Starr Commonwealth Celebrates 110th Anniversary of Offering Hope, Healing to Children

In celebration of its 110th anniversary of providing hope and healing to children struggling with the effects of trauma, Starr Commonwealth is launching a year of education, outreach, advocacy and storytelling to celebrate its legacy and broaden its impact.

The Albion-based nonprofit got its start in 1913, when a young man named Floyd Starr purchased a barn and 40 acres to create a refuge for “homeless, dependent, neglected and delinquent boys.” He based his work on the conviction “there is no such thing as a bad child,” working to treat the boys in his care with dignity and respect so he could change the trajectory of their lives.

Today, Starr Commonwealth has expanded its support to reach children, families, professionals and communities around the globe by working to heal trauma and build resilience in new and innovative ways. Drawing on the legacy of its founder, Starr has evolved from its humble beginnings by adding services that address the changing and increasingly complex issues facing children and those who care for them, as well as the ways they access support. These include:

  • Online education: Self-paced courses and on-demand products draw on Starr’s 110 years of experience working with children and supporting educators and schools to recognize the signs of trauma and build resilience in – and beyond – the classroom.
  • In-person training, coaching and certifications: Starr’s team of certified professionals offer in-person sessions for educators, clinicians and others in trauma-informed, resilience-focused and culturally responsive learning experiences.
  • Direct behavioral health services: Community-based and in-home programs serve as preventative and early interventional measures designed to help children and families flourish.

“Our country is facing an unparalleled crisis when it comes to the mental health of our children and teens,” Starr President and CEO Elizabeth Carey said. “Rising rates of suicide, depression, anxiety and mental health-related emergencies prompted some of the nation’s leading experts on children to sound the alarm last year and declare a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health.

“For the past 110 years, Starr Commonwealth has recognized the toxic effects of trauma, no matter its origin, and worked to equip caregivers and professionals with the tools needed to help children build resilience. We dedicate this special anniversary year to sharing the century-plus expertise we have gained from supporting children and families through some of their darkest hours.

“While trauma is real, it does not seal an individual’s fate. During the coming year, we will continue to focus on our work to provide advocacy and education for children and their caregivers while we build awareness of – and find tools to address – this national mental health crisis for our children.”

Throughout the year, Starr Commonwealth will:

  • Launch a learning series called “Mental Health Matters” and a podcast called “Constant Curiosity: A Trauma-Informed Podcast” to share timely information and solutions from professionals to professionals around the world.
  • Exhibit and present at state and national conferences where professionals from around the region, country and world gather to learn best practices from one another in trauma-informed care.
  • Host an alumni homecoming for former students and staff who were part of its residential campus.
  • Celebrate with employees, alumni, partners, donors and the greater Michigan community during its seventh annual Night of Starrs on Oct. 5, which will include a reception, awards program, student performances and opportunities to support the mission of Starr Commonwealth.

Founded in 1913 as a home for runaway and homeless boys, Starr Commonwealth has grown and evolved over the decades to provide community-based programs, education and behavioral health services that create and promote universal hope, boundless love and limitless success for children. Some of its current programs and initiatives include:

  • A new Student Resilience & Empowerment Center at the YMCA in Battle Creek for middle school students who have behavioral health challenges yet are not a fit for special education.
  • An integrated service partnership with the Children’s Hospital of Michigan to deliver mental health support to children facing significant health issues, such as heart transplants.
  • Direct interventions after mass shootings to provide immediate support and a long-term path forward for children, families and communities impacted by these tragedies.
  • The expansion of new higher education certificates and graduate degrees in Michigan, Ohio and Iowa.
  • New and expanded training modules to provide education for individual teachers and schools interested in trauma-informed education.
  • Specialized trauma assessments and trauma interventions for children and adolescents in clinics, schools and other community settings, as well as virtually via telehealth.
  • Curriculum and training for Office of Refugee Resettlement staff working with refugee children.
  • A new certification track for early childhood professionals.
  • A unique partnership with former NBA player and education advocate Willie Burton to deliver ExcelU, Burton’s evidence-based curricula for student success and life skills, to districts nationwide and to likeminded former professional athletes seeking to give back to their communities as ExcelU trainers.

From its headquarters in Albion, Starr blends three key focuses – healing trauma, addressing racism and encouraging positive growth – into a comprehensive model of working with youth that is unique in the nation. Unlike other agencies that focus on trauma and resilience, Starr also offers tangible tools for teachers, social workers, health care professionals, public safety officers and others on the frontline of working with children. Many of its classes and resources are available online.

Coping with the aftermath of the MSU shootings

As Michiganders struggle to deal with the aftermath of the shootings at Michigan State University on Feb. 13, many are juggling conflicting emotions: anger, fear, sadness, rage, grief, helplessness and others.

That’s all normal in light of the trauma we collectively witnessed Monday night, according to Dr. Caelan Soma, the chief clinical officer for Starr Commonwealth in Albion. Many watched the search in real time for the lone gunman who terrorized the East Lansing campus, killing three and sending five to the hospital before turning the gun on himself.

And many, Soma says, are struggling for answers days later.

Soma says the first step is validating the feeling that this was a very scary situation that elicited an acute stress response for many of us, whether we had a student or loved one on the MSU campus or a child on a campus across the country or we are Michiganders without a direct connection.

“You begin to relate to what those kids experienced last night and put yourself in their position,” Soma  said. “Even if you are safe at home, understand the person is no longer a threat and logically know the danger has passed, you can take on a lot of those symptoms and reactions as well. ”

Those stress hormones can continue to roil in our bodies for weeks, keeping us on a high state of alert with fear and worry. Soma notes the next step is to find things that make you feel safe – and that can have little to do with logic.

“Telling yourself that the police have the shooter, he can’t hurt anyone anymore, that everyone is safe and lockdown is over isn’t helpful,” Soma explained. “What you have to do is help your body return to a state of balance.”

That can differ person by person, but Soma says it often comes back to connecting with people – hearing the voice of a loved one, spending time with friends, being able to discuss what happened and how you are feeling and then hearing others are feeling the same way. Other body-based ways to help you feel comfort and safety might include cozying up to watch a movie, listening to music, baking cookies, going for a walk or anything that helps you get your body back in balance.

“Our stress response is intense anxiety, and telling people to chill out doesn’t help,” she says. “They need to feel their body is chilling out and experiencing a sense of safety. It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

Founded in 1913 as a home for runaway and homeless boys, Starr Commonwealth has grown and evolved over the decades to provide community-based programs, education and behavioral health services that create and promote universal hope, boundless love and limitless success for children. Starr recognizes that trauma is real – but it does not seal an individual’s fate.

Starr Commonwealth Receives Holiday Gifts from Southern Michigan Bank & Trust for Middle School Students

Through the generosity of Southern Michigan Bank & Trust (SMBT), Starr Commonwealth was the recipient of gift baskets for students participating in its Student Resiliency and Empowerment Center (REC). Gifts were delivered prior to the holiday break during a celebration and photo opportunity, during which time Southern Michigan Bank & Trust representatives were presented with thank you cards made by the REC student recipients.

Piloted in the spring of 2022 and launched in full during the fall of 2022, the REC’s purpose is to create a dynamic environment for middle school students that foster resilience and helps them develop confidence, self-esteem, and a growth mindset. The goal of the program is to match students with support that allows them to develop and flourish socially, emotionally, and academically.

“These kids deserve an entire community that cares and rallies behind them,” said Starr President and CEO Elizabeth Carey. “Partners like Southern Michigan Bank & Trust are crucial to these youth. We’ve built an amazing program along with the Battle Creek Family YMCA and Summit Pointe, where we are able to reach youth in homes and schools to find their paths early in their lives. With financial support and community investment from partners like SMBT, we are able to help even more youth heal and flourish!”

“Southern has a long history of giving back to the communities in which we serve,” said John Castle, Chairman and CEO of Southern Michigan Bank & Trust. “We are proud to further this tradition by partnering with Starr Commonwealth, the Battle Creek Family YMCA, and Summit Pointe, to give these deserving students something special during the holiday season.”

Trauma-Informed Self-Care for Holiday Stress

The holiday season is upon us: at home, in the workplace, in our communities, classrooms, and far and wide in the media, online, and in neighborhood stores.

This time of year can inspire festive gatherings and activities of joy, togetherness, and heartfelt memories with family and friends. For some, though, the holidays can be a challenging time of stress, adversity, and a difficult trigger of strong emotions, pressures, or traumatic experiences.

As trauma practitioners, here are some self-care tips to be mindful of for managing the holiday season, for ourselves and those we work with as mental health professionals. With all the hustle and bustle of this time of year, remember to continue to use a trauma informed lens and approach in your work:

Holiday Triggers for Stress

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends that service providers assess their own holiday triggers and reflect on what may activate these. When we are aware of our own experiences and reactions to holiday stress, it offers an opportunity for us to regulate, be conscious of our emotions, body language, responses, and its impacts on others (i.e. clients, families, staff, coworkers, etc.) “When we are attuned to our own reactions, we are better able to provide, nurture, and balance” (Gill, 2014). To facilitate this awareness, try making a list or create a magazine photo collage of holiday triggers or expectations you experience and another list or collage that identifies approaches you can realistically employ to manage them in healthy and proactive ways. Identifying triggers and coping in these creative ways can also be empowering for our clients and help trauma practitioners adapt or change the delivery of activities during this time of year.

Avoid Holiday Activity Overload

Many organizations and programs I have worked for see an increase of requests and interest from volunteer groups with schools, colleges, places of worship, and community projects willing to help out and donate their time during the holidays and for clients in need. This generosity in the form of gifts, holiday parties, donated meals, special outings, and more are wonderful to see, but sometimes there can be a whirlwind of holiday activities and ongoing happenings that can become overwhelming and very deregulating for both staff and clients to handle effectively, which in the end can create more traumatic stress and the inability to cope with what is taking place. It is worth reconsidering and scaling back events and activities to include what is beneficial for the emotional safety and true needs of clients from a trauma focused perspective and inquiry (Volk, 2016).

Common Trauma Reactions and Holiday Impact

Be especially mindful of the impact the holidays can have on well-being and its influence on trauma reactions. The holidays can heighten emotions of loss, loneliness, anxiety, tension, sadness, and much more. Fatigue or poor eating and drinking habits influenced by holiday activities and pressures can take a physical toll. Sensory-based experiences with holiday-inspired music and smells can be painful for some survivors to navigate, as well as past memories, traditions, or loved ones. Trauma-informed care recognizes how these experiences can impact a survivor during this season. Create a holiday safety plan for yourself, your staff, and clients that supports well-being, recovery, and uses strength-based strategies and aspirational values to assist with coping.

If you are looking for more ideas or to meet the needs of specific populations or issues during the holidays (i.e. veterans, grief, divorce, homelessness, etc.), the resources below offer additional considerations to help manage the holidays with a proactive, practical, and encouraging approach in the spirit of trauma-informed care. Season’s greetings for a safe and healthy holiday!


SAMHSA Six Key Principles to Trauma Informed Approach

The Role of Right-Brain to Right-Brain Communication and Presence in Therapy- TLC, Lori Gill

Recognizing Holiday Triggers of Trauma- SAMHSA, Katie Volk

Getting through the Holidays Resource List

Holiday Stress- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Holiday Stress Resource Center- American Psychological Association

Starr Commonwealth Achieves Expedited National Accreditation

Starr Commonwealth has achieved national accreditation through the New York-based Council on Accreditation (COA). Upon review of Starr’s policies, procedures and programs over the past three years, COA’s peer review team recommended expedited approval for Starr for meeting all compliance ratings in COA’s fundamental practice standards. The Accreditation Commission has approved this recommendation, confirming Starr as an outstanding provider of care that meets the highest performance standards within the field of human services.

The standards driving accreditation ensure that Starr’s trauma-informed, resilience-focused services are well-coordinated, culturally competent, evidence-based, outcomes-oriented, and provided by a skilled and supported workforce. COA accreditation also demonstrates accountability in the management of resources, setting standardized best practice thresholds for service and administration, and increasing organizational capacity and accountability by creating a framework for ongoing quality improvement.

Based on their findings, COA’s volunteer-based Accreditation Commission voted that Starr had successfully met the criteria for accreditation.

“What a pleasure this entire experience has been,” said Starr President and CEO Elizabeth Carey. “As expected, COA a pleasure to work with—asking valuable questions that not only allowed Starr’s hard work to shine through but also provided opportunities to learn and operate at an even higher level. I am so proud of our staff, and it’s an honor to celebrate all of their hard work through this prestigious recognition.”

An endorsement of COA and the value of its accreditation process is reflected in it being named by the US State Department as the sole national independent accrediting body under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption to accredit intercountry adoption service providers. In addition, COA is the only national accreditor designated by the U.S. Department of Defense to develop accreditation standards and processes for human service programs provided to military personnel and their families.

Learn more about the Council on Accreditation here.

Starr Commonwealth Named Amongst Best NonProfits to Work for in 2022

Starr Commonwealth has been ranked nationally as the 20th best nonprofit to work for in 2022 by The NonProfit Times.

This is the third consecutive year the leader in healing trauma and building resilience in children was named to the list, which is compiled in conjunction with Best Companies Group and recognizes organizations that are leaders in creating quality workplaces. Of 50 nonprofits recognized on this year’s list, Starr Commonwealth ranks 20thnationwide.

Honorees submit a survey, which evaluates an organization’s workplace policies, practices, philosophy, systems, and demographics. Employees are also given a survey to measure their experience.

Best Nonprofits to Work For were those like Starr that scored exceptionally high when it came to leadership and planning, culture and communications, work environment, pay and benefits, and other key factors.

“Organizations are only as strong as the people who live and breathe their mission each day,” said President and CEO Elizabeth Carey. “From our first recognition from The NonProfit Times in 2020 to today’s honor, every individual at Starr Commonwealth has helped propel us forward. Being named among the Best NonProfits To Work For is a testament to the care our staff brings to our collective passion of creating positive experiences so that all children, families, and communities can flourish. I couldn’t be more proud of each and every one of them.”

From its headquarters in Albion, Michigan, Starr Commonwealth blends three key focuses – healing trauma, addressing racism, and fostering positive growth – into a comprehensive model of working with youth that is unique in the nation. Unlike other agencies that focus on trauma and resilience, Starr offers tangible tools for teachers, social workers, healthcare professionals, and others on the front line of working with children.

Through its training and coaching programs, childcare professionals, clinicians, educators, and parents have access to Starr’s highly successful and innovative techniques aimed at bringing out the best in every child, parent, and community. Many of its classes are available online.

For more information on The NonProfit Times’ Best Nonprofits To Work For program, visit

Starr Opens Student Resilience and Empowerment Center in Battle Creek

Starr Commonwealth, in partnership with Summit Pointe, Battle Creek Family YMCA, and participating area schools, has opened the Student Resilience and Empowerment Center housed within the Battle Creek Family YMCA. The program’s purpose is to create a dynamic environment for middle school students that fosters resilience and helps them develop confidence, self-esteem, and a growth mindset. The goal of the program is to match students with supports that allow them to develop and flourish socially, emotionally, and academically.

Middle school-aged students from participating Calhoun County school districts will participate in the 6-week program five days a week, two and half hours per day. Students will participate in a range of empowerment and behavioral health supports including mind body skills, social-emotional practice and support, peer to peer group support, academic support, and more. The program will be at no expense for the students’ families and include family activities and engagement, including membership to the YMCA.

“Building resilience is a community practice—we are stronger when we learn together,” said Starr President and CEO Elizabeth Carey. “Through the growth of every student who participates, the Resilience and Empowerment Center will serve to bolster not only their own success, but the districts and towns they call home. The result is a more unified and empowered Calhoun County, and we are honored to work with our partners to achieve just that.”

