Connecting with Community: Starfish Initiative

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – In the state of Indiana, 64 percent of high school graduates enroll in college, but only 30 percent graduate within six years. Non-profit organization Starfish Initiative is trying to increase that statistic.

“We are a mentoring organization that focuses just on college,” says Bob Kizer, CEO of Starfish Initiative. “We match one high school girl with one female mentor, and one high school boy with one male mentor.”

Starfish works with economically disadvantaged youth who qualify for the 21st Century Scholarship program, a needs- and performance-based scholarship program that provides students the opportunity to earn up to a four-year scholarship at an Indiana college or university. The organization pairs mentors with students based on common interests and personal experience.

To view the mentor application, click here.

Paris Felix, 17, a senior at Crispus Attucks High School, was paired with Michele Anderson, an attorney within the business litigation group at Frost, Brown, Todd LLC. The two were first introduced in 2009 as Felix entered her freshman year of high school.

“I met her right here in the Starfish offices with her grandmother Penny,” says Anderson. “We have very similar stories.”

Anderson was born to a young mother who “wasn’t ready for kids,” and was raised by her grandmother beginning in fifth grade.

“I was the first person in my family to have gone to college or even graduate from high school, so it was tough to figure it out on my own,” says Anderson. “I wanted to be that person for someone else.”

Anderson mentored Felix for the last four years. During that time, the pair has attended multiple community service events together, met for dinner or coffee and gone on college visits together.

“She put together a whole folder of what I was supposed to do for college,” says Felix. “It had all the steps and everything for every college that I wanted to apply to at that time.”

Felix applied to nine colleges and universities and was accepted to each one. The schools were: IU Bloomington, Purdue, Valparaiso, Hanover, Manchester, Ball State, IUPUI, Evansville and Depauw.

“I’m going to IU Bloomington,” Felix says with a smile. “It’s going to be a life changing experience for me.”

98 percent of high-schoolers in the Starfish program go to college. 78 have either graduated or are still in pursuit of that degree. Kizer attributes the high achievement to the mentors.

“It’s just incredible what two people together are able to do,” says Kizer. “We’re in the background and that’s where it should be, but we do provide the platform for energy and activity that happens between those two special people.”

Starfish will welcome its new freshman class of mentees during the this summer. Since the organization launched in 2003, it has served 675 students.

“We have 100 students starting with us this summer and another 35 on the waiting list,” Kizer explains. “We would like to have more mentors and more money to take in all of the students on the wait list.

Kizer explains it costs $1,700 per student annually to support the program. Starfish only asks that mentors commit two years to the program, but 58 percent of mentors decide to stay with the program and their mentee for all four.

“Having her talk to me about how it’s impacted her life and helped her has been really amazing,” says Anderson. “I had no idea the impact that I had on her and it’s been really rewarding and one of the best experiences I’ve ever had with anyone in my life.”

To apply for the program as a student, click here.

To apply to serve as a mentor of the program, click here.

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