How One Organization Is Turning The Phrase “At Risk” On Its Head
Honoring Dallas City of Learning’s Superintendents Award Winner Stars United Global Outreach
Stars United Global Outreach founder and executive director Star Williams’ passion for her organization’s mission is impossible to ignore. This organization goes above and beyond to help its students see that, as Star says, “they’re not at risk, they’re at promise.”
Founded in 2015, Stars United Global Outreach began when Star, who was a naval service member at the time, noticed that her neighborhood looked the same as it had when she was a kid. Despite twenty years passing by, the educational and economic opportunities hadn’t changed. At that moment, she decided that she was going to make it change. Soon after, Star embarked on her mission of creating an organization that teaches students life skills, financial literacy, leadership skills, entrepreneurship, and how to be advocates in their schools and communities, with a focus on students with learning disabilities. After attending a leadership program Star launched Stars United Global Outreach to bridge the educational and wealth gaps in Dallas communities “on a hope and a prayer.”
Since then, the organization has partnered with Dallas City of Learning (DCoL), a Big Thought initiative that aims to provide out-of-school time programs to students in order to prevent learning loss, to expand its offerings and reach to more youth. Thanks to various resources offered by DCoL, the organization was able to provide access to arts education, in addition to their existing programming. The partnership became incredibly valuable when the pandemic hit, forcing the program to expand its virtual offerings. “Dallas City of Learning helped us see the virtual world in a less threatening way,” Star shares. “They walked us through virtual offerings and helped us have a bigger reach.”
Over the years, Star has seen firsthand the ways that her organization has helped its oftentimes underserved students. She told the story of a young man who, after attending Stars United programming, decided that he wanted to help other students who look like him and share his learning disability. The student went on to join his school’s gifted and talented program. He shared that with the encouragement and resources he received from Stars United faculty, he learned how to push through the challenges he faced, grow in his education journey, and start on a path toward helping others. Another student was able to take the program’s financial literacy course and encourage and educate his family on healthy financial habits, giving them the courage to go to the bank and open an account.
The skills that students learn in these classes, as Star points out, help both the children and their families grow, feel more comfortable in their communities, and have somewhere they can receive educational assistance that they may not otherwise have access to.
Star also shared that it’s not just their students learning, but her as well. After seeing the courage and vulnerability shown by Stars United students in confronting their own learning disabilities and continuing to push for their education, Star, who has dyslexia, faced her own fears by participating in Reading Across America’s read-aloud program. “By talking about our own struggles, we can help kids feel more comfortable talking about theirs,” she says.
The program, in addition to helping students develop skills and knowledge, also works to help students “see” themselves moving forward in their education after graduating high school. Stars United holds much of its programming on campus at UNT, a choice that wasn’t accidental. “We hold classes at UNT so that our kids can become comfortable on a college campus,” Star shares. “We want them to be able to ‘see’ themselves as a college student.” By removing the mystique of college and giving their students tangible experience on campus, Stars United helps students see a post-secondary education, something that is particularly beneficial for students who would be the first in their families to attend.
Stars United Global Outreach’s programming and commitment to education and lifting up their students is why they were chosen by the Dallas City of Learning to receive the Superintendent’s Award. “They are taking steps towards bringing opportunity and exposure to the youth they serve,” Sergio Antonio Garcia, the senior manager of learning at Big Thought says. “They say ‘Let’s learn together, bring opportunities to the table as we listen to our youth, and provide opportunities to grow minds and world views.’”
This award recognizes the Dallas City of Learning partner who has provided learning opportunities for youth that go beyond academic achievement, but provides students with exposure to community and industry leaders and cultural experiences. “It means a lot,” Star says of the recognition. “It’s an honor to be aligned with this organization and this superintendent [Dr. Michael Hinojosa]. We just want to do the work and this award is a recognition of that and gives us even more credibility.”