STARS earn 4-star rating from Charity Navigator

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STARS earn 4-star rating from Charity Navigator

We are very pleased to announce that STARS has received the coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator for demonstrating strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency. This is the first time we have received this honor.

In Tennessee, 43 not for profits received the 4 star-rating, of these, 17 were human services related organizations. In addition to STARS  the following local groups, with budgets between $3.5-$15M, received this rating along with STARS. They are: The Boys and Girls Club, Family and Children’s Services, Safe Haven Family Shelters, Graceworks, Martha O’Bryan Center, Mercy Multiplied, The Nashville Rescue Mission, and The Next Door.

This honor reflects the leadership of our dedicated Board of Directors who have always placed the highest value on integrity and transparency. Their oversight, leadership and involvement are the reasons we have received this rating. We know that without having a board asking all the right questions, reviewing all our information and caring so deeply about the integrity of the organization, helped us receive this 4-star rating.

Check out the full report here.

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Integrating School Climate Reform

My Experience at IIRP’s Integrating School Climate Reform

One of the most enjoyable, rewarding parts of my work is providing training for school personnel. I believe in professional development and care deeply about serving those that care for our young people. I’ve had the pleasure of working with lots of schools, districts and community organizations as well as lots of different programs these last 30 years. A constant question throughout the years from educators is “How do we coordinate all these initiatives we implement with any degree of success? There are so many programs and we can’t do another one.” I share their concerns!

school climate, Rodger Dinwiddie, stars, education reform, iirp

In July, I had the privilege of serving as a panel member at a symposium sponsored by the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP). This was a first: a gathering of 150 plus school and community leaders from across the United States committed to working together with the dual purpose of learning from each other and how to consider integrating frameworks for the improvement of school climate efforts. Panel members included leaders from nationally and internationally evidence-based programs and practices; Jeff Sprague, Positive Behavior Intervention Supports, Tia Kim the Committee for Children (Second Step and Steps to Respect), Rick Phillips, Safe Ambassador Program, Jane Riese, Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, Jonathan Cohen, National School Climate Center, Keith Hickman, IIRP, and yours truly representing STARS Student Assistance Programs.

A Snapshot of School Climate Discussion

IIRP hosted this first of its kind symposium entitled, “Integrating School Climate Reform Efforts”. A small group discussion format based on the civic engagement work of Peter Block was facilitated by dear friend and colleague, Lee Rush (certified trainer). CEO of IIRP, John Bailie, spearheaded the initiative. After brief presentations from panel members the entire group participated in circles, the cornerstone of restorative practices, and discussed topics related to how best to address issues of school climate from a very broad perspective. The process was powerful and there were great moments of insight captured for future discussion and possible action steps.

While the intent of the symposium was not to reach consensus about an overall strategy to integrate and coordinate all these or for that matter, any of the hundreds of efforts across the country, the conversations stimulated tremendous thought and generated many possibilities. This was no simple, single event attempt to solve all the issues related to integration of programs, services and frameworks. It was a purposeful, thoughtful conversation. Some of the next steps will include the development of a “white paper” outlining findings and key observations from the symposium.

Endless Possibilities for Collaboration and Integration

I believe I’d be correct in stating that one of the greatest benefits, personally and professionally, was the interactions and development of relationships with members of the panel and participants. Many of the panel members had never met individually, or spent this amount of time learning from one another. The future meetings and conversations that will result from this first gathering will no doubt bring about possibilities for collaboration and integration. It was a powerful opportunity to begin a very important conversation to address the question from many educators.

“How do we work all these efforts together?”

Read about the Restorative Works Learning Network recap of IIRP Symposium: Integrating School Climate Reform Efforts blog post. 

Understanding the Student Athlete

And why they are so necessary to improve school climate.

In 2008, my CEO came into my office and gave me a copy of the July7, 2008, Sports Illustrated article, Jocks Against Bullies, written by Selena Roberts. You can read the article here. It highlights the power and positive influence high school athletes can have on an entire school by standing up against bullying. He challenged me to blend my athletic past with my passion for working with young people to create a youth empowerment movement addressing the issues of bullying and harassment. I readily accepted the challenge and set to work.
So often, it is the student athlete who bullies. Years later, many people are still affected by a student athlete who bullied or harassed them. I recently spoke with a teacher who shared his high school experience regarding student athletes.

He stated, “They made my life a living hell and I hated my high school experience.”

I shared with him my task to help student athletes understand the enormous amount of power they have to lead, to change, to heal or to destroy. As former student athlete, I understand the power, fear and the responsibility that comes with being on a pedestal, along with being afraid of being knocked off and the shame of being ordinary.
Personally, I believe student athletes have a greater responsibility to do the “right thing” than they could ever imagine. Why? Because they walk a higher path; someone is always watching and looking up to them because they wear a jersey. Some elementary, middle, high school student or adult is looking up to them because they represent a symbol of power and respect. For that reason, student athletes have an enormous influence on school culture. I hear it all the time from non-athletes:

“I want to be just like them; to be popular; to be in; to be accepted.”

