STAR House turns 20 years old: Roswell nonprofit helps at-risk kids

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ROSWELL, Ga. – One of Roswell’s most recognizable nonprofits is turning 20 years old this year.

STAR House (which stands for “Seeking, Teaching and Reaching”) began its life in 1993 as a project for five members of the Junior League.

“We were trying to find a project we felt would impact the community the most,” said Judy Simones, one of those original five founders. “There was a real need in Roswell for children who were at risk.”

“At-risk” children are considered those who may be forced to go home after school to a house with no parents, if both work. They may be failing school and be in need of mentoring programs.

Simones and the others saw a great need in Roswell to help such children with after school care.

“It started in an apartment in the Frazier Street Apartments with the five members and about 20 children,” Simones said. “The workers turned the apartment into a schoolhouse for the children to spend their afternoons doing homework and having snacks, all under the supervision of people who could help watch and mentor them, all at no charge to the students or their families.”

In 1996, STAR House, now an independent nonprofit, moved into Mimosa Elementary School, which turned out to be a landmark decision. Instead of shuttling students from their schools to an off-site location, STAR House could be embedded in their place of learning. Since that time, STAR House has expanded to follow students through high school – as well as Mimosa, Elkins Pointe Middle School and Roswell High School. They recently opened a program in Esther Jackson Elementary School in east Roswell and hope to one day expand similarly to west Roswell through the high school.

“It’s been a natural progression to add schools,” said Kim Walther, the director of STAR House. “We work with the teachers and counselors to identify at-risk students. It’s a safe place to go after school.”

With 260 kids in the program, there is always a waiting list to take part, with the group only limited by the number of volunteers who can watch and take care of the students.

STAR House gets its work done with a staff of two administrators and four site directors. There are a number of coaches and mentors who work hourly with more than 30 volunteers.

Beyond simply expanding to meet demand as they can, Walther said the people of STAR House hope to start offering internships to their students.

“Not every kid will go to college, but everyone has skills,” Walther said. “Sometimes they don’t know how to use their skills in their community.”

If a student has cooking skills, they are not limited to working in fast food, she said. They can learn to be a cook. A student who enjoys drawing can train to become a graphic designer.

“We want to help our kids think outside the box, not just get them to graduation and then ask ‘what next?’” she said. “These kids are going to be our community tomorrow. I want them to feel good today and part of that community today.”

3/28/13 RN