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2021 in Review

Dear Friends,

Each year, our curriculum team selects a theme that serves as the foundation for each lesson taught in our programs. Our theme in 2021 was “Freedom”, which is the power or right to act, speak, and think without hindrance or restraint. The spring of 2020 through spring of 2021 was a very dark time for kids as many of their freedoms were removed. The pandemic ushered kids into a long season of social distancing, e-learning, and isolation. As a society, we are now starting to see the repercussions of what happens when kids lose access to the resources that are core to their development. Teenage anxiety and depression are at record levels. One report showed that emergency room visits for potential suicide attempts were up 50.6% from the previous year.

A principal I spoke with last week shared that his incoming freshmen class hasn’t been in a normal in-person school setting since seventh grade. His freshmen teachers are beside themselves dealing with immature behavior and disengaged minds. Kids are out of the habit of academic rigor. As one principal said, “It’s like our freshmen are at a 7th grade maturity level in many ways.” There are differing opinions about just how far behind kids are academically, ranging from five months to two years. However, everyone agrees that kids as a whole have fallen behind.

Think about it, kids had nearly unlimited amounts of time to explore toxic content and relationships online. Between social media, music, and television shows, our kids are being bombarded with messages of victimhood, promiscuity, and violence. Schools are reporting unprecedented vandalism due to a TikTok challenge that encourages kids to steal from schools or destroy school property. It has cost schools thousands of dollars to replace the missing soap and paper towel dispensers, sinks, and toilet paper. The most recent challenge is to slap a teacher. Kids across the country are being arrested and taken to jail for completing this challenge to assault their teachers!

Hearing about all of this will cause us to do one of two things. First, we can choose to put our hands over our ears and eyes and just hope it goes away. Our current culture is so unpleasant (some might say downright scary) that it is tempting to just ignore it. Our second choice is to take a look at what’s happening, stare it straight in the face, so it sparks us to take action that leads to transformation. While many during this dark time have lost hope, I challenge you to CHOOSE HOPE. I recently heard someone say, “When you’re hopeless, you’re helpless. But, when you’re hopeful, you’re helpful.” (Trevor Moewad)

I have so much hope for the future of our youth and believe we can change the trajectory of our culture because I see it happening through Five Star Life! Research suggests that in order to move the needle we must target the core operating system of kids, their mindset. Seventeen years ago, we set out to change the face of education, sports, and culture by changing the mindsets of kids and our mission has never been more important. We’ve watched kids walk out of depression and darkness. We’ve watched underperforming kids become honor roll students. We’ve watched kids who were abused and had no self-esteem gain confidence and step into their destiny. We’ve watched kids at risk of dropping out graduate, attend and graduate from college, and begin giving back. These former students are now earning graduate degrees, running their own businesses, teaching in public schools, and living their best lives.

A year ago, I wrote to you warning about what I saw coming, calling students, “The forgotten kids of America.” I asked you to step up to the plate and consider getting involved in FSL through volunteering and/or financially supporting our mission. I promised you that FSL was going to rally an army of staff members and volunteers to put back into kids what the pandemic took out. I’m stoked to announce that because of your support we successfully did EXACTLY what we set out to do!

The year 2021 was a year of unprecedented impact and growth both in our outreach to schools and in our impact at Summit (our 300-acre facility in Union, MI). Our strategic partnerships continued to grow allowing us to reach over 22,000 kids through our weekly programs in schools and at Summit. We developed partnerships with the Boys & Girls Club of St. Joseph County, Elkhart Parks Department, and Elkhart Community Schools, bringing bus-loads of kids to Summit multiple days per week during June and July. We went from serving 100 kids per week in previous years to over 1,000 kids per week past summer.

Over the course of the summer, we utilized specially designed curriculum to take kids on a journey in their mindset and values, all the while providing a lot of first time experiences that kids will never forget. Nearly 70% of our South Bend kids fished for the first time in their lives. Simple things like holding a worm and baiting a hook, going on nature hikes, or spending time in our equine barn with the farm animals made kids’ summer come alive. Along with teaching mindset and values, our goal was to spark learning and excitement through experiential learning. Over the course of our 7-week summer program, kids experienced everything Summit offers from archery and hatchet throwing to our high adventure ropes course and equine. For half the kids, it was their first time ever going to camp! One kid commented, “I liked how it all worked together.” Each day at Summit, kids would rotate through different experiential learning centers but the core theme was rooted in our curriculum. Another kid said their takeaway from the summer was, “Freedom, it helped me know I have the power.” Our summer program was therapeutic for so many kids. When asked what the most important lesson they learned this summer, one kid responded by saying, “Week 5 (Overcoming Emotional Pain) because I had a lot of emotional pain. Now I know what to do with it.”

