DeShawn's Story: The Power of Mentoring

DeShawn's Story: The Power of Mentoring

For DeShawn, it could have been easy to give up. His father was never part of his life. At age 7, abuse in his home led to him being removed from his mother’s custody and placed into a foster home. 


Thankfully, his grandmother took him in – adopting him five years later. She also took in eight of DeShawn’s younger brothers, sisters and cousins. DeShawn needed to mature fast as his home life required independence and the ability to help take care of his family. While his family struggled to make ends meet, DeShawn became filled with aspiration. He wanted to help others. He wanted to save lives. He wanted to become a surgeon.


In 2015, during a family poolside party, his younger brother drowned. While many would be frozen with fear in this situation, DeShawn, just a teenager, sprang into action as his CPR training kicked in. After minutes of compressions, DeShawn brought his brother back to life. 


This training was no coincidence. As a freshman in high school, DeShawn became a Starfish Scholar. As a Scholar, DeShawn was matched with a Mentor who helped foster DeShawn’s aspirations by helping him shadow a neurosurgeon and meeting his hero, famed-surgeon Dr. Ben Carson. His Mentor also encouraged him to challenge himself, and DeShawn did by taking 7 Advanced Placement classes, serving as captain of the tennis team, and joining the speech team, spelling bowl, theater and jazz band. In fact, DeShawn finished second in his class at Speedway High School with a 4.2 GPA. 


Just months after learning he had earned a full-ride scholarship to the University of Chicago, DeShawn’s Mentor Bob Kizer, who was also serving as Starfish Initiative’s president and CEO, passed away. 


“Bob brought many opportunities to the table. He helped me tremendously with the pursuit of college,” said DeShawn. “Starfish has been a completely life changing experience … the spark to my success. It lit the fuse that brought me to where I am today and where I will be in the future.”


Starfish is filled with stories of adversity and overcoming obstacles. There are many Scholars, like DeShawn, who are able to realize their potential through the help of a Starfish Mentor who challenges them to persevere and succeed. In fact, of those Scholars that complete the four-year Starfish program, 100% graduate high school, 98% go on to college, and in the past 6 years 77% are in pursuit or have earned postsecondary degrees.


But, our success and impact, as well as the ability to change lives of our Scholars like DeShawn, who I’m happy to report just completed his first semester at the University of Chicago, depends on the support of individuals like you. 2017 was a year of unexpected challenges for Starfish Initiative, but like DeShawn, we have worked hard to overcome and press forward towards a brighter future. 


Starfish currently serves more than 400 young men and women. However, each year, we are forced to turn away hundreds of qualified, motivated, low-income teenagers due to financial constraints. As you make your year-end giving this December, please consider Starfish and help make a difference in the lives of Indianapolis youth in hopes of a brighter tomorrow. 


Best regards,




Gisele Garraway

President and CEO

Starfish Initiative