2023: A Look Back
To Our Five Star Life Supporters,
As 2023 comes to an end, I find myself doing what I’ve done in the final months of the year for a couple decades, asking the question, “What impact am I having on the world? How did I use my time, talent, and treasure to change my world?” Everyone impacts the world in some way. A next-level question is, does the impact I’m having match the impact I’m CAPABLE of having or the impact I WANT to have? We live in a world focused on pointing the finger. It’s easy to judge what “others” should be doing, but tougher to judge our own priorities. I know the world is a highly complicated place, but when you scale it down, I believe each of us is in one of two camps. The first camp believes, “The issues are too big or complex and I’m just one person.” This belief excuses us from personal responsibility for the state of our world, community, and even our family. The second camp believes one person can change the world. This belief allows us to tap into God-sized ideas, potential, and purpose. As I look at the tragic condition of America, especially the state of kids, I imagine what could happen if we ALL united to solve root problems in society. We could change culture, which is the heart of our mission.
Two years ago at 6:45am, I received a text message that read, “Coach Seth, please pray. Tyler was shot in the head. He made it through surgery this morning. I don’t have all the details. Pray.” I was shocked and confused. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how this could happen. As the shock wore off, my immediate emotional response was anger! Tyler was a sophomore point guard on one of our Five Star Life basketball teams, and I had coached him since he was in 6th grade. I was angry because I knew most people would see it in the evening news or read it in a paper and chalk it up to just another inner-city kid who was probably in a gang or running the streets. I was angry because Tyler didn’t run the streets. He wasn’t in a gang. He didn’t do drugs. He was an Honor Roll student, a leader, who was living by our Five Star Life values and on a great path.
While trying to figure out how to positively channel my anger into productive change, I received a text message from a former Five Star Life coach named Katrina, who was now on the South Bend Police Force. She saw me in a news interview and wanted me to meet with key community leaders. Little did I know that a few days later, while Tyler was fighting for his life in a coma, that I would have an opportunity to fight on his behalf while sitting at a conference room table with the South Bend Police Chief and our local Director of Probation, discussing how we can stop the violence. I told them we could stop the violence if we could reach every kid in our community with the message of Five Star Life. We had the program, the platform, and the curriculum.
A few days later, Tyler’s mom texted me, “Good morning. Just wanted to let you know, a doctor came in and told us Tyler is not brain-dead!!!” A few days later, Tyler miraculously opened his eyes! Then, he said his first word.
Next, came his first sentence. He then began speech therapy. Through his determination, he stood up, took his first step, and began physical therapy. Hope was rising out of this horrific tragedy and Five Star Life formed an official partnership with the St. Joseph County Juvenile Justice Center (JJC) and launched a new initiative in the JJC. We trained all 150 probation and detention officers, clinicians, and staff members to implement our curriculum.
Today, every kid who commits a violent act or offense that deems them dangerous to society (or themselves) goes through our Video Curriculum three days per week. In addition, they asked us to create a program for kids with status offenses, kids who run away from home, are chronically absent from school, or have another mild offense. They explained the probation intake system cannot handle the overwhelming number of kids. They don’t have the capacity and data indicates a high percentage of these kids will end up committing a crime that lands them in detention.
We responded by launching the FSL Snap Leadership Program in partnership with the South Bend Police Department, the city of South Bend, and JJC. Through this initiative, you can either go before a judge or you can voluntarily register and complete the six-week Snap program. The caveat is the program isn’t just for kids, their parents are mandated to attend too! I wish you could experience the journey we take these families on. The first week, kids are apprehensive and parents are angry… they don’t want to be there. “My kid got into trouble and I’m being punished. I don’t have time for this.” However, our team takes these families on a journey through different master classes, like “Mastering Conflict”, and by the time the two-hour program ends, the whole atmosphere has changed and parents are starting to buy in. By the time the six weeks are over, the group is like family and both kids and parents have seen serious changes.
Instead of angrily trying to find someone to blame for Tyler being shot, we took personal responsibility and asked, “What can we do?” The Snap Program is changing culture and I’m thrilled to report that so far we have moved the needle from 30% recidivism to 13% recidivism (for kids referred to Snap), earning the support of Indiana state legislation.
We met with Tyler and his mom a few weeks ago over lunch to celebrate his two-year anniversary of beating death! We laughed and cried celebrating his successful return to playing with FSL Basketball last summer. The celebratory lunch ended with us telling Tyler and his mom that FSL had started the Tyler Brown College Scholarship Fund, and he will be the first recipient. As I write this, Tyler is at St. Joseph High School in the middle of varsity boys basketball practice, right back where he belongs. When you volunteer or give finances to FSL, it is a declaration that you believe one person can change the world.
FSL has been presented with unprecedented opportunities to transform kids’ lives and change culture, but the economic slowdown has definitely impacted our bottom line. Although we’ve served more kids in more ways with more impact than ever before, we have seen a significant decline in giving. This isn’t my way of squeezing you for more money or of making my pressure your pressure. This is what I’ve signed up for, to fight for the fatherless, voiceless, nameless, and faceless kids of America. It is my absolute joy. This is an invitation to consider joining me by making this personal. Together, let’s take personal responsibility to change our world! This will look different for everyone. To some it will mean giving a special year-end gift, becoming a monthly partner, volunteering, or making personal connections with people who can help us reach more kids like Tyler.
In conclusion, I will be sending you a series of letters. Each letter will contain a powerful story of transformation that I’m asking you to take the time to read and rejoice in our success of transforming another life. After reading it, share it with someone you think should learn about FSL. I want to say a special thank you to those of you who have already made this personal and are faithfully doing your part! Your faithfulness has allowed us to reach over 27,000 kids per week this year. Can we make it 37,000 kids per week in 2024 or how about 137,000 kids per week? Can we get to a million kids in 5 years? Our world certainly depends on it. Your giving, serving, and connections will play a major role in the stories I’ll tell one year from now. Who's with me?
President, Five Star Life