In addition to Starr’s operational partners, they have also secured funding partners to make the vision a reality. Starr has secured philanthropic support from the Marshall Community Foundation, Santo, Maria, Frank, & John Zanetti Foundation, OP and WE Edwards Foundation, the Harry A. and Margaret D. Towsley Foundation, the Guido A. and Elizabeth H. Binda Foundation, and the Albion-Homer United Way.

The Student Resilience and Empowerment Center is currently accepting students for its pilot phase, and will expand cohorts to full operational capacity in the fall of 2024. The student application and selection process will be coordinated through each student’s home district.

Kenneth Ponds Named Vice President of Oneness and Special Advisor to the President

To further Starr Commonwealth’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, Kenneth Ponds has been named to the newly created position of vice president of oneness and special advisor to the president.

As an executive member of the cabinet and advisor, Ponds will provide expertise and guidance to the organization on topics and issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion in all forms, furthering Starr’s core belief in the oneness of humankind. He will assist Starr Commonwealth in efforts to achieve its mission and vision on an organizational level as well as in its offerings and services.
“For years, Starr has recognized that experiences of racism, toxic hierarchy, and oppression are experiences of individual, collective, and intergenerational trauma,” said Starr President & CEO Elizabeth Carey. “While we increased our efforts in this critical work, in the wake of recent social injustice and violence over the past few years, we knew we had to do more.

“From his professional experience to his heart and passion, I am confident Ken is the perfect person to spearhead our recommitment and guide the entire organization ever closer to achieving true oneness of humankind.”

Ponds previously served as campus chaplain for 40 years, and has since played a key role in Starr Commonwealth’s Glasswing Racial Healing program. Glasswing has been a cornerstone of Starr’s equity, diversity, and inclusion work since 1996, and has helped communities across North America “embrace the value of diversity with dignity.” Ponds will continue his contributions to Glasswing from an executive level as advisor, counselor, and mentor for staff.

“It’s an honor to have this wonderful opportunity to help Starr continue its journey of equity,” Ponds said. “This has always been a core belief for Starr, and along with the opportunity to help young people in their spiritual journey is what attracted me to Starr Commonwealth.

“This commitment to connection—with the ultimate goal of love that Floyd Starr envisioned over 100 years ago—is one that lives close to my heart. I am honored to help Starr and its partners continue to grow and making love visible in the lives of those we serve.”

Starr Commonwealth Awarded Grant from Branch County Community Foundation for Continued Union City Resilient Schools Project

Starr Commonwealth has been awarded $2,400 from the Branch County Community Foundation Forever Fund to enter phase 3 of the Union City Resilient Schools Project, which supports trauma-informed and resilience-focused experiences between students, teachers, administrators, and families to create supportive environments that leads to better outcomes socially, emotionally, and academically. The project began in early 2020 addressing the disproportionate impact of trauma in the community due to socioeconomic decline, drug abuse, community isolation brought about from COVID-19, and a lack of resources. Partnering with Summit Pointe, Starr responded by conducting a needs assessment for Union City Community Schools and proposing a multi-phased plan (which engaged the entire school system). This included supports such as on-site/remote coaching, consulting, project coordination, parent academies, training and professional development, assessment and evaluation, and providing trauma-informed and resilience-focused resources and materials.

Phase 3 support from the Branch County Community Foundation will be used to implement a portion of the project including research and evaluation as well as trauma-informed and resilience-focused online learning and certification.

“We are so proud of the collective effort being made in Union City,” said Starr President and CEO Elizabeth Carey. “Addressing community needs hand-in-hand with other change-makers is critical to success. By partnering with Union City Schools and Summit Pointe, I am confident we can continue making great strides toward restoring resilience through phase 3 of this project. It is an honor to be entrusted with this tremendous opportunity.”

From its headquarters in Albion, Michigan, Starr Commonwealth blends three key focuses – healing trauma, addressing racism, and fostering positive growth – into a comprehensive model of working with youth that is unique in the nation. Unlike other agencies that focus on trauma and resilience, Starr offers tangible tools for teachers, social workers, healthcare professionals, and others on the front line of working with children. Click here to learn more about Resilient Schools Projects.

Starr Behavioral Health

Meet the Clinician: Sara Gariepy

My name is Sara, I’m an occupational therapist specializing in the treatment of children who have experienced trauma at any stage in development. My focus is addressing regulation through a sensory-based intervention approach.

My goal for the work I do with each family is to assist the child and their caregivers in improving their ability to identify the signs the body gives to indicate a need, as well as to implement activities, routines, and external supports to allow for the child’s improved successful participation in all aspects of life.

The best part about the work I do with kids is that it looks like a jungle gym of fun all while helping that child foster resilience and independence. My passion for my work is fueled through exploring and experiencing joy with the children and educating caregivers so they have the tools to be their little one’s secure and supportive base throughout the years ahead! The skills I address are foundations for learning and development, so my goal client population is between 3 and 8 years old, but these are lifelong skills that are never too late foster.

Meet the Clinician: Becca Gerlach, LMSW CAAC

Welcome to Starr Behavioral Health!  My name is Becca Gerlach, and I am the Director of Behavioral Health here at Starr. My specialty areas are LGBTQIA+ adolescents and adults, adult survivors of childhood trauma, and addictions.  I also offer clinical consultation and supervision for professionals to help you become a trauma informed clinician or clinic.

We are so excited to serve you and your family.  Our goal is to provide the highest quality care in the most accessible way so that you or your child can feel better and achieve any goal they have set for themselves.

Our state of the art facility is located in Harper Woods where we provide in person mental health and sensory occupational therapy services.  Our center is designed with kids in mind-we have the games, toys and tools to make therapy a safe, fun, sensory engaging experience to heal past trauma, or practice coping strategies to better navigate life’s everyday worries and struggles.

We also provide therapy online using HIPAA compliant Zoom so that anyone in Michigan can access high quality mental health services.  We provide virtual therapy to children as young as 3, and all ages beyond. Virtual therapy takes away the headaches of scheduling, issues with transportation and can go where you go.

It is a brave decision to seek help—I’m so glad you reached out and are looking to learn more about what we can offer you or your child.  We provide services to all members of the family if needed, so you don’t have to go to multiple locations.  We make scheduling work with your life so that you or your child can begin the healing journey.

For more information or to schedule your appointment today contact us at 248-308-4591, or email me at  I look forward to hearing from you!

starr staff

Starr Commonwealth Named Amongst 2021 Best Nonprofits to Work For

Starr Commonwealth has been ranked as the 23rd best nonprofit to work for in the nation by The NonProfit Times.

This is the second consecutive year the leader in healing trauma and building resilience in children was named to the list, which is compiled in conjunction with Best Companies Group and recognizes organizations that are leaders in creating quality workplaces. Among all the nonprofits submitted across the nation, Starr Commonwealth ranked 23rdoverall.

Honorees submit a survey, which evaluates an organization’s workplace policies, practices, philosophy, systems, and demographics. Employees are also given a survey to measure their experience.

Best Nonprofits to Work For were those like Starr that scored exceptionally high when it came to leadership and planning, culture and communications, work environment, pay and benefits, and other key factors.

“We were thrilled to once again be recognized as one of the best nonprofits to work for this year—especially considering the caliber of like-minded organizations with which we share this accolade,” said President and CEO Elizabeth Carey. “Considering the stress and challenges of this past year, it speaks volumes about our team as they remain resilient. Moving forward with what we have learned, our communication is as open as ever, our processes have been streamlined, and I am confident our best is still ahead of us.”

From its headquarters in Albion, Michigan, Starr Commonwealth blends three key focuses – healing trauma, addressing racism, and fostering positive growth – into a comprehensive model of working with youth that is unique in the nation. Unlike other agencies that focus on trauma and resilience, Starr offers tangible tools for teachers, social workers, healthcare professionals, and others on the front line of working with children.

Through its training and coaching programs, childcare professionals, clinicians, educators, and parents have access to Starr’s highly successful and innovative techniques aimed at bringing out the best in every child, parent, and community. Many of its classes are available online.

For more information on The Nonprofit Times’ Best Nonprofits To Work For program, visit

Starr Commonwealth Partners with U.S. Federal Government to Provide Safe Haven, Alleviate Humanitarian Challenge at Border

In response to an urgent request from the U.S. federal government, Starr Commonwealth is opening its Albion campus to help alleviate the developing humanitarian challenge at the southern border.

A leader in healing trauma and building resilience in children, Starr has signed a facilities agreement to allow the Administration for Children and Families to utilize its 350-acre campus as a safe haven. ACF intends to provide temporary shelter for up to 240 unaccompanied migrant children ages 12 and younger as it works to unite them with their family or sponsors.

To protect the safety of the children, Starr has been asked not to share certain details about their arrival and care.

“For more than a century, our campus has served as a safe haven for children in need,” said Starr President and CEO Elizabeth Carey. “We have again been called to open our hearts and our campus as a refuge – this time to children arriving without parents or guardians at our southern border.

“When asked to help, we said yes – immediately and enthusiastically, just as our founder, Floyd Starr, would want us to do. We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the Albion community and beyond, with so many kind and generous organizations and people reaching out with offers of help and messages of encouragement.”

Starr has 17 cottages that can house up to 240 children and caregivers. The campus also has a gymnasium, cafeteria, school buildings, chapel, ball fields, track and a lakeside park.

ACF is providing bilingual caregivers who have a background in child welfare or development to care for the children while on the Starr campus. The organization expects each child will stay 30 days or less.

All children will be screened for COVID-19 prior to traveling to Michigan. They will also be screened for COVID again upon their arrival to campus. Those testing positive will quarantine in one of two cottages on campus so their illness does not spread.

“Our expertise in healing trauma and building resilience can truly benefit the children who will be coming to our campus,” Carey said. “Many of us have all watched the heartbreaking pictures on the nightly news of children who have been abandoned in the desert, far away from home and without their families, and wondered how we can help. Starr has safe beds, secure cottages and a campus of caring people – this is how we can, and must, help.”

Founded in 1913 as a home for runaway boys, Starr Commonwealth has grown and evolved over the decades to provide community-based programs, education and behavioral health services that create and promote universal hope, boundless love and limitless success for children. While the nonprofit ended its residential treatment program last summer, it has retained its licensing with the state of Michigan while determining the next chapter for campus.

From its headquarters in Albion, Starr blends three key focuses – healing trauma, addressing racism and encouraging positive growth – into a comprehensive model of working with youth that is unique in the nation. Unlike other agencies that focus on trauma and resilience, Starr also offers tangible tools for teachers, social workers, health care professionals and others on the front line of working with children. Many of its classes are available online.

For the second year in a row, Starr Commonwealth has been selected as one of the Best Nonprofits to Work For. For more information, visit

Introducing Starr Commonwealth’s Resilient Schools Project Whitepaper

Starr Commonwealth’s flagship Resilient Schools Project is an evidence-informed and comprehensive systems approach to establishing a culture of resilience and trauma-informed practices in K-12 school buildings and districts nationwide. The goal is to equip school professionals with knowledge, training, and support to foster resilience in children.

Starr’s theory of change is that when trauma-informed and  resilience-focused adults work within trauma-informed and resilience-focused systems, the wellbeing and success of children will increase. This theory is the foundation of the Resilient Schools Project that includes not only training, but also practical tools, coaching, and evaluation measures to implement and sustain trauma-informed, resilience-focused care in education settings.

Through Starr’s Resilient Schools Project efforts with partnering schools, the Resilient Schools Project whitepaper documents the many gains that meet the immediate needs of children.

Read the Whitepaper

Levin, S. S., Strand, G., & Ray, M. (2021). The Resilient Schools Project: A systems approach to building trauma-informed, resilience-focused schools. Albion, MI: Starr Commonwealth.

Starr Commonwealth Awarded Community Grants to Provide COVID-19 Relief to Marshall Public Schools

MARSHALL, MI – The Marshall Community Foundation Youth Advisory Council through the Marshall Youth Fund has awarded Starr Commonwealth, in partnership with Marshall Public Schools, a $10,000 grant to provide services for staff and students in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Youth Advisory Council (YAC) is a group of students representing youth in the Marshall area.  They are particularly effective in youth-focused grantmaking.  Since their experiences are similar to the students that will be impacted by the program, their input is especially valuable.  This is in addition to a $50,000 grant from the Cronin Foundation and a $2,500 grant from the Youth Advisory Committee Fund of the Albion Community Foundation.  Included in Starr’s services are training and coaching for school staff in the area of trauma-informed, resilience-focused practices and behavioral health support for students.

Having developed the Marshall Resilient School Project in 2016, Starr is a well-known organization in the district, and has been working to expand trauma-informed, resilience-focused practices with Marshall staff for several years. While the goals of the Resilient Schools Project will continue, these grants allow for expanded services and offerings throughout the district to combat the negative effects of COVID-19.

“While this is a global pandemic, it really needs to be taken on through community solutions,” says Starr Commonwealth President & CEO Elizabeth Carey. “Starr is proud to expand our partnership with Marshall Public Schools, as we have had the privilege to witness firsthand how this staff serves children. Students need caring, compassionate adults in their schools and in our community now more than ever, and we thank our local funders for making it possible to support all of them.”

“Our teachers and our staff have done a remarkable job this year considering all of the challenges they face,” said MPS Superintendent Dr. Randy Davis, “but sometimes these challenges go beyond what any one person or school can do.  We are lucky to have partners like Starr, along with Marshall and Albion Community Foundations, Cronin Foundation and others who support this project. Our local community continues to demonstrate there are no limits to what we will do for our children.”

About Starr Commonwealth,

Starr Commonwealth is driven to heal trauma and build resilience in children, families, and communities. What started in 1913 as a refuge for orphan boys has grown to foster healing in over 1.5 million people through direct services, professional training, and online education. By striving for systems-level change in education, clinical, and healthcare settings, Starr is ensuring that all who care for children do so with universal hope, boundless love, and limitless success for all they serve.

About the Marshall Community Foundation,

The Marshall Community Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving quality of life in Marshall, and throughout Calhoun County. The Foundation holds permanently endowed funds from a range of donors, and serves as a conduit for special projects and the distribution of grants in support of innovative programs like this one.

About the Albion Community Foundation,

Founded in 1968, the Albion Community Foundation is committed to strengthening the greater Albion area. The Foundation distributes grants annually to local nonprofits for community programming and supports special projects within the community that enhance our quality of life. Since its founding, the Foundation has provided over $7 million to support our community.

Starr Commonwealth Moves Harper Woods Office to Larger Space as Services Continue to Impact Community

As Starr Commonwealth continues to make an impact on families throughout southeast Michigan, their commitment to the whole health of children and the community will continue in a new, larger setting. Previously located at 20955 Bournemouth, the new office will remain in Harper Woods at 19992 Kelly Road.

“We are so proud of the reach and growth of our Harper Woods office over the past year,” expresses Starr President & CEO Elizabeth Carey. “It’s time to make an even bigger impact. Our new space will allow for more clients to be seen, clinicians to practice, and for the ability to expand therapeutic services offered for southeast Michigan. We have high ambitions for Starr Behavioral Health. The opening of the Kelly Road office marks a vital step in making these ambitions a reality, and to expand whole-health healing for more children and families in need.”

“In order to expand our practice, both to fulfill the need for behavioral health services as well as to evolve and expand in our offerings, this move is both critical and inspiring for our clinicians,” explains Starr Director of Behavioral Health Becca Gerlach. “The space is better equipped to see clients in person safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as through continued telehealth services. In addition, we are now able to expand our sensory occupational therapy services, behavioral health services, and begin offering speech therapy. We are able to do this in the very same community we’ve operated in since opening. We’re happy to be able to continue seeing families with little interruption.”

