Education and Youth Development and Housing and Gifts and Philanthropy

Contractors renovate offices for students and mentors

May 25, 2009

This summer, Starfish Initiative will welcome a new class of scholars to its freshly painted offices with all new furniture, spacious meeting rooms and an inviting lounge.

The organization matches promising Marion County high school students with mentors and helps prepare them for college. The top-to-bottom renovation of Starfish headquarters on Delaware Street began with Rick Webster, a board member who died last October.

As the owner of an interior design and architecture firm, DesignPlan Inc., Webster suggested the office makeover and rounded up in-kind donations worth more than $400,000 from contractors, Executive Director Joyce Johnson said. The new lounge, which is outfitted with bright orange beanbag-style chairs, will be dedicated to Webster this month.

"It was the last project he worked on at DesignPlan," Johnson said. "It was a special thing."

Starfish Initiative was founded in 2003 by Webster's brother-in-law, Mike Feeney. Johnson said Webster was influential from the start. When Feeney said he wanted to address Marion County's high dropout rate one student at a time, Webster replied, "That sounds like the starfish story."

The organization's name comes from the story of a man and his son who saw a beach covered with dying starfish, and the importance of saving them, one at a time, by throwing them back into the sea.

The program has grown rapidly since its start in 700 square feet of donated space south of Broad Ripple. In 2007, the organization moved to its current location at 814 N. Delaware. The next year, it became a United Way-sponsored agency, but volunteers and employees were still working in cramped surroundings with broken furniture, Johnson said. "Rick said, 'Let's make this a place that inspires students and families, and make this a place where students want to hang out.'"

Starfish Initiative is now leasing the entire building, 7,200 square feet, which includes a garage that was converted to a handicapped-accessible meeting space. The project cost of more than $838,000 was met by 50 percent in-kind donations from Webster's firm, plus three others, and a United Way grant for capital improvements.

Rebecca Denison Schultz, owner of the office furniture dealership D2P, said she learned about Starfish Initiative through Webster, a former colleague in design. Instantly sold on the cause, she appealed to Kimball Office, a division of Jasper-based Kimball International, to make a furniture discount possible. Her husband, former Colts offensive lineman Bill Schultz, is now volunteering as a mentor.

"Sometimes these kids just need a little bit to get over the hump," she said. "We just wanted to be part of that."
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Know of a gift that IBJ should feature? Contact Kathleen McLaughlin at kmclaughlin@ibj.com.

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