December 7, 2007
Five Star Shows Students their Destiny
ECS students who want to live out their destiny need look no further than a local program designed to help them take those first steps.
For the past four years, Five Star Destiny, a non-profit organization run by Elkhart brothers Seth and Justin Maust, has been encouraging and inspiring Elkhart students to dream big and then work toward achieving those dreams.
Five Star coaches are working with students at Pierre Moran and West Side middle schools and Beck, Monger, and Woodland elementary schools. They also serve students in the South Bend and Penn school districts.
Elkhart students face the high ropes course, one of many challenges they'll overcome this year
through their participation in Five Star Destiny.
Seth Maust, one of the organizers of Five Star, said the program has two objectives, the first being to help students commit to live by five values, responsibility, integrity, dreams, excellence, and service. The second is to connect children to someone who is already living by these five values, someone who will walk alongside young people to show them the way.
Maust said Five Star focuses on the "tweeners," whom he describes as the children who don't have a typical support system to teach them important values.
"Students on sports teams learn many of these things naturally," Maust explained. "Being a part of a team or club gives them a sense of belonging and self confidence, teaches them discipline and leadership, and rewards them for a job well done.
"Children who come from great families, whose parents are involved in their child's education and daily life, learn these values through modeling," he continued. "The tweeners are those students who typically have no place to learn self-esteem and values like responsibility and integrity."
That's where Five Star steps in. Maust said Five Star focuses on middle school age children because research shows that's where the greatest impact can be made. "Eighty-five percent of kids who experiment with drugs, alcohol, and tobacco do so at this age level," he reported. "Also, 85 percent of the kids who do get into trouble do so between the hours of 2 and 7 p.m., when their parents are working and they're home alone.
"These tweeners need a coach, need to be part of something," Maust stated. "If we can come alongside these kids and help them make a commitment to living right, we can make a huge difference in their lives."
Superintendent Mark Mow said Five Star provides an important after-school component at several ECS schools. "This is a group that has a lot of passion for what they do," he stated. "We feel fortunate to have Five Star working with our students and pointing them toward success."
"These teams become like families over the course of the season," Maust said. "We all sit down together and eat and talk about our day and our week. It's what we wish more parents would do with their children each night, turn off the TV and sit down for a family meal."
Five Star students meet at the school once or twice a week for three eight-week sessions. The first hour is spent in team-building activities, such as playing games in the gym. "We let students blow off a little steam after sitting in school all day," Maust said. "After some physical activity, the kids are ready to listen."
Five Star's coaches use personal stories, music, and video clips from popular movies to present lessons on the five values. Student "teams" of five to six members then spend 20 minutes with their coaches to talk about what they just heard, and discuss how it applies to them.
During the final 20 minutes, the teams sit down to a family dinner, provided by a local restaurant.
Horseback riding is one of the girls' favorite activities
at Manowe Ranch in Sturgis, Mich.
After the meal, comes clean up time. "We teach the kids that responsibility includes cleaning up after themselves, which again is something many students are not familiar with," Maust said. "We teach them to leave the place better than they found it. We actually make it into a competition. The kids really get into it."
Maust said many people describe today's generation as lazy or irresponsible. "At Five Star, we think kids are simply under challenged," he countered. "There is nobody in their life saying, 'You can do better. It's time to step up.'
"It's why so many children join gangs," he continued. "They want to belong to something. Unlike gangs, however, our way is a positive way."
So many programs give kids a list of what not to do, Maust added. "We give them something to do, something to strive for, values to live by. And we show them it's fun to live this way."
Students learn archery and other new skills at Manowe Ranch.
The focus of Five Star is to dream big. "We think everything starts with a dream," Maust explained. "We ask kids,'‘What do you really want to do with your life?'"
Our dreams keep us out of trouble, he tells the students, using his own story as an example. His dream was to get an athletic scholarship to attend college and eventually to play in the NBA. He talks about the time he left a school party to take a ride with some buddies. One of his friends opened up a can of beer. Maust told him either to pour out the alcohol or let him out of the car, explaining he'd worked too hard on his basketball to let his friend ruin everything for him.
"I thought I would have to walk," Maust tells the students. "But my friend apologized and threw out the beer. He said he hadn't thought about the consequences.