Starr Commonwealth Moves Battle Creek Office to Downtown as Services Continue to Impact Community

As Starr Commonwealth continues to make an impact on school districts throughout Battle Creek, their commitment to the whole health of children and the community will continue in a new downtown setting. Previously located at 155 Garfield, the new office will be at Riverwalk Centre, 34 Jackson W. Starr will operate above the Battle Creek Chamber of Commerce.

“Now more than ever, the need for building strength and resilience in our local children must be a top priority,” advocates Starr President & CEO Elizabeth Carey. “As such, Starr strives to ensure these critical services are available to families throughout Battle Creek. While we are so proud of the progress made since opening Starr Behavioral Health, the opportunity to move downtown allows us to be in a location that better suits our current needs. Additionally, we see this as a tangible way to convey our dedication to the momentum of revitalization of the community. We’re excited to contribute to this energy, and continue to be humbled to serve the families of Battle Creek.”

Starr Behavioral Health will use the new space to continue trauma assessments and interventions for children. Answering the call for systems-level support for community children, these services are in coordination with Summit Pointe and Grace Health, and made possible by the Battle Creek Community Foundation. In addition, the new space will also allow Starr to work with local partners as Resilient School Projects continue in both Battle Creek Public Schools and Lakeview School District.

“For years, we have greatly appreciated Starr Commonwealth’s contributions to the community of Battle Creek,” says Battle Creek Community Foundation President & CEO Brenda Hunt. “To have them join us downtown is a testament to their commitment to the whole health of our families. Though they’ve always been present, I welcome their staff as they begin operating in the heart of the excitement our community has banded together to make possible.”

Starr has a new store!

At Starr Commonwealth, we are dedicated to continuously improving the experience for our users. In that spirit, we are excited to announce an all-new store experience directly within! With the launch of this platform, both purchasing as well as accessing courses will be more streamlined than ever.

Can I access my previously purchased courses?

You can still access your previously purchased online learning content by visiting

Once on this page, please select the “Forgotten username or password” hyperlink in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, enter your email address in the “Search by email address” field, and follow the direction from there to reset your password.

  • Note: If you have already been prompted to reset your password on this site through a different Starr communication channel, please disregard this request

As with any launch, we may hit some bumps in the road. Accordingly, we appreciate your patience as errors may occur. While we’re happy to handle any individual situations that occur, please refer to our FAQs pages before contacting us.

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Starr Commonwealth Partners with Educated Stars of Tomorrow to Launch ExcelU

Educated Stars of Tomorrow, LLC (ESOT), founded by Willie Burton in 2011, has spent the past nine years developing ExcelU, a school- and community-based curriculum that unifies academic success and health-wellness for students. Using a multifaceted approach, this curriculum engages both students and student-athletes to equip them with the necessary tools to maneuver the complexities of student life leading into adulthood.

Leveraging their proven success in designing and implementing social-emotional and eLearning curriculum, ESOT has partnered with Starr Commonwealth to further enhance Excel U, as well as produce online learning platforms for schools and communities to extend its reach well beyond its current in-person capacity. Development of Starr-produced content will begin immediately.

“Since founding Educated Stars of Tomorrow in 2011, the heart and the drive of the organization has been our flagship ExcelU program for student-athletes, coaches, and mentors,” explained Burton. “My passion resides in reaching aspiring young athletes and walking alongside them as they develop and excel in their sport, in their academics, in their physical and behavioral health, and, ultimately, in their life. For the past year, my organization has found a strategic partner, Starr Commonwealth, whose mission and vision are resoundingly aligned with mine. To partner with an organization who has been helping some of our most vulnerable children flourish since 1913 is a tremendous honor. I’m telling everyone from my school partners in Detroit or Houston, to my college or NBA friends around the country, this program and this partnership with Starr will take ExcelU to the next level. I want every coach, mentor, and student athlete to experience what ExcelU has to offer. I can’t wait to get started!”

“I have cherished the opportunity to become more familiar with Willie and his passionate organization, reaching youth around the country through the importance of academics, athletics, and overall wellbeing,” says Starr President & CEO Elizabeth Carey. “Educated Stars of Tomorrow works to accomplish exactly what Starr strives for as well: creating positive experiences so all children and communities flourish. In that sense, this partnership is not a new relationship, but the coming together of once-unacquainted allies to stand side-by-side for the success for children. We are honored to be selected to help expand the impact of ExcelU. Having witnessed the enthusiasm with which Willie shares his program with friends and colleagues, as well as his caring message he shared with Starr Albion Prep’s basketball team, he is the perfect teammate for Starr to help improve the lives of all children.

Learn more on the program page

About Educated Stars of Tomorrow
Educated Stars of Tomorrow was founded by Willie Burton, former NBA athlete and graduate of the University of Minnesota, where he played on the Golden Gophers 1989 Sweet Sixteen and 1990 Elite Eight championship Teams. These accomplishments followed his stand out career at St. Martin De Porres high school in Detroit Michigan. Mr. Burton founded Educated Stars of Tomorrow in 2011. Its focus is to support student athletes throughout the range of their athletic careers to achieve their true talents on and off the field.

Brave Bart Returns

Brave Bart has been providing help to children, families, schools, and other helping professionals across the world since the first book, Brave Bart: A Story for Traumatized and Grieving Children. Since learning how to become a survivor, he used his new skills to help his friends with bullying in Brave Bart and the Bully. Now, Brave Bart is back to help Ollie the Corgi cope with the "new normal" of COVID-19.

Today's Coronavirus crisis brings with it so many unknowns and unexpected changes for many. In Caroline H. Sheppard's new story, with illustrations by Coco and Kitty illustrator Bethany Goforth, Brave Bart helps his friend Ollie the Corgi to acknowledge and normalize feelings related to the "new normal".

Important Updates Concerning the MISD Trauma & Resilience Conference

For years, the Macomb County Independent School District has been home to our annual Trauma & Resilience Conference. This year, due to the CDC social distancing guidelines in response to the Coronavirus, Starr Commonwealth has made the decision to transition to a virtual conference. More details will be available soon.

For any questions surrounding the status of your registration, please contact or (800) 837-5591.

What Do Tigers, Meerkats, and Owls Have to Do with Coronavirus?

What do tigers, meerkats, and owls have to do with the Coronavirus?

Any experience that leaves you feeling scared, worried, and uncertain creates an involuntary stress response in your body. This means that despite logic, reason, and good coping skills, some of the reactions we have in times of crisis are largely out of our control.

Why does this happen?

Here is an easy way to understand the stress response and something you can teach to your students.

First, imagine that three animals live in your body. We all (at every age) have an imaginary meerkat, tiger, and owl living inside of us.

If you have ever seen a meerkat, you know that they have very large eyes and usually stand up on their hind legs. When meerkats sense danger they alert their pack by letting out a very loud screeching sound. Meerkats are like smoke detectors. The meerkat inside of us rules the stress response by directing the other two animals inside of us how to respond, depending upon the current level of stress.

When everything is calm, safe, and there is no danger, the meerkat tells the tiger to do what they do best – sleep, eat, and interact with their tiger friends. When everything is calm, safe, and there is no danger, the meerkat tells the owl to do what they do best – solve problems, read, learn, and make wise decisions. But, when things are not calm, safe, and there is potential danger or crisis, the meerkat tells the tiger to get ready to fight. And, the meerkat tells the owl that he better fly away fast to stay safe!

Make sense?

In the past weeks, maybe you have noticed your meerkat being more on alert? No doubt, the pandemic has made our meerkats more sensitive to worry, fear, and uncertainty.  Our tigers may be having trouble sleeping, eating, and getting along with others. Your tiger may be more irritable and argumentative than usual. That is likely because the meerkat is telling the tiger to be ready to survive.

What about your owl? If your owl has flown away you may be finding it hard to concentrate right now and to trust logic and reason. Despite hearing from others that the pandemic will not last forever, it might be hard to really believe things will ever go back to normal.

So how can use tigers, meerkats, and owls to help our kids? Use this script and worksheet to help them express the animals inside them:

Watch me explain the animals inside all of us in Children of Trauma and Resilience:

This Week's Deals

Those who have taken Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools and Resetting for Resilience can take the next step towards their trauma-informed certification with course 3 in Starr's education track. Learn more and take advantage of these savings at

Haven't taken Resetting for Resilience yet? You can still save!

Use the code 10STEPS29 at checkout to save!

10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed Resilient School provides the tools you need to put your classroom, school, or district on the path to becoming trauma-informed and building resilience in all students. This latest edition, complete with a new name, features over 100 more pages of lessons, activities, and case studies to ensure schools are even more equipped to break through the social emotional barriers to learning.

With this great resource, you will:

  • Gain an understanding of how childhood trauma impacts learning and behavior.
  • Review actual scenarios and expert answers to tough questions.
  • Learn 10 concrete steps to guide the creation and implementation of a trauma-informed school.
  • Be provided practical activity worksheets to copy for use with students.
  • Have access to Starr PTSD assessments, Life Event Checklist, ACE questionnaire, and school questionnaire forms.

Starr Commonwealth Ranked 7th Best Nonprofit to Work For in U.S.

Starr Commonwealth has been ranked as the seventh best nonprofits to work for in 2020 by The NonProfit Times.

This is the first time the leader in healing trauma and building resilience in children was named to the list, which is compiled in conjunction with Best Companies Group and recognizes organizations that are leaders in creating quality workplaces. Of 50 nonprofits recognized on this year’s list, Starr Commonwealth ranks seven out of 50 nonprofits nationwide.

Honorees submit a survey, which evaluates an organization’s workplace policies, practices, philosophy, systems and demographics. Employees are also given a survey to measure their experience.

Best Nonprofits to Work For were those like Starr that scored exceptionally high when it came to leadership and planning, culture and communications, work environment, pay and benefits and other key factors.

“Creating environments for individuals to thrive has been critical to our mission for more than 100 years – that same concept applies when it comes to our team,” said President and CEO Elizabeth Carey. “We are extremely intentional in building a culture that celebrates success, develops careers and fulfills professional goals. We are thrilled to be seventh in this list of strong, like-minded nonprofit organizations that are shaping a better world for those we serve.”

From its headquarters in Albion, Michigan, Starr Commonwealth blends three key focuses – healing trauma, addressing racism and encouraging positive growth – into a comprehensive model of working with youth that is unique in the nation. Unlike other agencies that focus on trauma and resilience, Starr offers tangible tools for teachers, social workers, healthcare professionals and others on the front line of working with children.

Through its training and coaching programs, childcare professionals, clinicians, educators and parents have access to Starr’s highly successful and innovative techniques aimed at bringing out the best in every child, parent and community. Many of its classes are available online.

In response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, Starr Commonwealth has donated more than 35,000 downloads of one of its most popular online education courses, “Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools,” to support teaching trauma-informed care protocols to K-12 educators around the country. Over the past three weeks, Starr has reached teachers in public, private and parochial schools in all 50 states and 63 countries with this free course, which offers proactive strategies such as fostering connections, prioritizing social and emotional skills, establishing safety and promoting play.

For more information on The Nonprofit Times’ Best Nonprofits To Work For program, visit

The Circle of Courage and COVID-19

The Circle of Courage is a model of resilience built upon the belief that all individuals, regardless of their age, have four universal needs. When any one or more of these universal needs is not being met, our “circle” is thought to be broken and as a result there are symptoms and reactions such as worry, fear, loneliness, depression, or anxiety.

Let’s take a look at how the coronavirus pandemic might be impacting our own circles and how we can keep them whole.


We are all being asked to physically withdraw from anyone outside of our immediate families. This is a challenge and can lead many of us to feel lonely and isolated. We miss our co-workers and students!

What can you do?

While we must physically withdraw, we can maintain social connections through phone calls, email, text, social media, and other virtual platforms. It is important to maintain contact with students, colleagues, friends, and families during this time.


If you feel best in your role as an educator, this might be a hard time for you. It may also be tough to balance the demands of being at home with your own families while staying connected with your students virtually. Sometimes when we are stretched in too many directions we don’t feel like we are doing well in any area.

What can you do?

Focus on one thing at a time. Small increments of quality time with your own family will go a long way. If you are feeling like you don’t know what to do with all the time you do have, use this time for things that you normally don’t have time to practice and enjoy such as reading, writing, creative artwork, puzzles, handy work around your home, and playing with your own children or pets.


This coronavirus pandemic is leaving many of us feeling uncertain and powerless to do anything about our situations.

What can you do?

Take time to care for yourself. You may be feeling a range of emotions and staying regulated might be a challenge. Rest, move your body, and take deep breaths as often as needed.


If you are stuck at home during this time you may feel like you aren’t doing much to help others.

What can you do?

Draw pictures or write letters to friends, family, your students, and colleagues. Check your local extended care facilities, homeless shelters, and residential treatment centers for children who would love receiving letters or drawings from you during this time.

Developed by Starr’s 2nd President, Dr. Larry K. Brendtro (PhD), and his colleagues, the Circle of Courage® provides the philosophical foundation for Starr’s resilience-focused approach to working with children, families, and communities, in addition to the work of Reclaiming Youth International.

Exclusive Deals!

Use the code 10STEPS29 at checkout to save!

10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed Resilient School provides the tools you need to put your classroom, school, or district on the path to becoming trauma-informed and building resilience in all students. This latest edition, complete with a new name, features over 100 more pages of lessons, activities, and case studies to ensure schools are even more equipped to break through the social emotional barriers to learning.

With this great resource, you will:

  • Gain an understanding of how childhood trauma impacts learning and behavior.
  • Review actual scenarios and expert answers to tough questions.
  • Learn 10 concrete steps to guide the creation and implementation of a trauma-informed school.
  • Be provided practical activity worksheets to copy for use with students.
  • Have access to Starr PTSD assessments, Life Event Checklist, ACE questionnaire, and school questionnaire forms.

Deep Brain Learning provides a blueprint for building strength and resilience in all youth by creating positive environments filled with opportunities that support the four universal needs of the Circle of Courage, while 10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed School provides a guide to care for all students' universal needs in schools.

Starr Commonwealth Donates 25,000 Downloads of Online Education Course to Support Teaching Trauma-Informed Care to K-12 Educators

In response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, Starr Commonwealth has donated more than 25,000 downloads of an online education course to support teaching trauma-informed care protocols to K-12 educators around the country.

From its headquarters in Albion, Michigan, the nonprofit has reached teachers in public, private and parochial schools in all 50 states and 63 countries since making its “Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools” available for free. This foundational course teaches school professionals how to identify, understand and respond to trauma in children by building resilience, offering proactive strategies such as fostering connections, prioritizing social and emotional skills, establishing safety and promoting play.

Education Week estimates more than 30 million children are now out of school for the foreseeable future as school districts across the country work to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Parents, grandparents and child care professionals are finding themselves dealing with their own doubts, fears and anxieties while trying to support and comfort the children in their care.

“During this time of uncertainty, it’s important to support teachers and other caring adults with tools they can use,” said Starr Commonwealth Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Caelan Soma. “We may have countless children who are impacted traumatically by this pandemic so having resources available for the adults in their lives is critical. We need to answer not just the ‘why’ but also the ‘how’ to create the best classroom and school supports possible for traumatized students and the school professionals who serve them.

“At Starr Commonwealth, we have more than a century of experience working to heal trauma and to build resilience in kids and adolescents, as well as training the professionals who serve them. We are delighted so many educators have turned to us for support.”

