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 gems-girls.org 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 starr.org/courses.

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.

References
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: http://trauma-recovery.ca/introduction/definition-of-trauma

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 has 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 starr.org/training-schedule.

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 www.starr.org/NightofStarrs-Tickets.

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 www.starr.org/store. If you have any questions about the store or eLearning platform, please reach out to us at info@starr.org. 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 www.starr.org/donate.

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 www.starr.org/105.