When student athletes see and understand the power they possess, they can become the game changer to create a positive change in people and their school. It has been a mission of mine to make the student athlete aware of the awesome responsibilities that come along with wearing that jersey—being a positive role model. It’s important to target as many student athletes as possible, to challenge them to physically and emotionally get involved in their school initiatives, to lead the movement of change.

But first, we must understand the student athlete.

Just like the traditional students, many athletes are afraid; I believe the fear to fit in is so great that even the student athlete hides behind a mask, too afraid to show his or her true authentic self to peers. It takes a different kind of courage to compete athletically. But I believe courage isn’t found on the football field, baseball field or a basketball court, but in the hallways, in the classrooms, on the buses, and in the lunch area.
Understanding the mindset of many student athletes, their need for a challenge, to be competitive and to win, our team challenges them to stop being afraid and to win in the hallways of their schools by embracing those who aren’t on a pedestal; by giving value to other students, by passing out compliments, assisting in hallway high-fives, providing classroom pats on the backs, school-wide smiles, lunch room invitations, and most of all to take a risk and be willing to fail. As athletes, we are taught to get back up when we are knocked down, to keep going when others stop, to sacrifice for the team– for others. So when the student athlete realizes that being a team player isn’t just limited to a gym or stadium but to their schools, they begin to understand and see the true power and meaning of leadership.
These student athletes see how their attitudes and actions have an effect on their school, and for those who embrace this opportunity, by taking the risk of becoming their true authentic selves, they see, in the words of Marianne Williamson, that their greatest fear is not that they are inadequate but they are powerful beyond measure. It’s their light, not their darkness, that most frightens them. We are all meant to shine and the light is not just in some of us but in all of us. When student athletes allow their lights to shine, they unconsciously give others permission to do the same. When they are liberated from their own fear, their positive presence automatically liberates others. When this happens, when we stand up for others, we change the culture and improve the climate.


Today, I work with an amazing team of caring adults committed to the social and emotional well-being of all children. Our MOVE2STAND team is invited into schools and communities to empower young people to be the change they want to see. The work is one of love and humility. I am a grateful witness to the magic that takes place when kids and adults remove their masks and treat one another with compassion and respect.

Internet Safety Tips

Internet Safety Tips

With summer just around the corner, kids and teenagers will be spending more time on social media channels and less time supervised by an adult. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a few helpful tips to ensure your family is staying safe online.

Social Media Can Wait

Don’t be afraid to ask your child (13 or younger) why he/she feels social media sites such as SnapChat, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and Facebook are appropriate for their age group? Ask them why they want to be on social networking sites. If you feel like they are not ready to have a social media account, explain to them why you do not feel comfortable with the idea, the benefits of not having a social media account, and the perks of enjoying real-world activities over social media. Remind them that social media sites are not going anywhere. They have the rest of their lives to be active on social media accounts.

Know Their Passwords

It is important for you to know their passwords and periodically check their social media channels for anything out of the ordinary. Make sure your child is aware you know their passwords, that you will be routinely checking their page as a way to ensure their safety (not as a means to be “nosey”), and that your primary goal is their safety.  

Accept Parents’ Friend Request

We can already hear the uproar, “No! My mom joined Instagram and she wants to be my friend…Ugh. Gotta start using SnapChat instead…” The important part is to explain why accepting your friend request on social media channels is significant to their safety. Encourage other adult friends to follow/friend your child.

Friends Only

Privacy settings should be set to the highest level possible (i.e Friends Only). Privacy settings are relatively the same for each platform but periodically they are updated, so stay informed with the privacy settings to ensure your child is protected. Additionally, make sure your children know not to share personal information such as where they live, phone numbers, or any information you wouldn’t want on the web. As a house rule, your children should not accept anyone on any of their social media channels whom they do not know personally.

**Parents, it is your job to make sure they are sticking to this rule!

Helpful Suggestions:

As an adult, you need to be the expert. Stay informed of the latest social media channels, how they work, their privacy settings, etc.

We suggest the “family computer” be kept in a common area of the home where everyone has access to the computer and it is clearly visible. If your child has his or her own laptop or iPad, it is important to come up with guidelines of when, where, and how long he or she uses it. The same can be said for cell phones.

To help both parties agree on the terms and conditions of using technology, create a family contract that outlines your expectations as well as theirs. This will help ease conflicts down the road. If you are looking for an example of a contract, head on over to: Cyber Bullying Website

For more helpful tips and advice visit our blog!