Trauma-informed care acknowledges that virtually anyone – children included – can experience trauma or toxic stress in their lives. When triggered, this trauma can have devastating results for that person and those around them. When a child “misbehaves” or acts in ways perceived as inappropriate, they may be experiencing symptoms related to trauma and partly or wholly unable to explain or control their actions.

To employ a resilience-focused mindset requires a teacher or practitioner abandon traditional forms of discipline and instead recognize kids need to heal, grow and belong in the embrace of an environment shaped by understanding and acceptance to thrive emotionally.

“Our ultimate mission is to get everyone who cares for children to be trauma-informed and resilience-focused,” explained Elizabeth Carey, president and CEO for Starr Commonwealth. “As we watched COVID-19 sweep across our country,  we realized educators needed the tools we offered more than ever, so we made this first course available free of charge. Having an understanding on how trauma affects kids and adolescents is critical now more than ever as we prepare for uncertainty and hope for a return to normalcy.

“We were truly overwhelmed by this response. We view ourselves as the experts and industry leader, but we didn’t think so many people would take advantage of this offer. It reinvigorates everything we are doing and cements why this work is so vital.”

Unlike other agencies that focus on trauma and resilience, Starr Commonwealth offers tangible tools for teachers, social workers, healthcare professionals and others on the front line of working with children. Starr provides a wide array of services. From prevention and intervention to enrichment and residential treatment, all programs are designed to help children heal in order to flourish.

Through its training and coaching programs, childcare professionals, clinicians, educators and parents have access to Starr’s highly successful and innovative techniques aimed at bringing out the best in every child, parent and community. Many of its classes are available online. For more information, visit

Trauma is Fact. So is Resilience!

We are so pleased that so many of you are finding the Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools course content helpful. Thank you for completing the survey! For those of you who haven’t had a chance, please register for our online course free of charge, and let us know how we can support you in the upcoming weeks and months.

Ready to take the next step? Those who have taken Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools can now take Resetting for Resilience for 75% off! Use the code RESILIENCE (all caps, click "Apply Changes" at checkout) to save today!

We know it can be challenging to shift mindsets during times of such uncertainty. It might help to know that while trauma is a fact, so too is resilience. And there is even science to support that!

Any experience that leaves us feeling powerless, helpless, or hopeless can result in trauma-specific symptoms and reactions. The good news is that the opposite is true as well—any positive experiences help build resilience! Learn more from Starr Senior Trainer Erin Reed:

During the first few days and even weeks of a crisis it is normal to feel out of sorts – our bodies are experiencing acute stress. Every person will respond differently, if you feel worried, angry, irritable, confused, tired or even if you feel the same as always and not concerned at all  – these are all normal responses. There is not a way you should or should not feel or experience the coronavirus pandemic.

What is most important right now is that you are doing whatever you can for yourselves, your students and your own children to feel even just a little bit better if needed. Comfort will not come in the form of logic or reason but rather in sensory experiences. I like to refer to this time as the “all the milk and cookies you want” time. Do what you need to do to feel better. Watch funny movies, bake, cook, play a game, or draw!

It is important to keep yourself in mind during this time as well. Helping professionals are just as vulnerable as our kids when it comes to effects of trauma! In this next clip, Reed discusses the various ways that professionals are impacted when children experience trauma:

Practicing Resilience: Essential Self-Care Strategies for Helping Professionals is available at

Being Trauma-Informed and Resilience-Focused is a Mindset

During this time of uncertainty and potentially traumatic consequence, Starr Commonwealth is committed to supporting teachers and other caring adults in whatever way we can. To best assist educators poised to provide the nurturing foundation our children need, we would like to offer our online course Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools free of charge to anyone interested in the underlying traumatic roots of behavior, as well as the key components necessary to allow students to flourish. Visit for more details.

Today, let’s take a look at what being trauma-informed and resilience focused really means – and how this relates to all we are experiencing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Uncertainty, increased worry, fear and lack of routine increase stress levels and exacerbate challenging behavior. When we connect behavior to experiences and the impact these experiences have on children’s bodies, we view them through a new lens. Then, we can begin to ask, “What new experiences – given all that this child has going on – are needed most right now?” Staying connected by phone or email, providing opportunities for play, music, movement and creativity every day will mitigate the impact of all they are experiencing related to COVID19.

COVID-19, School Cancellation, and Trauma

During this time of uncertainty and potentially traumatic consequence, Starr Commonwealth is committed to supporting teachers and other caring adults in whatever way we can. To best assist educators poised to provide the nurturing foundation our children need, we would like to offer our online course Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools free of charge to anyone interested in the underlying traumatic roots of behavior, as well as the key components necessary to allow students to flourish. Visit for more details.

In times of crisis, it is critical that parents, teachers, and all caring adults are prepared to serve as sturdy, nurturing foundations that children can lean on for love and guidance. Regardless of the nature of the traumatic event, there are some universal factors we must always consider that are at play with how kids perceive events, and how those perceptions may impact their reactions and behavior.

Children fear many things, but illness, going to the doctor/hospital themselves, or the illness or death of a parent or loved one are among the top of those fears. You may not hear a child verbalize worry or fear, but they may show it through changes in sleep, eating, or behavior – so if there are changes, explore what might be causing those changes.

How we can all help our children:

  • The most important thing a parent/adult can do is to remain calm themselves. Children will mirror the reactions of adults. So, pay attention to what you say and do! They will pick up on changes in your tone of voice and non-verbal body language.
  • Answer their questions (even if they are repetitive and don’t make sense to you). Answer in a way that is direct and calm.
  • Give children the facts in a developmentally appropriate way. If you do not, they will imagine something on their own that may be far worse as to what the crisis really is. Try not to engage in gossip or conversations sparked from social media panic.
  • During a pandemic, remember these responses:
    • “Yes, we do need to be careful about washing our hands and staying away from others who may be sick.”
    • “The likelihood of one of us getting the virus is not high – but if we do, doctors will take care of us.”
    • [Concerning COVID-19] “It seems scary, but it is very rare to die from this virus.”
    • “It is okay and normal to be worried, scared about this—of course you are. We all are, and that is why we are doing everything we can to keep you safe.”
  • Above all else, this is an opportunity for lots of quality time. Make new connections with your children or students (if possible). Play! Lighten up expectations (behavior, communication, academics, etc.) when children are worried or scared.

The Traumatic Impact of School Cancellation

Above and beyond the panic and trauma that comes from pandemics, we’re facing an undetermined amount of time when school, and consequently the only structure and sense of safety for many kids across the nation, is taken away. For many, school provides safety, food, routine, socialization, connections, and stimulation. Any change from routine is stressful. And, if parents now have to look for childcare or are worried about money/income, etc., stress levels go up. When stress levels go up in parents, behavior changes usually occur in children.

So what can educators do to help kids feel safe during this time? It really depends on what communication channels you have available with your students, and much of that is certainly being worked on in each district. Trust and support your administrations, and make clear that everyone is unified in their efforts to be there for each child. Beyond that, anything you can do to make a loving and supportive connection to your students while they are at home can be what they need in a time of uncertainty.

When it’s time to return to school, teachers must keep in mind that this shift back to the school routine can be as difficult for some as the cancellation was for others. Every child is different in their reactions to the change of schedule. Teachers must stay aware of what’s happening at home, and be mindful of what’s happening to each child.

What the world is enduring right now is of universal concern. This will be stressful for even non-traumatized parents/children. For children and parents who already experience ongoing toxic stress, this will be an additional stressor on their already very worried minds/bodies. Remember, the most important thing we can do for our kids is to simply be that loving adult who is there to support and comfort them.

President & CEO Elizabeth Carey Receives Albion Leadership Award

On behalf of the Albion Community Leadership Council and Substance Abuse Prevention Services, Dr. Harry Bonner bestowed the inaugural Dr. Sheryl Mitchell Servant Leadership Award to Elizabeth Carey on the morning of February 7, 2020 on the campus of Albion College. In attendance were dozens of community leaders from Albion and Marshall, as well as the Starr Commonwealth board of trustees.

Carey received this award in honor of her transformational leadership of Starr Commonwealth, using her “heart, head, hands, and habits to serve and help others.” The award’s namesake, Dr. Sheryl Mitchell, former city manager of Albion, was also honored thanks to her vision for the community during her service.

“It’s a vision and dream come true, to be able to put in a room these leaders—who are all servant leaders,” remarked Bonner. “To have Elizabeth and Dr. Mitchell come together as the first two honorees is a perfect way to begin this award.”

“It is tremendously moving,” said Mitchell. “As I reflect on the honor, it’s about transforming the lives of children and community. That’s the epitome of the legacy of Dr. Bonner, yet there’s so much work left to be done. That’s what Elizabeth is now accomplishing at Starr. I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

“I’m honored to be recognized, most importantly because of the people in this room,” explained Carey. “While I don’t live in Albion, these are my people. In that sense, it’s humbling because it means the mission and vision of Starr Commonwealth resonates and is carried by the community. As I looked out, servant leaders from government, schools, and local business were all in attendance. Dr. Bonner has brought us all together to continue the work of providing positive experiences for children to flourish, and that’s what we’re going to do. This award is about all of us, and today I’m as proud for Starr and for Albion as ever.”

Elizabeth Carey Receives the Dr. Sheryl Mitchell Servant Leadership Award

Coco and Kitty

How many of us have faced that difficult position of being “different”? Conversely, how often do we face the opportunity to learn from someone perceived in that same way? Have certain life events forced you to “start over” in a new setting—unsure where love, support, or connection may come from?

Caroline H. Sheppard, MSW and author of the Brave Bart series, understands the reactions and behaviors that can be associated with those strange feelings. Much of that understanding comes from the experiences of working with children, both in schools and clinical settings. However, she also draws experience from a most unusual source; one that sparked the inspiration for her book Coco and Kitty.

Coco and Kitty is a story that was written when Coco was forced from his farm after a bad storm. Upon relocation on the farm of Sheppard’s sister-in-law, Coco acted in ways that anyone could recognize (albeit with some prior knowledge about the personality of a horse!) as frightened, lonesome, and needing a friend. He found that friend in the most peculiar of places. It was with Kitty, a curious barn cat who, until meeting Coco, shared those same reclusive tendencies that the “new kid” often displays.

These two formed a bond that, when seen by Sheppard, was instantly recognized as that critical universal need of belonging. “Because of my work in schools and clinically,” Sheppard recalled, “I had dealt with issues relating to belonging all the time. When I saw the interaction between these animals, I probably had a different take on it than most.” From there, she knew this barnyard story could be a useful tool for children.

At its heart, Coco and Kitty is about socialization, and demonstrating that’s it’s okay to have feelings, but that there are ways to help us feel more accepting or comfortable of new situations and relationships. The book is about showing both sides of differences—being different and feelings about someone who is new or they themselves feel different in a new situation.

The story’s use of animals helps to talk about differences in a non-threatening way. The unique approach celebrates learning how to understand and accept differences, and working side-by-side with someone who is different than you. “It’s a topic that we [as humans] have been addressing more and more, but the work must continue further,” says Sheppard. For educators, this often takes the form of the new student, integrating into a new environment, and trying to make friends. Coco and Kitty is a tool that can take a subtle approach to addressing our differences and embracing a new schoolmate without shining a potentially uncomfortable spotlight on them. In addition, this book is a great way to reach children in need for support by way of establishing rapport and discussion about the story.

“The use of black and white is very intentional. Kids are so bombarded with colorful stimuli today,” explains Sheppard. “I want them to imagine what Coco and Kitty look like in their mind’s eye. The coloring pages and discussion questions included in the book can help give insight into their imagination, and may prompt conversation or writing their own end to the story—a big step in improving their communication skills. Much like Brave Bart, it opens the door to many creative ways to teach.”

Coco and Kitty is available here. While on our store, consider Sheppard’s other books, Brave Bart and Brave Bart and the Bully.

erin reed teaching yoga for self care

Practicing Resilience – Self-Care Series: part 3

Leading to the release of her new course, Practicing Resilience, Erin Reed will be guiding readers through her best advice for taking care of one’s self. As professionals shoulder the burden of their students’ or clients’ trauma, it is paramount they keep their own health in mind. Read below for Reed’s final entry in the series.

Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.

Practicing Resilience is out next month – what can professionals expect?

I’m so excited about this course. For those who have taken our courses, whether online or in person, it’s an exercise in absorbing the content and learning to apply it to your work. While any course requires reflection on the material and the practicing of implementation in the field, realistically the direct learning is done in six hours or so. This is a little different. This isn’t a training that you’re going to sit down and say “OK, in six hours I’ve mastered self-care.” It’s meant to be taken over the course of several weeks, as your schedule fits. As you learn to build in practices for physical, mental, and emotional self-care, you will also be challenged to reflect over that time. By working through success and failure over the course of those several weeks, you’ll end with creating a really solid self-care plan that fits your needs. While it seems like a lot, the structure of the course allows you to grow at a natural pace with the pattern of the curriculum.

Each section of Practicing Resilience has a theme. Each of these themes has a combination of physical practices, breath practices, meditation, and reflection. While each is unique, the body of content amounts to something wholly different than all the other courses I’ve taught.

I am so proud of all of our courses. But with Practicing Resilience, I have to say, when you work on something super close to your heart and you just want it to be so good—it’s terrifying and exciting. I can’t wait to share it with everyone.

Self-care is obviously the focal point of the course. In a broader sense, however, what does Practicing Resilience champion?

Above all, I want to center on hope. When we’re faced time and time again with the burden of trauma, it can be so easy to lose all hope. But, when we focus on what is going well and you can constantly build on that promise that hope brings, we can lift each other up in such powerful ways. And it’s contagious! When you work with professionals each day and are able to empower them through your hope for their abilities, and especially their importance to children, it helps everyone remember just how resilient we can all be. With Practicing Resilience, we can build an individual plan for how you remain centered on your hope and resilience. Imagine a teachers’ lounge filled with professionals living full of hope because they have a plan for when times are hard, and are able to reinforce the strengths of their students. Little Suzie may not yet have that mastery or independence that we’re working on with her, but because her teacher is supported in her own self-care she has the hope she needs to not give up on the student. With a commitment to self-care, professionals have the energy to share experiences of hope and compassion. And that is where everything ties back to who we serve—the kids! We want professionals to say, “I feel better than I ever have with myself, because I have nurtured my hope and resilience, so let’s get to work helping our kids discover how great they can be as well!”

Practicing Resilience will be released in January. Until then, enjoy the all-new Mind Body Skills (2nd edition).

erin reed teaching yoga for self care

Practicing Resilience – Self-Care Series: part 2

Leading to the release of her new course, Practicing Resilience, Erin Reed will be guiding readers through her best advice for taking care of one’s self. As professionals shoulder the burden of their students’ or clients’ trauma, it is paramount they keep their own health in mind. Read below for Reed’s second entry in the series.

Click here for Part 1 and Part 3.

Is self-care really necessary for a trauma-informed organization?

It’s an essential aspect of being trauma-informed. We really do ask a lot of our educators and clinicians, because being trauma-informed requires us to be present all the time and very considerate of what’s happening in someone else’s world. That being said, to sustain that ability, one must be shining just as much light on what’s happening in their own world. It’s not easy, but it also doesn’t have to be complicated. I was at a school a few weeks ago where I was ready to do some coaching, but the teacher had just sat down for lunch, and she insisted that, in that moment, lunch was the only thing happening. She was quick to remind me: “Remember, self-care!” It’s just lunch, but feeling empowered to advocate for it is critical. The more professionals can advocate for their time, the easier it will become to prioritize from a building-level.

How do I know what is self-care, and what is simply being selfish/gluttonous?