Did you read that? Kids are being equipped with how to deal with life! Instead of living in victimhood they are learning how to be resilient. However, Five Star Life didn’t just impact the kids, it had a transformational effect on our army of summer staff and interns. Keenan shared, “As a summer intern, I was given the opportunity to grow and develop in so many life skills that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, and as a person pursuing an education to become a teacher, I was given the opportunity to learn many skills that are essential to becoming an effective teacher with what I truly believe is the best educational based internship opportunity available outside of being in the classroom as someone wanting to become a teacher. Even with this, the chance to be a Five Star intern carries beyond the education field and is truly a remarkable opportunity to help change the culture and impact kids that will go into their schools and communities to spread that culture change. Overall, this summer was a summer of impact.”

We signed many new contracts with school corporations, expanding into new schools and within school districts that simply want more of Five Star Life on a weekly basis. We also added a new city and state to our sphere of influence, Columbus, Ohio. Although we will always focus on prevention, impacting kids before they go down a bad path, we have entered a new arena of impact, juvenile detention. There are many kids who for many reasons make poor choices and end up locked up in “the system” of detention. Many of these locked-up kids end up in prison. We are in our second year serving kids in the Elkhart County Detention facility and are in conversations with more detention centers in Indiana and Florida.

We believe Five Star Life is for EVERYONE! EVERYONE needs to know and live by the values and lessons taught through FSL. This is why we’ve broken all our previous records of professional development for adults. Educators, especially, have reached out for help in training and equipping their staff’s mindsets and teaching our methodology of connecting with and impacting kids.

5Star/MBA SELECT Basketball completed our first year in contract with Adidas. This exclusive contract provides our high school players the opportunity to play against the top talent in the nation on the Adidas Gauntlet Circuit, which is loaded with D1 coaches. Our boys in particular held their own, beating some notable programs like James Harden’s program out of Arizona. Thanks to our National Spokesman, LaPhonso Ellis, our elite boys’ team was invited to play on the Pro-Player Circuit, a series of tournaments exclusively for former NBA player teams! The opportunities our boys had to sharpen their mindset and basketball skills under high level coaches and trainers was unrivaled.

Another area of unprecedented growth I am excited to share is the launch of the Five Star Life Early Learning Center (ELC). The ELC offers affordable childcare for families, but with the FSL curriculum embedded into staff training and child curriculum. Serving ages 1-5, ELC is growing and currently accepting new childcare applications!

People sometimes ask me, “How do you stay motivated in what you do after 17 years?” My answer is simple. “Stay engaged with kids and youth culture.” When you see, hear, and experience the cries for help from kids, parents, and educators, it empowers you to work with vision, urgency, diligence, and tenacity. I’m empowered each time I walk into a school and kids tell me their story of victory, of how they overcame depression, suicide, selfishness, or anger. I fist bumped about 5,000 kids this year. While doing so, some told me FSL gave them confidence, helped them value education, transformed their mindset, changed their relationship with a parent or sibling, and the list goes on. However, one of the consistent themes in every school I visited were the kids who told me FSL saved them from suicide. The pandemic was so oppressive that they were tempted to take their own lives! If that wasn’t powerful enough, in nearly every school I visited, at least one student told me (beaming from ear to ear) that they saved a peer’s life. Our curriculum taught them how to identify and support a peer who was considering suicide. In this sense, FSL is literally training kids to be lifesavers!

As I end this letter, I want to express my gratitude to each of you who share in the many victories! If you volunteered in 2021, thank you. If you donated in 2021, thank you. If you introduced someone to FSL who volunteered or donated, thank you. This growth and success takes all of us. Now, my question is this…how much more can we do in 2022? The problems created by the pandemic are not going away. There are millions more kids to be reached and transformed and for this we need your help. I’m asking you to look the cultural epidemic in the face long enough to ask yourself the question, “What am I going to do about it?” We are getting ready to launch new programs that will reach kids who are at a high risk of dropping out, being criminals, or dying young. Don’t give because we need your gift to do what we do (although that is true). Give because you want to be part of the solution. Give because you want to give kids a chance to find themselves and live a Five Star Life. Thank you in advance for investing in kid’s lives! But don’t stop there, please consider sharing this letter with a friend, family member, or co-worker. This is the time of year people are looking for ways to be generous. By sharing this letter, you can compound your impact!

A special note to some of you, who, due to changing tax laws, are looking to give a more significant gift through a living trust or will. If you are considering this and are interested in discussing more specific projects to fund, please reach out to me at seth@fivestarlife.org or call our office at 574.266.4038 and ask for me.

Thanks again for bringing FREEDOM to kids through Five Star Life in 2021! With your support, 2022 will RESTORE a generation of kids.

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