STARS exists to serve schools and communities by providing prevention, intervention, and treatment services addressing bullying, substance abuse, violence and social and emotional barriers to success.

Reflections on Diversity Day


Webster:  the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.

the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a       group or organization

Student:   how inside our differences, we are all the same

I knew when the students started arriving this was going to be a different kind of day. After being on the road the past two years, meeting thousands of students and educators through our Youth Engagement Summits and MOVE2STAND trainings, I could tell there was a different energy in the room, a special kind of excitement and anticipation.  I was right. On an ordinary Friday, at a school in East Nashville, I saw hope, compassion, and unity in a group of extraordinary high school students.

Diversity Day_MOVE2STAND_STARSMy colleague, Eric Johnson, has been doing amazing work with “Diversity Day.” I’ve listened to him passionately talk about how he has been inspired by the kids who have attended these event, but due to scheduling, I hadn’t had the opportunity to participate before this one. “Diversity Day” is a sort of cultural exchange program where a rural school and a city school send a group of students to spend the day together to “walk in each others’ shoes.” At the beginning of the day, the two schools lined up in the middle of the gym. Then the students, one by one, walked toward the middle to meet their partner for the day. The pairs then stuck together for the entire day. The two schools involved were Jackson County High School and Maplewood Comprehensive High School. Maplewood had already spent the day in Jackson County, and now it was Jackson County’s turn to spend the day at Maplewood. In addition to Eric and I leading them through activities, the students ate lunch together, toured the building, walked the halls during class changes, and attended a class with their partner.

I wish I could describe every poignant moment, but there just isn’t enough space. So, I’ll highlight a few. The first thing that struck me was seeing them hanging out together. In the beginning of the day, they were encouraged to talk and get to know their partners. I didn’t see any tension, anger, or much fear at all. Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, poor, rich, rural, and urban, just talking, being with each other. Without the outside influences and noise they hear every day from the world around them, they were just kids. They were connecting.Diversity Day_STARSAnother moment came after lunch. We purposely divided them by the color of their eyes and treated brown eyes as if they were better than the others. They went to lunch first. We praised them. On the other hand, we made the others wait, and we talked to them as though they were second best. We then said that they were not allowed to eat with the brown-eyed students. However, these amazing students rose to the occasion.  During our time of processing the activity after lunch, the students spoke with determination, purpose, and clarity. Several had defied our instructions, a kind of civil disobedience if you will. We asked them why they went against the rules.  The answers filled me with hope. They said they would not bend to the will of those who seek to divide. They stated that their friendship and loyalty to those they cared for, their new partners, outweighed any “societal” pressure to shun, demean, or divide. In other words, they stood up for an ideal in the face of pressure to do the wrong thing. I was reminded of the Robert Kennedy quote:

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.Diversity Day

Finally, I was most moved during the “Perception Line” activity. Students stood in a line across the gym, each student holding the hand of their partner, then connecting to the rest of the group. Eric read a series of statements filled with perceptions, privileges, and biases.  Rooted in culture, economics, social standing, family makeup, opportunities (lack thereof), ethnicity, and many other factors, the statements hold a mirror up to many of our societal perceptions. Each statement, based on its positive or negative impact on an individual’s status in our society, caused some students to step forward or backward, while others stood still.  Students watched as some of their friends continued to step backwards. I watched as they desperately tried to hold on to their partners’ hands as they stood farther and farther apart. Even though it was just a game, a simple activity, they inherently didn’t want to let go.  They refused to let even one of their new friends breakaway. They didn’t let anyone fall, no matter how uncomfortable it became.  By this time of the day, they were bonded. They refused to let differences, struggles, or even space divide them. At the end of the previous Diversity Day, when Maplewood visited Jackson, one of the students said, “the only thing that separates us is a hundred miles.” Today, they found a way to close even that divide.Diversity Day_STARS

I may have gone there to inspire the students, but I was the one who left inspired.

Still, as if on cue, the “real world” invaded almost immediately. That evening, I began receiving messages from my friends and family in my hometown. See, I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore riots had just begun over the death of an African American man, Freddie Gray, who had just been arrested. Even as I write this, I’m receiving messages from family. I made the mistake of reading some of the comments that follow news stories online. They are filled with hatred, violence, and desperation. Yet, in the middle of it all, I hear the voices of the young people from Jackson County and Maplewood High Schools. I hear their hope. I see their fresh perspective. I feel their truth-filled defiance.  I know, yes I know, they will do it better. They will continue to usher in change.  They are ready and willing, if we provide the space, to bridge the deep waters that are between us, to bring peace in the midst of chaos, and hold up hope in a sometimes hopeless world.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yes, I think I prefer the student’s definition of diversity over the Webster’s definition.

Diversity: “How inside our differences, we are all the same”