We certainly need to differentiate. I love chocolate, but if I eat too much of it, it’s not going to be wholly good for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t still eat it. It’s the balance and self-control. When we look at authentic self-care we look at what’s know as eudaimonic well-being where you look for meaning across several layers of our selves. For example, you have your physical layer like your breath: what does that mean to you? When you look at your past, present, and future, where are you directing your energy and attention? As your emotions come and go, what do they mean to you?
Throughout the Practicing Resilience course, we spend a lot of time identifying which of those answers we’re rooted in, and we definitely tie it all back to the Circle of Courage.
So the answer lies in your reflection. You still eat the chocolate, but reflecting on why the chocolate is important and how it truly serves you. How do you best nurture yourself and be the loving leader that balances yourself?

Where does mindfulness fit for being trauma-informed?

Well it’s a strategy, and it’s in use with what we’ve already talked about in this article. We present and train all the time: “Here’s trauma, here is what toxic stress does to your brain and body.” Someone may have 7 ACEs or have a toxic workplace. Where do they find peace? In mindfulness, we get to acknowledge those truths and say “here is my intention and how I’m going to direct my stress.” Mindfulness is a strategy for deep empowerment where we get to choose how we react and regulate our emotions. And it doesn’t look like one thing. It looks like being present, paying attention, and not being judgmental. We have to accept what is in front of us and be empowered to decide how we react.

Are adolescents cognitively able to be as mindful as adults?

Perhaps even more so!
As adults, we have these default networks in our brains that have us constantly predicting how things should be. It makes us rigid. Kids are much more willing to explore new concepts, and approach solutions with play.
Imagine walking into a board room with a dozen adults and tell them we’re standing up to do stretches or mindfulness exercises. Guaranteed you have several who don’t participate or even object. Their rigidity doesn’t accept that type of behavior in that setting. Try the same exercises in a classroom, and they can’t wait to give it a try!

Practicing Resilience is coming soon! Until then, please enjoy these related courses:
Children of Trauma and Resilience | Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools | Healing Trauma & Restoring Resilience in Schools

The Balikbayan Project

For many trauma-informed practitioners, caring for the children they serve is often through the lens of “patient” or “student”. Rarely does our work become too personal. For Starr Certified Trauma Practitioner Jon Jon Rivero, 2013’s Typhoon Yolanda challenged his life’s work in a region of the world he holds dear, and made him reflect on his own trauma in the process.

Rivero is based in Alberta, Canada, where he and his wife, Paula, are the founders of Qi Creative, a success coaching therapy practice with its own unique twist. From their website, Qi Creative “believes in combining specialized passions with professional skills to help people use their strengths and talents to overcome challenges.” Based on their book, My Name is Trauma, Rivero leads workshops on trauma across the globe.

Jon Jon Rivero

Staying true to their belief statement, Rivero’s family has been involved in the Balikbayan (meaning “one who returns”) Project since 2007 in his family’s native home of the Philippines. This initiative partners with a local orphanage in Tacloban, and involves local government, NGOs, and more to help those who have experienced trauma, particularly through play.

In 2013, the Balikbayan Project was faced with one of its biggest tests yet. In November, Typhoon Yolanda decimated the Philippines. And for Rivero, this meant a return to Tacloban, but with a slightly different lens.

“It was very humbling. We’re trauma specialists, and here we are faced with this tragedy, scrambling and unsure which of our kids are safe. It reminded us that we’re all human, and all wired to respond to events in different ways. That encouraged us to double down on our trauma-informed approach.”

Not only did this experience provide personal and professional growth for Rivero, but it was also a chance to tell the story of Streetlight Philippines. You can watch the trailer for their 2020 documentary below:

erin reed teaching yoga for self care

Practicing Resilience – Self-Care Series: part 1

Leading to the release of her new course, Practicing Resilience, Erin Reed will be guiding readers through her best advice for taking care of one’s self. As professionals shoulder the burden of their students’ or clients’ trauma, it is paramount they keep their own health in mind. Read below for Reed’s first tips on this critical balance.

Click here for Part 2 and Part 3.

Your new course Practicing Resilience will be out soon. What can practitioners who take this course expect?

I’m really excited about this. It’s going to look very different from our traditional courses. Those are done in 6 hours. This isn’t a training where you’ll simply sit and learn. It’s meant to be taken over the course of 6 weeks (at your own pace, of course) as you build in physical and mental self-care. Each section will have a theme, including a physical practice—a breathing exercise, a meditation, or reflection activity. As you learn to build in practices for physical self-care, mental and emotional self-care, and reflection, you’re then able to integrate those activities that you do over that time to create a really solid self-care plan. I can’t wait to share it with everyone!

Most of Starr’s courses focus on the needs of children, do we really need a course focused on self-care for practitioners?

erin reed yoga for self care
Erin Reed demonstrating yoga in her course Mind Body Skills

It’s essential. It’s non-negotiable, especially when true trauma-exposure responses like compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and just good-old-fashioned burnout are so prevalent today. Those are really common responses to the exposure that teachers, clinicians, doctors, and anybody else in a helping profession are absorbing all the time. Most of the time we aren’t conscious to it, as we are so focused on the other person’s experience that we’re neglecting our own needs. With today’s pace of life, we don’t make time for ourselves. If you have five things on your calendar, the first one you get rid of is often what you wrote-in for yourself. We are doing this important work and not seeing ourselves in that work. When you are in a state of stress like that, and it’s chronic and prolonged, it’s affecting every aspect of your life—your ability to feel compassion and your ability to remember what even got you into this work to begin with. We are often re-experiencing somebody else’s trauma experience. We have to acknowledge that we’re being exposed to trauma, and then in order to counteract that we have to do something for ourselves. It is a mind-shift and crucial to being trauma-informed. In any organization, we need to move away from the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality and establish a climate that promotes self-care, and where we work together to make it a priority.

This is so much more than simply acknowledging “Oh I’m so stressed!” It is a psycho-physiological response that you’re having. And even if you’re not consciously recognizing it, your body is going to start telling you. So when many states are having things like teacher shortages or when we see social workers who are just completely at the end of their ropes, that’s when we have to dial that back and say “How I am able to show up to my job everyday matters” and “What am I really going to intentionally do about it?”

I think the biggest barrier we have is our time. When we live in a society that prizes achievements and never stopping—the ever-accelerating rate of information exchange—the key is coming back and saying “Well actually to be trauma-informed and truly focused on resilience is something that we do together.” “Not only will I start to value my own time and care for myself, but I’ll help you value your time too.” And to do this from the top down in organizations, a lot of times it’s a big mind-shift.

How do we prioritize self-care during the work day?

erin reed teaching
Reed explains the nervous system’s role in Mind Body Skills

Prioritizing self-care doesn’t mean we won’t still be productive. In fact, it can be argued we would be more productive! In the same way that we advocate for kids to not lose their recess, it’s sort of like we’re advocating for the adults to not lose their recess either. We must place that value on our own play and joy—in our own nurturing. Because if we’re not doing that then how are we going to provide that for other people? When we can’t, that’s when you see a school climate take a huge dive. We see the teachers dragging themselves into school every day with nothing left to give. So I think a huge piece of practicing resilience is just helping people to realize it’s really important, when maybe we’ve grown up thinking what’s most important is just our achievement. Keep in mind, it’s not just a hedonistic blowing off of steam. It’s more of a deeper dive into what you value. When we’re built to survive and then exposed to trauma, we will always have a light in our brains focusing on all the bad stuff that’s happening in order to remember how we survived it. So to counteract that we have to take time to shine that same light very intentionally on what makes us feel alive and joyful in order to balance that experience.

What are some tips for implementing self-care in my organization?

For this month, we should simply identify the sources of our joy and what’s going well in our lives. Maybe it’s a short list at the moment, but I guarantee if you take 5 minutes to really focus, that list will grow longer than you may have realized.

The next step is simply finding 5 minutes, listen to your breathing, and remind yourself of those joys. While it’s a small step, the power to refocus that comes along with those few minutes may completely change the trajectory of your day. Once you can prioritize those 5 minutes for yourself, encourage those around you to do the same. This small step is digestible, but can be built upon in important ways in the workplace.

Violence in Schools: A Dialogue with Derek Allen

As a supplement to Starr Commonwealth’s Violence in Schools resource, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Derek Allen shared this perspective on what schools can do to proactively curb school violence.

Click here for our free Violence in Schools resource

Starr Commonwealth is Driven to Heal. What does that mean when it comes to responding to school violence?

In the past, Starr and its staff has responded with direct intervention in times of tragedy. This essentially includes debriefing with friends and family members of victims, perpetrators, and witnesses, with the ultimate goal of referrals for more long-term mental health support. These types of services are offered by a variety of organizations in any community.

Where I feel Starr Commonwealth excels is in the proactive approach to preventing school violence. Considering our Circle of Courage model, how do we shift school culture in a way that professionals are trained to instill the universal need of belonging? We must make schools a place where literally every child feels connected, cared about, and has an adult that they can go to if there’s a problem. In addition, we need to train staff to identify signs of when a student may begin to feel like they’re being pushed away or rejected, as well as how to best respond. The overwhelming similarity of perpetrators of school violence is that lack of belonging. It only takes one adult showing a child they care to change that student’s world and fill that void.

How might teachers and staff members begin to take the proactive approach and ensure student’s universal needs are being met?

This is a difficult question, as three different students who show the same behavior may do so for very different reasons. It always boils down to the constant curiosity of the teacher:

What has happened, or is happening, in this child’s life that cause this misdirected energy? What about this setting, from the actions of the child or their friends and teacher, to the variation in routine for the day, may have affected them? What were you doing before the behavior, and how did you react to it?

Of course this type of curiosity is only skin-deep. We must also consider each student’s private logic:

How do they view themselves? How do they view others and the world around them? Is that a scary place, or is that a hopeful place? Are people generally helpful and nice, or mean and not to be trusted? Do they see themselves as someone who is important and worthy, or as somebody who’s not good?

We also must go back to the Circle of Courage, and consider their sense of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. When and where are those needs not met, and why? Because Starr believes that problematic behavior is symptomatic of unmet needs, we must always consider these factors when presented with these situations. When you put those pieces together, you get a much more holistic view of the child and you may find a potential landmine that’s been buried long ago by some pattern of abuse or rejection that is just waiting to be triggered.

When a student’s universal needs aren’t being met, what signs can we look for?

Again, this is one of those difficult questions, as so many “signs” look so similar to your typical kid. There are essentially two broad categories of reaction to unmet needs: inward and outward.

A student showing inward reactions may isolate themselves and no longer play or talk to other students. Sometimes they don’t even respond when spoken to. These students are likely not to engage in extra-curricular activities. Rather, they spend a lot of time expressing themselves through journaling, blogging, or social media. Artwork can often become scary or disturbing. Self-destructive behavior often worsens to self-harm or substance abuse.

The outward reactions tend to be hostility towards siblings or pets, or simply just belligerent and inappropriate outburst for attention at the wrong times. They may begin to present themselves in outlandish ways or dress very peculiarly. This is one of those tricky examples to assess effectively, because millions of kids enjoy expressing themselves through unique fashion. But that, again, is why it is crucial to engage with these kids in constructive ways when you see that type of behavior.

We can never ignore any signs, with the hopes that the lack of attention will curb their misdirected energy. Often times, the lack of attention (and thus missing the sense of belonging that every human needs) is the reason why the behavior started in the first place. Maybe dad isn’t in the picture, or there’s no food at home. Withholding attention does nothing but reinforce, in that child’s mind, that they are not wanted. In addition, you’re also placing undue stress on yourself that maybe can’t be contained forever. When you reach your breaking point, now your reaction to their behavior is elevated and you lash out more than you may have anticipated.  Now, you’re one more adult this student is afraid of.

I’ll return to the simple idea of remaining curious. Engage with these kids! It only takes one adult in a child’s life to show that they’re here for them to change their whole world, and their reaction to that world. If you don’t know where to start, simply let them know that you care about them, and that you can help if they need anything. Then, back it up with intentional interaction each day moving forward.

Starr Commonwealth is driven to heal the pain of violence in schools. While there are many simple steps each educator can take to make an impact in each student’s life, the need for systemic change exists. Download our whitepaper to learn more about our proactive approach to safety in schools, including the 5 shifts each classroom must make for our children.

21 Years of Resilience with Brave Bart

One of most powerful tools in a trauma-informed practitioners belt is the ability to remain constantly curious about what has happened, or is happening, to children in their care. Often, it can be difficult to know where to start in order to build trust in the assessment process. For Caroline “Lin” Sheppard, MSW, she found storytelling to be an effective strategy. “I had always used bibliotherapy in my sessions with children. It can be a great icebreaker and medium to begin the conversation.” Little did she know, that strategy would pave the way for the authoring of a powerful tool in trauma assessment, no matter your lens, whether as a counselor, social worker, parent, or anyone with the ability to make an impact with a child. “When my time in providing direct service ended, I knew I still wanted to make a difference. Drawing from my experiences throughout my career, I knew there was more I could contribute.” What exactly Sheppard would contribute was born shortly after her introduction to Starr Commonwealth.

In 1997, Sheppard began writing Brave Bart upon taking a leave of absence from her school social work position when she moved out of state. Sheppard wanted to continue to use her professional background and  recent experience with becoming a Trauma and Loss Specialist through Dr. William Steele’s training programs, as well as a Trauma and Loss consultant despite no longer working in direct service. She has continued to write helping books with Starr with the goal to provide helpful tools for those who are providing direct service for children, schools, families, etc.

“[While participating in a panel for Steele at Wayne State University], we were challenged to role play with another participant and tell a story about an experience that happened to us. These could be real or made up. At the end of my story (which I really can’t even remember the topic of), my partner looked at me and told me how “brave” I was for going through that. To me, that was very empowering.” And with that, the inspiration for Brave Bart, her children’s book on resilience in the face of traumatic experiences, was sparked.

Sheppard was able to use the experience at Wayne State, reinforced by her previous practices, to develop her very own resource she could use with children. However, Brave Bart did not take the typical situational approach that the other books she had used previously did. “I didn’t want this book to specifically identify the trauma by name in the title, nor by the main character—in this case, Bart. The story does not impose what had happened to Bart, but rather allows for the reader to see their emotions as the same as Brave Bart’s, no matter the event. What the reader does know is that, “something bad, sad, and scary happened” to Bart. More importantly, because the actual experience isn’t mentioned, we can better focus on Bart’s ability to be brave and overcome the problem.” And, most importantly, the child being read the story, or who reads the story, can identify with his feelings and learns through Bart telling his story that their feelings are okay. There is much to be gained from helping the child see that, if Bart can persevere, they can too. More importantly, this book also provides a crucial bridge between the clinician and the child to discover the root of their pain.

“When I ask students ‘what do you think happened to Bart?’, they’re not talking about themselves, and the entire exercise can be a lot less threatening. However, I often found the situations they proposed for Bart were pulled from and reflected their own experiences.”

The power in its simplicity has allowed for Brave Bart to be an international resource on trauma. It has been translated into many languages and shipped across the world to help in times of need, including tsunami response in Japan and Indonesia. “We have even found that it’s universal enough to not even need words,” explains Sheppard. “It has proved to be just as effective as a picture book.” Even then, Brave Bart has room for adaptation. To remain culturally sensitive when Sheppard was approached by a social worker in Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake to help grieving children, Bart the cat was changed to a turtle.

Published in August of 1998, Bart is now 21 years old, and has remained brave, even when facing bullying. He is also now joined by Coco and Kitty, also written by Sheppard, who can teach us all about accepting change and celebrating our differences. For more information on how to build resilience in children who have experienced trauma, consider enrolling in Children of Trauma and Resilience.


