For children with easy access to education, the possibilities are endless. However, for kids without those opportunities, the future can look bleak. This is where the Star Kids Scholarship Program steps in to fill the gap.
Launched in the spring of 2000, Star Kids strives to end the intergenerational cycle of poverty in Newport, R.I., by providing educational opportunities to low-income children whose parents have struggled with substance abuse, HIV, or have a history of incarceration. The long-term goal of the program is to have each student graduate from high school and become an independent and productive member of their community.
Although Newport has a reputation for being a community of the wealthy, Maureen Kerrigan, a Star Kids board member and financial advisor in the RBC Wealth Management-U.S. Providence office points out, “So many kids are getting lost in the system. There is a whole population that is underserved.”
In a typical year, more than 100 at-risk children are enrolled in the Star Kids program, giving them a new path in life. More than 90 percent of Star Kids students graduate from high school, with a similar number going on to pursue higher education or trade school.
Star Kids works by pairing low-income students with sponsors and mentors who will provide and support them in local educational opportunities, whether in the form of covering private school tuition, funding for after-school programs and uniforms or just someone to look up to and consistently be there to see them succeed.
In addition to her role as board member, Kerrigan and her family sponsor a Star Kid. “We call him the son my husband never had,” she says with a laugh.
Maureen Kerrigan (right) pictured with a Star Kids student and parent.
Without sponsors and mentors working with kids in the program to show them another path, many would be stuck in the same lifestyle as their parents. Eighty-nine percent of Star Kids students have a parent with a history of incarceration, and 94 percent have a parent with a history of addiction.
Star Kids strives to improve the lives of whole families and communities, and it begins by providing the youngest generation with education and support. But extending that support to the parents of the young people in the program is also important.
“We not only work with the kids, we work with the parents,” Kerrigan says. “At every board meeting, we invite a parent to come and share their story. The impact we have on society as a whole is palpable.”
Parents and guardians are also encouraged to be very involved in finding the best educational opportunities for their children, says Karen Flanagan, program director of Star Kids – Newport/Fall River.
A former Star Kids student, now high school graduate, with her family on graduation day.
“It’s empowering for the families to be committed and take an active role in the academic life of their kids,” she says. “Many parents and guardians seek information, tour schools and make decisions on their own. Star Kids is there along the way to help with whatever parents and guardians need to find the best educational fit for their children.”
Mentors are also crucial figures in the lives of students, and educators at the schools that Star Kids attend understand that.
“Many kids feel like they don’t fit in at these schools because they come from a different background,” Kerrigan says. “It is the role of the mentor to make sure they have that support system for whatever they need.”
Three young Star Kids students.
That consistency, she adds, is the key to success. Children are more likely to do well if they know someone is interested in their success.
For Kerrigan, nothing is better than seeing a child thrive because of the educational opportunities provided through Star Kids.
“We invite Star Kids alumni to speak at some of our events, and I’ll never forget what a young alumni once said,” she recalls of a board meeting in 2008. “He said, ‘I can’t wait to give back to Star Kids.’”
That young man has since graduated from Georgetown University and returned to Rhode Island to establish a successful career working with kids and families, Kerrigan says.
What’s more, he now serves as a Star Kids board member, “fulfilling those words he spoke to me as a young high school student many years ago,” she adds. “Nothing is better than that.”
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