Summer is a time for moving. College graduates move out of dorms and into their first apartments and the start of their careers. Service members are transferred to new posts or bases. Young couples buy their first home and prepare for a family. In our mobile society it’s estimated that over 40 million people move each year due to jobs—private, military, government—or for personal reasons. Moving is fun! New places, people, sights, sounds, recreation options (“Hey Mom, I can see the beach from my bedroom!”); a new world waits to be explored.
Now imagine that you’re living in a van with your spouse and your five children. You move despite the season, looking for a parking place near public services. You can’t stay long, so you move again. It’s a nomadic existence. Moving is overrated.
Eventually, you connect with a charitable program that finds you your very first house. Soon you won’t be moving. Stationary at last, you park the van in the driveway and open the front door. The empty house echoes with the sound of your children’s running feet. You portion out the few blankets and pillows you have, and your family spends its first night in its new house on the hard floor.
With the coming dawn, there’s a knock on your new door. You open it to see standing on your porch Joni and Tom, co-founders of the Starfish Project. Joni is a diminutive powerhouse of drive and passion. Tom is an expert at coordinating, collecting, and distributing resources. They’re well connected to the non-profit community in greater Kansas City, and were told of your plight by the program that provided the house. Joni, Tom, and a group of volunteers are here to fill your home with furnishings, kitchen equipment, beds: everything to make your new house a home. Joni tells you that she’s also arranged for another group to provide food for you and your family.
Joni does this for one reason: to have a positive impact on the lives of others. She knows she’s succeeded when she sees your youngest, only two, look around at his new house, the only one he’s ever known and that for only a day, with a smile on his face.
Starfish Project exists because Joni has always wanted a job where she could spend every day helping people. Tired of working in private business and not seeing the results she craved, she started the Starfish Project on Facebook as a means to connect non-profits to each other and to the people who need their help. As Joni says, the purpose of the Starfish Project is “to connect lives, resources, and acts of kindness.” i That focus became the mission of the Starfish Project:
Our mission is to be the connector between the community, non-profits, and those in need throughout the Kansas City Metro area. We do this by connecting with non-profits, finding out what resources they are looking for, and going out into the community to help locate those items. Once we have found the donations, we assist with the transport if needed. We work to support all non-profits and inspire the public to Pay It Forward and give back. We are a 501c3 organization and also assist with making monetary contributions tax deductible, when donated to worthy causes.ii
To achieve this, Joni created five goals:
- To inspire the community to Pay It Forward and find ways to give back.
- To educate the public on the true needs of the community.
- To help people and organizations locate and obtain needed resources.
- Provide transportation of donations when possible.
- To provide a tax-deductible vehicle for charitable contributions that don’t fall under a 501c3. iii
To achieve these goals, Joni continually networks and volunteers, learns the needs of others, and finds folks and groups who can help meet those needs. Her days are packed with activity; Joni puts in at least 40 to 60 hours per week, transferring donations, volunteering, or, rarely, spending time in her office.
There is no typical day for Joni, and that’s just the way she likes it: “The best part about my days is every day I get to help somebody, but it’s always different. So one day we might be out on the streets feeding the homeless, the next day I’m helping a pet rescue, the next day we’re hauling furniture up to the children’s cancer group.”
Weekends are especially fruitful, as Joni may attend many events to show support, help out, or provide donations. “We try to fill our calendars up with events or ways we can support folks. We can’t do them all, but we try to fill in and do the ones we can. We do as much as we can.”
The network produced by all this activity is the key to the impact of the Starfish Project. The larger the network grows, more people can be helped, more organizations connected, more resources can be shared, and more impact is made. The effect snowballs as others who have seen this model practice it, connecting other groups, families, and resources. The way Joni puts it “the chain reaction is going to be huge. I won’t even see or know what all impacts we’ve made.” Joni’s vision is to replicate this model in cities across America and connect all the Starfish Projects together in order to share resources regionally and nationally.
If you’re interested in helping the Starfish Project grow and have a greater impact, check out their website at http://starfishproject21.org. If you’re wondering how you can help, Joni has some suggestions:
- If you unsure about what you can do, contact Starfish Project and they’ll help you figure it out.
- Starfish Project is always looking for sponsors, and businesses, groups, or individuals who are looking for ways to give back to their community.
- Helping others does not automatically mean a monetary donation; your time is often the greatest gift you can give.
- Are you hosting a charitable event and want to make it tax deductible? Starfish Project can help you do so.
- Starfish Project is a strong believer in paying things forward. It has Pay It Forward cards you can use to pass on your act of kindness to others. To request the cards and see examples of them in action, please visit http://starfishproject21.org/share-your-story/
i This and all following quotes from an interview with Joni Clark-Moreland on 4/20/16
ii http://starfishproject21.org/mission-statement accessed 5/31/16
iii http://starfishproject21.org/goals/ accessed 5/31/16