Being Trauma-Informed is a Call to Action: Julie McDaniel-Muldoon

During her time in the classroom, it was no wonder to Julie McDaniel-Muldoon why she always attracted those students who struggled to find their sense of belonging. From chess club and Magic the Gathering, to punk rockers and “misfits”, these students always resonated with her. “I was always that way [myself], I never quite fit in,” recalls McDaniel-Muldoon. “[It has allowed me] to be a bit of a teen-whisperer.”

And that’s exactly why she isn’t a classroom teacher anymore.

After a series of events that were met with injustice for students with high needs, including high-profile criminal hearings, and a lack of support from the powers designed to protect teachers, McDaniel-Muldoon knew it was time for a change. “[After realizing the system had failed these students], that’s when I decided to get my PhD in policy making. I was going to be the voice of the teachers.” Unfortunately, she quickly discovered there was very little room amongst the policy makers for experienced teachers to have a voice. She saw the opportunity to make a difference as an assessment consultant, helping teachers to harness the power of assessment data to improve their practice in the service of students. However, this potential was quickly gutted as No Child Left Behind was passed.

“And once again I had a dark night of the soul. What had I done? I left [teaching], something that I loved and was so good at.”

Fortunately, Oakland County Schools still saw her great value, and she began her work in bullying prevention. As fate would have, it was at this same time she discovered Starr’s Trauma and Resilience training. This serendipitous connection was exactly what Oakland County needed. “As I completed my level 1 and level 2 certification through Starr, I had alternative high schools asking why we weren’t doing more to address trauma. In addition, the CDC had also begun talking about bullying as an [adverse childhood experience.]” This simple connection compelled McDaniel-Muldoon to set out to ensure that the public understood the inherent connection between bullying and trauma. “To be trauma-informed is a call to action. It is paramount that one takes what they have learned and apply it for the greater good.”

That’s exactly what McDaniel-Muldoon did. And suddenly, she found herself having a prominent voice on this crucial connection.

What began as a talk for regional conferences for the International Bullying Prevention Association (IBPA), evolved into the opportunity to speak at the World Anti-Bullying Forum (WABF) this past spring in Dublin, Ireland. To her surprise, McDaniel-Muldoon was the only presenter speaking on the connection between bullying and trauma. “Bullying is simply a symptom of a greater societal ill. It’s the breakdown of relationships and the disconnect between humans that is causing so much pain in the world,” claims McDaniel-Muldoon. “And of 60 speakers, I am the only one talking about trauma. If we’re not talking about bullying as a traumatic experience, then what are we talking about!?”

It’s in that spirit that McDaniel-Muldoon has taken the momentum of the WABF and had begun spreading her wealth of knowledge through a blog series for IBPA. “I feel one of my gifts is the ability to translate. I’ve been in both the research field [in my doctoral work], as well in the classroom. I cherish serving as a bridge between those two worlds.” Now, her insight, informed by what she has learned from Starr Commonwealth and many other resources, is available for practitioners to implement into their care of children no matter the setting. Topics covered to date include a wide range of issues, including the need for bullying to be assessed through a trauma-informed lens, which most notably stresses the needs of all involved—the victim, the bully, the witnesses, etc. Additionally, McDaniel-Muldoon has written on the importance of the sense of safety and its prioritization over traditional tools put in place to establish “safe schools.”

As Social Media Director for IBPA, McDaniel-Muldoon is responsible for sharing cutting edge research and proven practice through IBPA’s social media platforms that are focused on bullying prevention, school community-building, trauma-informed practices, and more.  Over the past few months, she has also written articles and blog posts for the IBPA website that aim to increase awareness and to spark conversation on how to improve the health and well-being of children and young people, as well as those who serve them. In addition, she is also the host of the “Beyond ACEs: Why Trauma-Informed Practices Are a Call to Action” webinar.

As schools embark in this work, McDaniel-Muldoon offers the crucial ingredient for success: safe and strong school communities. In these places, staff and students feel the sense of belonging, agency, and voice that is necessary to build strong relationships and to repair harm to the community. The critical first step starts with the adults who need a strong professional community with a shared vision of their ideal school.

Ultimately, McDaniel-Muldoon’s journey through our educational systems relates directly back to the Circle of Courage and the oneness of humankind. When we prioritize belonging and generosity in our students, the epidemic of bullying can no longer distract from student safety and learning. What is more, the millions spent on futile efforts to curb this problem can be redirected to better foster healing and learning in our youth. Perhaps, then, those educators who have the knack for connecting with those children who are most marginalized will earn their rightful spot as a cornerstone of each school, and have the opportunity to help scores more students each year see their greatness.

To learn more from Julie McDaniel-Muldoon and the IBPA, visit To help children in your care better understand what they can do to help bullying problems in their school, consider Brave Bart and the Bully, by Caroline Sheppard and available at

The Art of Resilience Opens in Marshall

Join Starr Commonwealth for the final stop on a Calhoun County-wide, traveling art exhibition featuring work from students at Battle Creek Public Schools, Lakeview Public Schools, and Marshall Public Schools. Happening at EastEnd Studio in Marshall, the Art of Resilience embraces Circle of Courage and Universal Needs modalities throughout the exhibit. Teaching artists worked with students to use art as an expression of how each individual relates to the concepts of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity while celebrating their resiliency.

“For me, making art about uncomfortable or even traumatic experiences is a way to acknowledge my feelings and start to process them. Without art, I would have no way to fully articulate myself. I know I’m not an outlier in this regard. It’s incredibly meaningful to see such young students explore this particular way of responding to life. Creating something with meaning using stress or discomfort as a prompt is a way to be truly resilient and our Calhoun County students have done a wonderful job of expressing themselves.”

“The kids clearly thought deeply about their artworks, and we are honored to be able to showcase their strength, resilience, and creativity at the EastEnd ‘Art of Resilience’ exhibit.”

Warner Ball – EastEnd Studio & Gallery Manager/Curator and Artist

Open exhibition: August 1-22

Reception: Saturday, August 3, 1:00-3:00pm

Made possible by: the Battle Creek Community Foundation, and the Santo Maria Frank & John Zanetti Foundation.

Learn more on our Facebook page.

Special thanks goes to terraNOVA Collective for their contribution to this special event.

Spotlight – Kathy Hart

As Starr Commonwealth continues to foster healing in 2019 through trauma-informed and resilience-focused care, we are celebrating the professionals who make our groundbreaking work possible, and who are driven to heal through their hard work in the field. Kathryn Hart, MA, director of Professional Training & Coaching and senior trainer, travels throughout North America providing trauma and resilience training to agencies and schools, including Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools and Healing Trauma and Restoring Resilience in Schools. She has dedicated her 25-year career to helping children and families in a variety of capacities. With a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Bowling Green State University and a master’s degree in professional counseling from Liberty University, her experience with youth and family services have encompassed both clinical and administrative roles.

Awareness for trauma-informed practices has been continuously growing over the last few years, what do you see as the greatest factors attributing to that rise?

More people are becoming informed about the link between physical health and mental health. The ACE [Adverse Childhood Experiences] Study, as well as Dr. Nadine Burke Harris’ subsequent campaign for behavioral health since are key examples of this. Additionally, childcare trends have changed from removing at-risk children from their homes and communities to keeping children in their homes and communities, and therefore, schools are seeing more problematic behaviors. This has resulted in schools asking for help in dealing with these behaviors in order to keep these young people with problematic behaviors in school.

How has that growing awareness shifted your perspective/strategy as a trainer?

As we learn more about the mental and physical effects of trauma and toxic stress through our work in our behavioral health clinics and other direct services for children, we’re able to apply those lessons to our courses. Because we’re constantly collecting more data, we always have a need to develop new content and resources to serve our trainers and customers with the latest research and information in the field of trauma and resilience. By offering our courses online, practitioners anywhere in the world can access this information through a medium that feels personal and polished. We also continue to utilize our 300 Certified Trainers across the globe to deliver our content at conferences, professional development days, and private consultations. The combination of these approaches has allowed Starr to ensure we remain on the leading edge of trauma-informed and resilience-focused care!

What barriers remain, whether in classrooms or communities as a whole, to ensuring trauma-informed practices are embraced and implemented universally?

Education about how trauma affects a developing brain is a huge barrier. I will hear comments like “everyone has challenges, they just need to pick themselves up and deal with it.” There is a common misbelief that it simply is a choice to let trauma affect you. This is not true; trauma is a body experience. Children who have experienced trauma need help with emotional regulation if it was never taught. Their brains are often wired for fear, to fight for survival. They often do not have access to their cognitive parts of their brain.

Sometimes the barriers are financial. Schools know and accept that children of trauma need more help from caring adults but do not have the finances to add additional staff or reset spaces to help children of trauma release their activation and regulate their emotions. As the health of our schools is vital to the health of our communities, Starr has found that local partners, such as community and education foundations, are excited to work to overcome these cost barriers. In many ways, the cost is even greater when we don’t fund training and resources to help children with trauma responses, as these issues lead to a need for more support staff, outside intervention, etc.

Another barrier I have observed is the need for teacher education around trauma and trauma-informed classrooms and schools. Many new teachers become overwhelmed with the behaviors in their classrooms and without the tools to help these children, the teachers experience burnout and leave the field.

So what are the solutions to these barriers?

Explaining the biology behind trauma and how children of trauma’s brains are developed really can create a mindset shift for teachers. No one goes into the education field to hurt kids; they just need to be educated more on the effects of trauma and be given the appropriate tools and resources to help. When they realize our cognitive functions literally shut down in times of stress, fear, or a trauma response, I start to see this “ah-ha!” moment as they begin to understand that behavior is communication. The child needs something to help them re-integrate the cognitive and sensory parts of their brain, because “stressed brains literally cannot learn.”

Another solution is for educators or professionals to understand trauma-informed practices not as another curriculum or behavior management system, but as a way of doing what they already do. This includes how we greet our students, measure behavior, structure recess and specials, and more. I think of it as universal care–not everyone needs it but it will hurt no one to do it AND will help our young people develop healthy and nurturing relationships.

You’re on the front lines across the country on a weekly basis, what are some of your favorite stories in the schools you’ve been to lately?

I’m so proud of a phys ed teacher who, in the past, was quick to kick a student out and send him to the office to deal with in times of behavioral communication. After learning from Starr, he was able to calm the student down by getting on his level and taking deep breaths with him until he was ready to talk. A situation was de-escalated, and this student felt heard!
In general, teachers are reporting more and more the desire to resolve behavior issues instead of sending students out of class. Through these breakthroughs, they’re feeling refreshed and hopeful that they can help their students. Thus, more time is dedicated to learning and growth!

What are some quick tips readers can begin implementing into their care today?

  • Ask what has happened or what is happening to a student instead of what is wrong with that student.
  • See behavior as communication and ask yourself, “What is this student telling me?”
  • Greet every child by name every day.
  • Do not take problematic behavior personally. See it as communication for what a child needs.
  • Use a value-based classroom behavior management system that is based on community values versus shame-based compliance systems. And stop using publicly displayed behavior management systems like clip charts, point systems, and so on! Instead, track behavior data privately to learn what does and does not help that individual.
  • Praise the positive and the efforts, and dig for the gold in each child!
  • Ask for feedback from peers! Sometimes we need an objective opinion about behavior.

Where do you see trauma-informed education heading in the next 5-10 years, and what can teachers do now to stay ahead of the curve?

I see more schools understanding the importance of educating all staff in trauma-informed practices. What a teacher experiences with a student each day may be different than a bus driver, lunch attendant, or administrator. By all being trauma-informed, we are all able to remain constantly curious about every student, in every setting, every day. And it’s not only about identifying toxic stress, but the importance of building resilience in each child as well. Every interaction is an opportunity to help our children grow, and it takes a village. The sooner we begin looking at our students through a trauma-informed lens, the easier it is to be intentional in your care. Therefore, I see colleges and universities implementing curriculum that will produce trauma-informed educators by graduation.

What’s the next step in your schools’ trauma-informed journey? A full list of Starr’s courses is available at, or attend an in-person training at

Empowering Professionals and Building Resilience in Atlanta Students

“The perspective gained from Starr’s conference is unparalleled.” – Julie McDaniel-Muldoon, Michigan educator and international speaker on the traumatic effects of bullying

A 2-day, Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools Workshop will be offered to education professionals in the greater-Atlanta area on October 24 & 25, 2019, to teach new tools to heal trauma and build resilience in all children.

Over the course of the 2-day workshop, Starr Commonwealth Certified Trauma Practitioner Kimberly Hodges, EdS., will teach two courses: Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools and Resetting for Resilience; sharing her first-hand experience and real-life examples of how to put each set of principles into practice.

The cost for the workshops is $367, which includes course materials and 12 CEU’s (upon request). For an overview of each course and additional workshop details, please see below.

As an international leader in trauma-informed, resilience-focused practices and interventions, Starr Commonwealth is driven to heal children and empower the professionals that support them.

Workshop Details:
Date: August 26 & 27, 2019
Time: 9 am-4 pm
Cost: $367 (includes guidebooks and CEUs)
To Register: Email Kimberly Hodges at

Hampton Inn & Suites-Atlanta/Decatur/Emory
116 Clairemont Avenue
Decatur, GA 30031

Day 1: Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools
Audience: All school professionals regardless of job title.
Overview: This course covers the first 6 of the “10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed School.”  School professionals will learn how to create trauma-informed schools and classrooms – focusing on resilience, exploring the core values and beliefs of educators, and understanding how trauma impacts children and their school experience. Lastly, proactive strategies such as fostering connections, prioritizing social and emotional skills, establishing safety, and promoting play will be presented.

This course provides detailed information and concrete actions that answer not just the “why” but also the “how” to create the best classroom and school supports for traumatized students and the school professionals who serve them.

Day 2: Resetting for Resilience
Audience:School professionals who want to build resiliency in young people.
Prerequisite: Completion of one of these courses: Trauma-Informed Schools or Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools.
Overview: Resetting for Resilience covers the last 4 of the “10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed School,” in addition to Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports – such as resets that occur outside of the classroom. There is a strong focus on understanding the link between private logic and deficits in the universal needs of the Circle of Courage®, each of which directly impacts/influences academic achievement and social and emotional development/behavior. An in-depth overview of how to assess and develop behavior support plans for students using the Circle of Courage® model will also be provided.

Completion of each course counts toward Trauma Practitioner Certification (CTP) through Starr Commonwealth. For more information about Starr certification, please visit

About Kimberly Hodges, EdS, CTP
Since 1995, Kim has worked with students identified as having severe emotional behavior disorders. She has served in the private residential and public-school settings as a behavior specialist, classroom teacher, and crisis interventionist.  Kim is a Certified Trauma Practitioner and Associate Trainer with Starr Commonwealth, as well as a trained Child Forensic Interviewer.  In 2016, Kim founded K. Hodges Consulting, LLC, to combat the devastating effects of childhood trauma through training, consultation, and advocacy. In addition, she continues to serve as Behavior Interventionist for South Metro GNETS (Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support).

For more information on how to become a Starr Associate Trainer, please contact Starr at Together, we are driven to heal.

Unable to attend the workshops due to schedule conflicts? Please check out Starr’s eLearning platform, where each course and more can be taken from the comforts of your own home!

trauma sensitive yoga for victims of human trafficking

Mind & Body Empowerment for Human Trafficking Victims

Building Resilience and Belonging through Trauma-Sensitive Yoga

Starr believes, as its founder Floyd Starr did, that there is no such thing as a bad child.  And, when you provide a safe environment, when you treat a child with dignity and respect, it changes a child’s heart. And that, in the end, is what changes a child’s life. It’s a powerful story that we have been helping children write for over 100 years at Starr Commonwealth. For all students on Starr’s campus, this approach is applied to healing their pain-based behavior. By identifying what has happened, or is happening, within each individual on our campus, by understanding their own internal logic, our staff is able to assess and treat trauma to ensure resilience and future success.

