate, how to advocate and fight for myself, and how to respect and listen to myself. When I left Starr, I still had a long way to go, but I had the foundation to get me there. That foundation meant my future was still possible. And thanks to the Tim Ness Memorial Scholarship, the next step in my future was clear.

It was never really a question that I would attend college, and I am proud I was able to immediately after high school. Although the adjustment was sometimes too much to bear, I have also had moments where I felt my life never looked better. All told, I have been happier than I ever remember being and am flourishing at everything I dedicate myself to. Today I am going to school full-time to finish my undergraduate degree, working part-time night shift in the neonatal intensive care unit, and sitting on the executive board for Grand Valley State University’s Pre-Physician Assistant Club—all while being a mother and wife when I’m home. I will graduate in April of 2020, and in the fall I will be attending Grand Valley’s Physician Assistant program. Despite the rocky path, I am fortunate to have guidance and support from Starr Commonwealth. 

I have always felt like Starr has believed in me and my ability to do great things, which was especially encouraging since I was on campus during the roughest phase of my life. For the staff to believe I could make a full transition from a teen fighting some pretty big battles to a successful adult was really empowering, because sometimes it was hard to see that for myself. I feel so blessed to have Starr in my life in all the ways that I do, including my scholarship. 

Every time I think about the fact that Starr wasn’t just a one-stop part of my life, but rather it is something that continues to come with me and help me grow, I can’t help but smile. It’s easy to want to leave that part of life in the past, but if we leave those parts of life in the past, we cannot use them to better ourselves in the future. That is exactly what I’m doing now.

By Matt Ray

About Starr Commonwealth

Starr Commonwealth is dedicated to the mission to lead with courage to create positive experiences so that all children, families, and communities flourish. We specialize in residential, community-based, educational, and professional training programs that build on the strengths of children, adults, and families in communities around the world. To schedule a training or consultation, please contact or call 800-837-5591.