Friday, May 3, 2013

“Stars and Champs”

S.T.A.R.S (Striving Toward Awareness and Respect For Self)
C.H.A.M.P.S (Changing Hearts Attitudes and Minds for Personal Success)

Readers of this blog know how much I admire the spirit of volunteerism and the notion of giving back to the community.  Perhaps it’s because of my own upbringing, but the organizations I like most are ones that help children.  And that’s what “Stars and Champs” is all about.

I grew up in a rural, poor county in Mississippi, and even in the best of times, life was never easy.  We had some income, but not much.  We hunted, fished, and tended our own gardens to put food on the table.  Clothes were passed down from older brother to younger brother until they were too threadbare to wear.  My younger brother, Voncarie, got the worst of it.  He was the youngest, and jeans and shirts would go from Cedric, my older brother, to me, to Voncarie.   By the time he got them, they were barely hanging together by a thread.  Growing up this way can build character, promote frugality, and help you develop a love of family.   Sometimes, however, especially in urban settings like the City of Memphis, kids fail to develop self-confidence, and they nurture a sense of hopelessness instead of hope.  That’s what Stars and Champs combats every day, and they do a terrific job.

Some years ago a wonderful lady named Johnnice Ulmer started Stars and Champs in Memphis before bringing it to Mississippi, and its purpose is to provide individual mentors for children in the 3rd through 12th grades.  Each child has an individual mentor, and that mentor commits to stay with the child through high school graduation.  They often stay longer.  Child by child, case by case, the program supports the mentors who support the children.  The kids get help with homework, go to events with their mentor, become friends with their mentor’s family, have a shoulder to lean on, and get a role model to help them through rough patches.  While the kids in this program may not be underprivileged, many are underserved and miss many of the opportunities of those in larger urban areas. These kids need additional help and attention to enhance and improve those areas that families do not have available.  No program can be 100% successful, but this one gives a life line to many.  It is hard, enduring work, but that hard work pays off.
Johnnice Ulmer

Johnnice moved to Mississippi and has started the same program in her new town of Laurel.  The program has an indomitable spirit and a proven track record of success.  I have met with Johnnice, spoken before many of the kids in the program, and fallen in love with their work.  These kids are bright-eyed, energetic, and big hearted.  They are not yet well educated academically or in the ways of the world, but they are heading in the right direction.  Their mentors are committed to them, and the kids are grateful for the help. 
Unfortunately, the Stars and Champs is in the last year of being funded. The program will continue despite the loss of funding, but it will need your support. The program is located at Sawmill Square Mall in Laurel, MS. Donations can also be made at .

It’s hard to measure the success of programs like Stars and Champs, but when you see kids who spend six or eight years with their mentor come back and become mentors themselves, you just know it works.  Child by child.  Case by case.   Bravo to Stars and Champs.   They are making a difference where it counts.

Dwight Owens

To learn more about my missions, to get involved, or to purchase a copy of "Still Standing," visit .

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