Taking a modern approach to Starr’s 1913 Creed that “badness is the result of misdirected energy,” our trauma-informed methodology traditionally utilizes therapy, education, work, and play to help our students focus, reset, and grow. But how might these practices need to adapt when the “misdirected energy” of some students is the result of traumas that go beyond the most commonly thought of, or even imaginable, forms? Starr Albion Prep’s Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) program, led by Starr Albion Prep’s director of therapeutic services, Mackenzie Bentley, addresses such trauma, and it has required us to think beyond our traditional programming.

For the victims of human trafficking, the first step is often the most difficult task — helping these children make sense of what has happened to them. To get them to understand they are victims, much of our time is spent in cognitive restructuring to help them see that they, in fact, were exploited. As one girl simply put it, “I didn’t even know I was being trafficked.” This cognitive restructuring takes the shape of conversations, readings and videos on what modern trafficking looks like, as well as journaling to identify what has specifically happened in their past, or is happening currently inside them, to help re-shape their image of themselves. And, while this programming is vital to the healing process, Starr’s most dynamic approach to building resilience in these victims is through physical supplements to their mental care.

“Trauma is a body experience,” explains Starr’s senior trainer and yoga instructor, Erin Reed.  “You’re activated into a sympathetic nervous system response, and if you’re living in that experience over and over again you begin to create physical patterns you unconsciously repeat.” Through teaching yoga, “we are creating awareness of those patterns, and empowering these girls to make choices about their reactions.” In that spirit, yoga is providing a modern day coping strategy for the “misdirected energy” that Floyd Starr spoke to 106 years ago.

In conjunction with Starr’s CSEC program, Reed’s yoga classes are offering a focus on therapeutic themes including acceptance of self, awareness, and empowerment over the safety of one’s own body, and ultimately, personal resilience. “We’re helping these girls befriend and care for their bodies by putting aside the shame that comes from the traumatic experience [of trafficking].  We help girls reconnect with themselves in a compassionate way,” says Reed, who has prepared for this program for over a year with 200 hours of trauma-informed yoga, and 300 more to come this year. “[Yoga] has helped me shape my wounds into areas where I have become my strongest, and now I am able to help others who are hurting and give them a space to do the same. In that way, I’m not really a teacher, but simply a guide for these girls to have that same healing with their bodies.” This guidance shifts traditional therapy models into a both intrapersonal and interpersonal experience.

“In a traditional disease model, we’re really disempowered by relying on medicine or a therapist to heal our wounds,” says Reed. “It takes away the power of relationship, whereas a therapeutic yoga model gives us the power to heal ourselves by first becoming aware of ourselves, and then sharing a common space and celebrating a common experience with the group.” Despite only being a few months into the program, self-healing, according to both Reed and Bentley, has already proven its effectiveness.

“It’s miraculous what we have seen,” Bentley celebrates. “The girls are growing week to week and able to even teach each other as they build skills.” While most programming in residential settings is at risk of carrying the stigma that it’s required to complete one’s stay, both Bentley and Reed say they have girls asking for more time in group, extra yoga sessions, and seeing an overall excitement to be a part of the program. What Reed has experienced in yoga sessions has confirmed the success of the program. “Each class I see girls spending more and more time being connected with their bodies and less time dropping out of poses. They have been shifting away from their learned hyper-vigilance to spending more time feeling safe with their eyes closed. They’re not only connecting what they’re feeling in life to what they’re doing on their mats, but wanting to then share their experiences with the group after.” This sense of empowerment and sharing has multiple benefits, and it is paving the way for the future of trauma sensitive programming at Starr Commonwealth.

“What these girls have been through distorts all sense of belonging,” says Reed. “We’re helping them rebuild a healthy sense of that belonging, of their self-image, and of their own empowerment and resilience.” Considering what both teachers have shared in terms of early success, that progress towards belonging and empowerment is well on its way, and encourages Reed to look to the future of the program. “What these girls have learned about their journey means that they will be the best guides for other victims. Their insight and understanding will allow them to be the most effective stewards to other women who have these same experiences.” Until those future plans can come to fruition, Reed and Bentley can reflect on the growth they have found in their own work, as well as its benefit to the campus of Starr Commonwealth as a whole.

“I have been deeply impacted by being in that group with them,” claims Bentley. Reed has experienced a similar, personal reaction as “[she] feels most connected to [her soul] when doing this work.” And while these two are able to grow from direct interaction with the program, the presence of these girls on campus means that all of the residential campus must carry with them the knowledge that some forms of trauma and victimization aren’t yet fully recognized and addressed in our society, and they challenge traditional treatment and require new approaches. Ultimately, the introduction of the CSEC program has allowed for Starr to foster healing through a more dynamic trauma-informed approach, and staff can find even more courage in each child they serve. In that spirit, these girls have empowered not only themselves, but a bigger community than they may ever realize.

Looking to incorporate more CSEC-informed tools into your practice? Register today for Starr’s Understanding and Combating Child Sex Trafficking online course. For more resources on human trafficking, visit or the SW Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force Facebook page.

If you are driven to heal like Mackenzie Bentley and Erin Reed, and would like to learn more about trauma-informed care in your organization, visit

Healing Hearts with Animal-Assisted Therapy

People who have experienced trauma can find it difficult to verbalize what happened, including how they are feeling about it. Trauma is defined as when someone has “encountered an out of control, frightening experience that has disconnected (them) from all sense of resourcefulness, or safety, or coping, or love” (Brach, 2011). Office-style, clinical therapy can be uncomfortable for those who have experienced trauma, as verbal communication is the main aspect of this approach. One very successful approach for treating this population is Animal-Assisted Therapy.

boy with horse

In Animal-Assisted Therapy programs, clients work alongside their animal partner toward completion of pre-determined personal goals. This may include completing caring chores for their animal partner (feeding, watering, brushing, cleaning up after them, etc.), in addition to ground interactions (walking, giving cues, establishing trusting bonds and relationships, etc.). There are three types of Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI). Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA’s) provide opportunities for motivation, education, and/or recreation to enhance quality of life. Animal-Assisted Education (AAE) is a planned and structured intervention directed and/or delivered by educational and related service professional with specific academic or educational goals. Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a goal directed intervention in which a trained animal is an integral part of the treatment process, and is delivered and/or directed by health or human service providers who document and evaluate interventions. The modalities may be combined to provide a more thorough experience (Choi, Dudzik, Fine, Jegatheesan, Johnson, Maria-Garcia, Omerad, Yamazaki, Winkle, 2014):

Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) has also been defined as a “therapeutic modality with goals that are consistent with all of the basic counseling theoretical orientations. It is considered an adjunct to therapy in that it encourages and facilitates client motivation and participation, enhances the client–therapist relationship, stimulates client focus and attention to task, and reinforces positive client change” (Chandler, 2012). The therapist’s supportive, purposeful interactions between the client and the therapy animal, as well as between the client and the therapist, are an essential part of the success of therapy that incorporates the use of a therapy animal. AAT is not magic, but it can be an integral and complimentary contribution to the therapeutic process itself, sometimes appearing “magical.”

It is known through research that trauma affects a person by how he/she experienced the event, and not necessarily defined by the event itself (Soma, 2017). Therapeutic approaches for victims of trauma often include talk therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and/or possibly Art Therapy. Each of these can be beneficial in assisting a client to heal; however, as mentioned above, it has been determined that victims of trauma can find verbal communication difficult. Their sense of safety and trust has been challenged through their experience, overflowing into other areas of their lives. AAT has proven its effectiveness over the years for those who have experienced abuse, neglect, drug addiction, sexual assault victims, broken families, and anger management. Introducing animals during the therapeutic process provides a calm and comfort to clients that cannot be duplicated through the therapist. Animals have an ability to sense what someone needs at the exact moment they need it, a soft nuzzle on the arm, a lick on the hand, a cuddle on the lap, or just offering the sense of “being there.” There are also beneficial sensory experiences for participants of Animal-Assisted Therapy, which is an integral part to healing trauma. Animal partners encourage human senses to engage during the session, providing opportunities for touch, smell, sound, taste, and sight. For example, when the animal partner is a horse, there are coats to touch and brush, the velvety nuzzle of a soft nose, horse breath to feel and small, peppermint treats for both horse and human, soft eyes that share emotion, and the pure joy of seeing such a beautiful animal.

In addition to the aforementioned benefits, some positive outcomes of participating in an Animal-Assisted Therapy program are as follows: companionship, connections with animal(s) partner, ability to share without using verbal communication, rewards with affection, someone to talk to without fear of broken trust, a bond that will build trust, a stronger sense of self-regulation, and a decrease in symptoms of PTSD. Luckily, there are several program options to assist those who have experienced trauma during their healing process. The most important thing is that clients themselves choose the type of therapy they feel most comfortable participating in.

Healing is a journey, and each person’s journey should be his/her own.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Broch, T. (2011). Definition of Trauma. Retrieved from URL:

Choi, G., Dudzik, C., Fine, A., Jegatheesan, Johnson, R.,B., Maria-Garcia, R., Omerad, E., , Yamazaki, K., Winkle, M. “The IAHAIO Definitions for Animal-Assisted Intervention and Guidelines for Wellness of Animals Involved”. (2014).

Soma, C, Allen, D. (2017). 10 Steps to Create a Trauma Informed School. Albion, MI: Starr Global Learning Network

Dr. Caelan Soma smiling with patient

Spotlight – Dr. Caelan Soma

As Starr Commonwealth continues to foster healing in 2019 through trauma-informed and resilience-focused care, we would like to celebrate the professionals who make our groundbreaking work possible, and who are driven to heal through their hard work in the field. For June, our spotlight is on Dr. Caelan Soma, PsyD, LMSW, and Chief Clinical Officer of Starr Commonwealth.

Dr. Soma provides trauma assessment and trauma-informed, resilience-focused intervention for youth utilizing evidence-based practices, including TLC’s SITCAP® model programs.

She has been involved in helping with the aftermath of disasters such as Sandy Hook, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and others. She is has authored several books, the most recent, 10 Steps to Create a Trauma Informed School and Healing the Experience of Trauma: A Path to Resilience.

She is an internationally acclaimed speaker and trainer, and is the instructor for many Starr TLC courses, including Children of Trauma and Structured Sensory Interventions. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology at California Southern University, where she received the 2013 CalSouthern President’s Award.

In your years of experience, how has trauma-informed care evolved?

The research to support what we have suspected about trauma for many years is now abundant. And, this research spans across ALL disciplines (healthcare, education, psychology, social work, occupational therapy, etc.) When I began working in this field, we focused mostly on social workers and counselors. Today, trauma-informed care matters to everyone!

Neuroscientists have clearly shown through PET scans and MRIs, various portions of the brain becoming activated such as the deepest part of the brain (i.e. difficulty with self-regulation) or other brain structures becoming compromised such as the pre-frontal cortex (i.e. difficulty with decision making, problem solving) as a result of prolonged and exaggerated stress. This aligns with what we observe in children and adults with toxic stress exposure in all settings and how it impacts their physical health, behavior, emotions, ability to learn, socialize and be an active participant in life.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study has also helped validate the connection between trauma and not just emotional health risk but also physical health.

The field of epigenetics has also evolved significantly which helps provide hope to practitioners for even the most at-risk and traumatized children and adults. Why? Resilience!  Even in the most extreme cases, we have an opportunity to provide new experiences which can help change the actual physiology of a person’s body.

We are halfway through 2019, what have you been most excited about this year in your work?

Most exciting to me is the integration of all our knowledge and expertise of trauma-informed care with the 106 year history of resilience-focused practices of Starr. Every training, intervention program, and assessment focuses as much on healing trauma as it does on fostering and restoring resilience.

I recently worked with a child and his father. The child’s school told the father and his son that he had a learning disability and ADHD. After hearing about the child’s history of abuse and neglect before moving to the care of his father, it was obvious to me this child was being observed by his school and compared to his same-age peers from a lens that was not trauma-informed. I was able to help the child, his father and the school understand how trauma had impacted him and that while he was chronologically an 8 year old, developmentally he was more like a 5 year old and needed additional supports in his classroom setting to stay regulated and learn. Simple education for the father, child, and school shifted the mindset completely. In my opinion, this child did not have a learning disability or ADHD. The father and his son were happy to learn that nothing was “wrong” but that “things had happened” and those experiences were impacting him. But, more importantly, there was hope – there were simple things to do both at home, in school and through counseling to improve his school experience. 

What have been the most important developments in trauma-informed care recently?

In addition to the aforementioned interdisciplinary approach and application of epigenetics, I would add discoveries in mind-body connections and the polyvagal theory. In other words, the focus on how trauma, stress AND resilience live in our bodies, inside our central nervous systems, and that we have an opportunity, through various experiences and strategies, to not only process and heal trauma but restore and nurture resilience. We’ve found success implementing these theories through movement activities, yoga, mindfulness exercises, expressive arts, breath work, play, etc.

What are 2-3 quick tips readers can begin implementing into their care today?

Assess social-engagement.

  • For yourself:
    • Check in with yourself. When you work with clients/students are you in an activated state of arousal, a collapsed state and shut down or, are you engaged?
  • For your client/student:
    • Is the child or adult you are working with in an activated state of arousal, a collapsed state and shut down or, are they engaged?

Engage the central nervous system through the use of sensory based experiences.

  • Do you need to help engage your client? Play music, get up and move, take a walk, have them check in with the sensations they feel in their bodies, or invite them to take a few deep breaths.
  • Do you need to help your client get into a calmer state? Color in a picture, play in a tray of sand, or invite them to stretch or move into some calming yoga poses

To learn more from Dr. Soma, visit our courses page, featuring the recently updated Children of Trauma and Resilience. Dr. Soma is also featured in many on-site events, including our conference tour.

New Tools, Trusted Resources – Starr Trauma & Resilience Summer Conference Schedule

“When I was a high school counselor, I was desperate for help with grieving and traumatized students. What I found with Starr Commonwealth training was perfect. It has dramatically changed how I deal with students as a teacher, counselor, and in policy making decisions as a school board trustee.”

– Linda Duran, Texas Educator

“Any adult who works with children would benefit from attending Starr’s Trauma & Resilience Conference. It allows child case workers, general education teachers, social workers, juvenile probate officers and more to be in the same room, all with the goal of helping young people thrive. The curriculum resonates with educators and is a powerful model for teachers of all students. The perspective gained from Starr’s conferences is unparalleled.”

- Julie McDaniel-Muldoon, Michigan Educator

If you are as driven to heal as Linda and Julie, as well as thousands of others who have benefitted from Starr’s training, this summer provides exciting opportunities to become a more trauma-informed professional. We will be offering conferences in both Texas and Michigan in the near future, and we would love for anyone who is focused on building resilience in our children to attend. Course registration includes a guidebook, CPEs, CEs, and lunch. For a full overview of our conference schedule and to register for an event, visit

If you can’t join us at our conferences, please consider taking one of Starr’s online courses or bringing a Starr trainer directly to you for an in-person training.

Introducing the 2019 Stand Tall Award Winners!

This year, Starr Commonwealth will be hosting the third annual Night of Starrs, an evening to celebrate and illuminate the greatness in all. At this event, Starr presents the Stand Tall Award to champions for children in our local communities, with previous winners hailing from Albion, Marshall and Battle Creek. We are proud to announce that on Thursday, April 11, we will be honoring Dr. Harry Bonner of Albion, Mich., Tom Franke of Marshall, Mich. and Kim Carter of Battle Creek, Mich. as the 2019 Stand Tall Award winners.

