2023: Letter 3

This third installment of our year-end letter series is special to me because it is the story of Five Star Life told by Jim Shaffer, our Board Chairperson, visionary, CEO, and my mentor who chooses to serve behind the scenes, but is a major influence in everything we have done over the past 18 years. As you read between the lines you’ll hear Jim’s passion for the fatherless, because, like me, he was born fatherless but was adopted by parents who changed the trajectory of his life. Let’s listen in as Jim shares.

13 years before I met Coach Seth and we started what is now Five Star Life, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that said, “7,000 kids a day were dropping out of school in America.” I couldn't believe it, but after digging deeper I found it to be true. Something inside of me knew that I had to try and do something about these kids. Shortly after, I felt a strong desire to find a property where these kids could come. There were several things the property had to have like hills, trails, water, wildlife, and strangely to me, a place for horses. After two years of looking, we found a property in Sturgis, MI, that fit the list of 15-20 necessary components, including a large equine facility right at the front of the property, along with beautiful fenced pastures. There began my relationship with horses. After a few months, we got our first horse, Gypsy. She was a beautiful bay and a former barrel racer. She was the Queen of the Barn right off the bat, and the foundation of this relationship with horses that I knew was going to be a pivotal part of reaching these kids. Over the years we added more horses, but I really only had a special bond with Gypsy. She was a part of our family. At 34 years old now, she still is. 

Fast forward 10 years and I met a young man whom I did not know, named Seth. He came because he heard I had some property and he asked if he could take a few kids to that property. While I had just met Seth and I didn’t know Seth, somehow I believed in him and trusted him so much that within a few weeks, we joined together in our pursuit of kids. Not only did I let Seth use the property, but I committed to give him my time, money, and influence to work arm in arm in pursuing the fatherless. A few years after Seth and I joined together, we went from reaching 30-40 kids to thousands of kids each week. We decided that it would be better if we had a facility that was closer to the schools we worked in. 

We searched and searched and, almost out of nowhere, I came across a beautiful former YMCA camp in Union, MI. It was only a few miles from our office and it was more than double the size of the property we had. Ironically, it had every single item I had written down in 1995 for the original property, only bigger with more potential… including the first thing I saw: a horse barn and even an indoor arena. We decided to call it Summit.

Within a few weeks of obtaining the property, Joe, a dear friend from Texas, called me and asked if I wanted a horse that he had just purchased from King Ranch in Texas, whose lineage was linked to the world-famous Trigger. His name was Spirit. I said yes before he could finish! As great as Spirit’s lineage was, and as great as his potential should have been, he was completely unstable because he had been mistreated as a colt before my friend bought him. Joe wasn’t sure he could ever be ridden and he had some terrible, violent habits like kicking and biting. While I weighed the risk, I felt a desire to help Spirit become all he could be and so, in spite of all of the well-founded advice of many horse experts, I said yes and Joe shipped him up to us. 

He was everything Joe said. He was a beautiful, Golden Palomino like Trigger. On the outside, he was almost royal to look at, but on the inside, he was tormented and a total mess. After over a year of training (an expense my wife and I personally paid for) and little to no progress, the trainer said to me, “There is a good boy inside of Spirit, but he can’t forget his past and, because of that, he can’t come to peace.” Every expert was telling me to get rid of Spirit, some even suggested he needed to be put down, but for the second time in my life, a horse somehow captured my heart just like Gypsy did. I told my wife I couldn’t understand why I felt this way about Spirit while we were watching him in his pasture and she said she knew why. She said, “Spirit is a Five Star Kid on four legs.” He had great potential but was wounded so badly on the inside while he was young, we didn’t know who could help him. 

Those thoughts left our minds when a 6 '6 cowboy from Mississippi named Brandon entered our barn and changed Spirit’s life. He saw Spirit for his potential, not for his past. He saw him as a strong leader who needed guidance and discipline. In Spirit’s first training session, Brandon rode him for the first time in ten years! Slowly, Spirit began to trust again. Each time Brandon works with him, he lets Spirit know that he’s a good boy. Today, thanks to Brandon, he has found purpose. He can be ridden, he does tricks, and he’s the star of the show for our equine demonstrations. No more biting, no more kicking… he has found peace. He is the Spirit of Five Star. 

Knowing that Gypsy was getting older, I wanted to have a horse that would take her place as the Queen of our Herd. I couldn’t think of a better way to do that than to have Spirit’s lineage continue. Through another long process, we ended up with Spirit’s daughter, Lady Magdalene (Maggie) of Five Star. She has the heart of Spirit and the beauty of Gypsy and is no doubt going to be the queen of the barn for many years to come.

Jim’s stubborn belief in Spirit, the Five Star kid with four legs, is incredible. Our society is so quick to give up on people. Some non-animal lovers are thinking, it’s just a horse! I understand but wish you could witness the ramifications of a changed horse. I wish you could see the response from kids who have been abused, neglected, and forgotten when they hear Spirit’s story while watching him during training. The whole experience resonates with so many of our kids who are nameless, faceless, and voiceless. They’re thinking, “If there’s hope for Spirit, there’s hope for me.” Spirit had legitimate reasons to believe humans were going to hurt him. Our kids have legitimate reasons to believe humans are going to hurt them. However, Spirit learned to trust and found connection, hope, healing, and purpose so they too can trust their coaches and find connection, hope, healing, and purpose. 

As I write this third letter, we say goodbye to one of Five Star’s most faithful and hardworking employees, Gypsy. She has impacted thousands of kids over her 34 years, teaching them to trust again, providing the connection they desperately need, and also cultivating a passion for horses. She leaves behind a powerful legacy that Spirit and Maggie will carry on. People who are close to Five Star Life know that there would be no Five Star without Jim’s commitment to me personally and the mission as a whole. Over the last 20 years, Jim has built a legacy through his intentional personal commitment to change kids’ lives and ultimately, our culture. I’m not asking you to be Jim Shaffer, I am asking you to consider the impact you could have if you committed to get involved in Five Star Life. For some that will require you to come on a tour to learn more. For others it will be a year-end donation or legacy gift in honor of Gypsy, and for others volunteerism. In 2024, we will introduce more kids than ever before to the world of equine and agriculture. Thanks in advance for your commitment and for sharing this letter with your family, friends, and co-workers.

Merry Christmas, 

Coach Seth's signature

Coach Seth 

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Letter #1:
Tyler's Story

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Letter #2:
Jessica's Story

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