"When you have nothing to live for, you just go with the flow," he continued. "When you have dreams, you know what the right actions are and you stand by them.”
Maust did play college ball, but he never made it to the NBA. When students ask him if he's disappointed, he answers no. "If you shoot for the stars, you might hit the moon," he tells them. "Along the way, I learned leadership, teamwork, discipline, perservence, and how to get along with people."
Sometimes when you follow your dreams, it prepares you for something else, something you may never have even thought about, Maust tells them.
"Initially, I was only thinking about me, about what I wanted to accomplish," Maust says. "With what I'm doing now, I have the ability to impact so many more people."
After college, Maust was a youth pastor for seven years. But he was frustrated about all the kids he saw on the street who didn't have a church or a youth program to belong to. He wondered what would happen to these kids.
"I wanted to help kids in more than just one church and one community," he explained. "So I started dreaming about doing what I was doing on a larger scale."
His brother Justin, who worked for a successful Fortune 500 company, was also interested in a career that would touch lives. So the pair joined forces, establishing their organization in Elkhart, where their parents now live. Justin handles the financial end, soliciting funding from community members, local corporations, and grants. Seth is director of coaching and curriculum.
West Side students ham it up for the camera after a day of fun, challenging, team-building activities.
The program started at North Side Middle School four years ago. This school year, Five Star will serve more than 1,000 sixth through eighth-grade students.
It had to turn away another 300. Maust said participation is on a first come first serve basis, with the number dependent on how many volunteer coaches are available. The organization has 85 coaches now, but is always looking for more.
These volunteers are put through a pretty intensive screening process, Maust stressed. "We want to keep the bar set high," he said. "We're looking for people who have the ability to assess students' potential and then help them reach it."
It's working, Maust added, citing several examples of students whose lives have been changed through the program. At West Side, for example, there are two students in the program who likely wouldn't be in school if not for Five Star. The pair was a constant behavior problem and was close to getting expelled from school.
Now their behavior and attendance has improved, which in turn has resulted in better participation in class and higher grades. The students, who used to be loners, are also making friends and feeling they a part of the school. "We hear that from parents a lot," he said. "The program has helped in their children's social development."
Kristie Stutsman, principal at West Side, speaks highly of the program. "Having just completed one cycle of the Five–Star program, we are seeing huge success with all of our students who participate," Stutsman said. "Students have shown a positive change in attitude, a desire to do better academically and a sense of respect for those around them. The success with our most at-risk students has been phenomenal!"
Stutsman added there is strong research that shows the importance of kids being involved in activities beyond the school day. Athletic programs and music programs provide this opportunity for some of our students.
"Five Star has offered this same opportunity to a great number of kids who were not involved before," Stutsman said. "We know it has made a significant difference for our students and we know it's important to them when in the hallway the kids are saying to me, 'I can’t wait for Five Star tonight.'"
A Monger student rides the zip line.
||One of the highlights of the program is the trip to Manowe Ranch in Sturgis, Mich., which is co-owned by Five Star. The 260-acre ranch offers a low and high ropes course as well as horseback riding, fishing, archery, and other outdoor activities. |
"We talk about dreams and challenges throughout the year, and the ropes course provides a great challenge," Maust said. "A lot of people are afraid of heights. Even some 'tough' kids will freak out when they get up there. We have to talk them through it. We do this by encouraging them to take one step at a time.
"The challenges reinforce what we teach each day," he continued. "There are hurdles in life you have to overcome to be successful."
It's much the same thing with the horses, Maust added. "A lot of kids have never seen a real horse, much less rode on one. It can be quite scary at first.
"The day at the ranch is filled with great activities and great accomplishments," he continued. "We want to give the students a taste of success. It makes them want to continue to give their best."
Recently, the coaches and students have been talking about service. Maust asked the kids if they'd ever seen an injustice and wanted to do something about it. All of the students had seen or experienced bullying at school, but had done nothing to stop it.
"The kids are now saying we can step up and put an end to bullying in our school," Maust said, adding Five Star stresses service is not an obligation, but a privilege. "We urge them to make it a lifestyle. We ask, 'What if everywhere you went, you cared.' They see it could change the world."
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