Dr. Harry Bonner is an Albion High School graduate who serves as the head of Substance Abuse Prevention Services, an organization in Albion dedicated to preventing and reducing substance abuse by youth in high-risk populations through community engagement. Substance Abuse Prevention Services also operates the Kids at Hope Youth Development Center, an organization that works to create an environment where all children can experience success. Through his leadership and service to his community and the children in it, Dr. Bonner received the Governor George Romney Lifetime Achievement in Community Service Award, the South Central Michigan Substance Abuse Commission Distinguished Service Award and an Albion High School Distinguished Alumni Award.

Tom Franke has been a driving force for the preservation and advancement of the Marshall community for decades. A key advocate for the Marshall Public Schools, Mr. Franke has helped to support and expand expressive arts programs and school safety initiatives within the district and has inspired and supported numerous scholarship funds throughout the years. His leadership was instrumental in preserving what is now the Franke Center for the Arts, a community gathering place where children and adults alike are inspired to discover their voice, share their talents and celebrate creativity. Mr. Franke currently serves as the Chairman of the Board for the Franke Center for the Arts, played an integral role in establishing the Marshall Community Foundation and remains committed to finding new ways to support the positive development of the community and youth of Marshall.

Kim Carter is a lifelong educator who now serves as the superintendent for Battle Creek Public Schools (BCPS). In her role, she has lead with courage to find new and creative ways to support the growing needs of her students, teachers and community at-large. Her drive to create new pathways for success for students lead to the formation of the Bearcat Health Leadership Team, a cross-collaborative effort of community leaders to improve the behavioral health of Battle Creek youth. In addition, Superintendent Carter has been instrumental in bringing new investments to BCPS, receiving contributions from local foundations to ensure that every Bearcat student has a chance to achieve their greatness.

We are excited to honor these community leaders at our third annual Night of Starrs, and we hope you will join us on Thursday, April 11, 2019, as we present them with the Stand Tall Award. Tickets are available online at

Introducing Starr’s New Store and eLearning Platform!

Starr Commonwealth is excited to announce a series of web-based changes the team has been anxiously waiting to tell the public – the creation of a new online store and eLearning platform!

The online store is a resource for teachers, social workers, therapists and other professionals to expand their training in the areas of trauma informed care, crisis intervention, mind body skills and more. The new design has an easy to navigate layout that will help people find the courses and content they are looking for faster, as well as providing previews of other courses that may interest them.

With the new store, customers will be able to search for and purchase products and online courses more easily, as well as offering an updated format to register for conferences. The new design has an easy to navigate layout that we hope will solve any issues that people looking for courses have come across in the past.

Along with the store, Starr has rolled out a new eLearning platform, establishing a stronger site for customers to take online courses from trained professionals and experts in the field of trauma informed, resilience focused care. Equally exciting is the new content the Starr team has been hard at work creating to ensure that the best information and most engaging videos possible are at your fingertips! Throughout the year, new courses will continue to roll out, and the team is eager for you to experience each.

As with any switchover, there may be some hiccups along the way, but Starr’s staff is committed to helping customers quickly navigate through the sites and providing the best customer service possible. We hope this will make the process smooth for our new and returning customers.

If you would like to visit our new store, please go to If you have any questions about the store or eLearning platform, please reach out to us at The team at Starr is always happy to hear from you!

The Mitten Word Donates Books to Starr Students

As a member of the American Bookseller Association, The Mitten Word Bookstore in Marshall, Mich. had a unique opportunity – to receive multiple books for the purpose of donating to local schools and educational programs to encourage young readers. Jim Donahue, the owner of The Mitten Word, chose to give this amazing gift to the students in Starr Commonwealth’s residential and community-based programs.

In total, Jim and Shannyn, the Events Manager at The Mitten Word, brought almost fifty copies of Jason Reynolds’ book, Ghost, to our Albion campus. These books will be distributed among students in the Youth Assistance Program (YAP) in Detroit and Starr Albion Prep.

Ghost was a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature and was nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read. The novel is the first in the Track series, and follows Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw as his talent for running from his past lands him a spot on an elite middle school track team. With themes of facing your fears and working to become part of a team, this novel is one that Starr students can relate to.

“I love to read. I read all the time. I’m probably going to finish this tonight,” said one student as he looked through the donated book. To prove it, he opened his backpack and pulled out several books that he had recently gotten from the library. Jim and Shannyn looked at what he was reading and talked to the group about different books and authors, making suggestions of ones that might interest them.

With these books, students will have the opportunity to create small book clubs in their cottages at Starr Albion Prep or as a YAP group activity, to discuss how they relate to Ghost’s experiences  – and thus how they relate to each other. In addition, those who are seeking a more personal journey with Jason Reynold’s story will be provided a safe space to explore independently.

Jim and Ginny Donahue opened their bookstore to help with the literacy rates in Calhoun County. With donations like these, students in Calhoun County and across Michigan have more opportunities to discover a love of reading. Thank you to our friends at The Mitten Word for thinking of the students here at Starr Commonwealth!

Detroit Students Tour Wayne State University

Detroit Students Tour Wayne State University

Earlier this month, students from Starr Commonwealth’s Youth Assistance Program (YAP) and Lincoln Park Public Schools had the opportunity to take a tour of Wayne State University. Funded by a grant from Wells Fargo, this trip opened up a dialogue for students on what furthering their education can do for them, and got many of them thinking about the possibility of going to college.

Located in the city of Detroit, Wayne State University was a natural first choice for a college visit for these students. Not only was it a short bus ride from school, but many of the staff members who work with students on a regular basis graduated from or currently attend Wayne State University. Showing these kids the pride someone can have in their school brought a new element to the experience for both the staff and the students.

During the tour, students visited the recreation center, the library, the bookstore, the student center and the Old Main building, which houses the planetarium. At each location, students learned about what college life was like and had the opportunity to ask staff members questions about the facilities, the application process and the services provided to help students succeed.

“I hadn’t really thought about college much,” one student said while on the tour, “but seeing what it’s like, and actually being here… I’m starting to think about what I want to do with my life, and what I need from a school.”

Offering opportunities like this one allows Starr to show students the amazing futures that they are capable of having, and gives them a chance to expand their horizons by seeing new things and meeting people with different stories than their own. You can help students continue to have these experiences by supporting Starr Commonwealth.

Starr Commonwealth team

Starr Receives Expedited Accreditation Through Council on Accreditation

Starr Commonwealth has achieved national accreditation through the New York-based Council on Accreditation (COA). Upon review of Starr’s policies, procedures and programs over the past four years, COA’s peer review team recommended expedited approval for Starr for meeting all compliance ratings in COA’s fundamental practice standards. The Accreditation Commission has approved this recommendation, confirming Starr as an outstanding provider of care that meets the highest performance standards within the field of human services.

The standards driving accreditation ensure that Starr’s trauma informed, resilience focused services are well-coordinated, culturally competent, evidence-based, outcomes-oriented, and provided by a skilled and supported workforce. COA accreditation also demonstrates accountability in the management of resources, setting standardized best practice thresholds for service and administration, and increasing organizational capacity and accountability by creating a framework for ongoing quality improvement.

“COA’s program of quality improvement is designed to identify providers that have met high performance standards and have made a commitment to their stakeholders to deliver the very best quality services,” said Richard Klarberg, President and CEO of COA. “COA is proud to recognize Starr Commonwealth as an outstanding provider of care, and we wish them the very best in continuing their work with the individuals they serve.”

“Receiving expedited accreditation through COA is a testament to the dedication and passion of our team at Starr,” said Elizabeth Carey, President and CEO of Starr Commonwealth. “It is an incredible honor to receive this recognition, just as it is an honor to continue to build strength, resilience and hope in the children, communities and professionals we serve, every day.”

Friends of Starr Donate Baskets to Students on our Albion Campus

Every year, Starr Commonwealth encourages our friends and family to give back during the holiday season. Some choose to adopt a family in need, while others make donations to nonprofit organizations that are near and dear to their hearts. This year, friends of Starr pitched in to create holiday baskets for all of the students on our Albion campus.

Supporters of Starr – including several board members – decided to make a difference by getting together with their friends, family and coworkers to adopt a cottage on our Albion campus. With twelve cottages open, there were plenty to choose from, and some people decided that their hearts were large enough to adopt more than one.

These generous patrons provided games, crafts, movies, snacks and cherished items like ranch dressing to the students who will be with Starr for the holidays, with the idea of brightening our students’ days and making them feel like a part of our family. There were so many donated items that each of the twelve cottages will receive two baskets: one with food and the other with entertainment. The baskets of goodies will be delivered to each cottage in time for the students to be able to enjoy all of the gifts.

Thank you to each person who thought of our students this holiday season; your gift means more than you may know to the students who are in our care.

Thank you

Thank You for Supporting Starr on Giving Tuesday!

Thank you to everyone who chose to lead with courage and support Starr Commonwealth this year for Giving Tuesday! We had friends from across the country lift their voices in support of Starr, and we couldn’t be more grateful.

We were able to raise over $12,000 for Giving Tuesday this year, including our generous $3,000 match from Joe and Clara Stewart and their family. We had an ambitious goal of raising $15,000, and while we didn’t achieve it, we are not disappointed; we are thankful. We are thankful for everyone who was a champion for Starr and shared stories about our organization and our mission. We are thankful for every donation that came in, great and small. Mostly, we are thankful that we are able to continue to create positive experiences so that children, families and communities can flourish.

So thank you again to everyone who had a hand in helping us to raise money on this national day of giving; it means so much to us that you believe in our mission as much as we do.

As Uncle Floyd used to say, “These are not MY children, they are YOUR children. YOU are the ones who have made this work possible.”

You Can Help Starr Lead With Courage This Giving Tuesday

For the past several years, Starr Commonwealth has participated in Giving Tuesday – a global day of giving. Falling on November 27th, this day of generosity creates an opportunity for people to show their support for the organizations and causes that matter most to them, and to encourage their friends and family to follow their lead. As you consider which organizations you would like to share your support with this year, we hope that Starr will be one of them.

To add to the excitement and impact of this great day, Starr recently received a match gift from Joe and Clara Stewart, recipients of the Oneness of Humankind Award, and their family. Three generations of Stewarts have committed to supporting Starr over the years, initially drawn to the organization because of our dedication to children and promoting racial healing and equity throughout the world and our one human family.

The Stewarts have generously offered a $3,000 match goal, which means that they will match every donation up to that total amount. This gift brings us one step closer to our ultimate goal of $15,000, but we still have a lot of ground to cover!

As Uncle Floyd would often state, “These are not MY children, they are YOUR children. YOU are the ones who have made this work possible.”

Help us continue to make our work possible by making a donation on the 27th or by lifting your voice and sharing your support for Starr on social media. Your investment will help continue to transform lives, unlock greatness and build a strong, healthy future for all.

Together, we can lead with courage. Together, we can help all flourish!

105th celebration

Celebrating 105 Years of Starr

This October, Starr Commonwealth celebrated 105 years of creating positive experiences for children, families and communities with a fundraising event at the Detroit Zoo’s Wildlife Interpretive Gallery.

The open gallery was decorated with over a hundred butterflies, each brought to life by a student in Starr’s programs. Suspended above the crowd as if in flight, they symbolized the positive transformation each child has seen in themselves since becoming a part of the Starr family.

During the program, four courageous students took to the stage to perform spoken word pieces they written. Each painted a picture for the crowd of the difficult situations that they found themselves in before coming to Starr, and how staff are helping them transform into the people they were meant to be.

After those brave performances, Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Caelan Soma introduced Lincoln Park Public Schools (LPPS), winner of the 2018 Child Advocacy Award. LPPS have been working for the past year to transform their district and personnel into trauma informed professionals, emphasizing the importance of meeting the social and emotional needs of their students. Superintendent of LPPS, Terry Dangerfield, accepted the award, saying, “We stand tall for children because they are our future. If we don’t do this work for them, then who will?”

The next award was the 2018 Starr Alumni President Emeritus Award, which was presented by current Starr Board of Trustee member, alumnus and President of the Starr Alumni Association, Stanley Allen. Stanley spoke about the how the Alumni Association started, how it has grown and how it has become a family that offers ongoing support to its members through scholarships, networking and volunteer opportunities.

Stanley presented the awards to Dr. Jim Pelt and George Wilson, two former Starr Alumni Association Presidents. They each spoke about what they had learned from Starr and how it has shaped them into the adults they are today. “Most of the people in this room did not have the opportunity to know Uncle Floyd,” Jim said. “He was a great man – small in stature, but large in heart.”

Ken Ponds, former chaplain at Starr’s Albion campus and current Associate Trainer for the Starr Global Learning Network, introduced the final award of the evening. He presented the Oneness of Humankind Award to Joe and Clara Stewart for their lifelong dedication to healing the human family.

During their acceptance speech, Joe took a moment to direct the audience towards the balcony, where the four students who had spoken earlier in the program were watching. As one, he asked the crowd to turn, lift their voices and tell the students, “I love you,” a reminder that there will always be people who care for them. It was an incredibly powerful moment that evening.

Thanks to generous sponsors and guests, over $140,000 was raised on this momentous evening, which will continue to build resilience in all the children, families and professionals served. This great work could not be done without those who stand tall with Starr.

If you would like to make a donation and stand tall with Starr, please visit

For more photos from the event, check out our Facebook page.

Thank you to Our Gold and Silver Sponsors!

105th gold and silver sponsors

Thank you to Our Bronze Sponsors!

105th bronze sponsors

The Power of Service with the Starr Alumni Association

George Wilson and Dr. Jim Pelt, former Starr Alumni Association Presidents

The Starr Alumni Association has been an asset for former students for many years, providing not only a network but an emotional support system for our youth after they leave our programs. While planning our Alumni Cookout, we had the opportunity to talk with two former presidents of the Alumni Association, Dr. Jim Pelt and Mr. George Wilson, about their dedication to Starr and what the Alumni Association means to them.

Dr. Jim Pelt, who was a Starr student from 1955 to 1957, was the first president of the Starr Alumni Association, and worked with former Starr president Arlin Ness to establish the group. “I attended Founder’s Day, there were some other alums, and we started talking.” Jim said. “We started getting together once a month on the Albion campus, about a half a dozen of us, and talked about an Alumni Association.” Encouraged by Arlin Ness, who knew of Uncle Floyd’s desire to establish such a network, Jim and a large group of former Starr boys held their first formal meeting, and Jim was elected to be the first president of the association.

With this role came a position on the Starr Board of Trustees, and Jim served in both functions for eleven years. He was succeeded by George Wilson, who was a Starr student on our Albion campus from February of 1961 to August of 1962.

Before becoming the Alumni Association president, George and his wife visited Kutsche Cottage on a monthly basis to mentor students. “That’s when I saw what I believed to be some real promising things that were happening,” George remembered. “They had meetings in cottages at the end of each day where they would have to resolve any personal issues that they had with one another and be open and candid about discussing problems that they had. I became quite impressed with that.”

Both men spoke of how Uncle Floyd instilled in them a drive to give back. “The most important thing, I would say, when we think about giving back, is that it’s always about service. Serving other people, which was what Floyd Starr was,” George said about their desire to give back to the students.

“George and I were very fortunate in that we knew Uncle Floyd,” Jim explained. “Students today only hear about him – they didn’t know him. He was a powerful individual. Not a big man – small in stature – but a giant.”

Dr. Jim Pelt and George Wilson will both be receiving the 2018 Starr Alumni President Emeritus Award at Starr’s 105th Anniversary Celebration. For more information about the event, please visit