The Starfinder Foundation community came together Wednesday night to celebrate the graduation of all 28 of its Senior Leaders from high school.
Since it’s inception in 2002, the Starfinder Foundation’s mission has been to reach out to children in underserved communities and enhance their personal growth both on and off the field. The nonprofit, which is headquartered on Main Street in Manayunk, provides youth with soccer instruction along with educational and personal enrichment programs.
The Senior Leaders program specifically caters to high school students. It offers students not only instruction in soccer, but also teaches media and technology literacy, provides SAT and college prep help, provides summer work experience and aims to develop leadership skills.
Heidi Warren is the executive director at Starfinder and opened the event by talking about the academic success that participants in the Senior Leader program have had.
“Since 2008, 100 percent of our seniors have graduated from high school,” she said. “Over 90 percent of our graduates have continued on to college.”
This year’s crop of graduating Senior Leaders is the largest graduating class in the foundation’s history. It was made up of 25 boys and three girls. They hailed from 15 different countries and attended 12 different high schools around the Philadelphia region.
Not only did all of these student athletes graduate from high school, but every one of them also have plans to continue their education at the college level. The graduates will be heading to 19 places of higher learning come fall. Some of the schools they will attend include Drexel University, Penn State University and West Chester University.
Jhordan Salinas was one of the Senior Leader graduates honored at Wednesday’s event. Salinas moved to the region about a decade ago from his native Peru. He has been involved in the Starfinder program for the past four years and said it has made a positive impact in his life.
“Starfinder has made me into a better person. I not only became a better soccer player, but a better person overall. It taught me the rights and wrongs on and off the field.”
Salinas will soon be graduating from Springfield High School in Delaware County and will be attending Millersville University this fall where he plans to try and walk on to the school’s soccer team.
Michael Arthur graduated from the Starfinder program in 2012, and is currently a sophomore at Penn State. He spoke to this year’s graduates about what being part of the program has meant to him.
“[Starfinder] offered me a home, a second family, a job and experiences I’ll never forget.”
He also urged graduates to stay connected with Starfinder, and to not be hesitant to reach out to fellow alumni. Arthur said it was his connections with Starfinder that helped him in landing a recent internship.
A special video message from Philadelphia Union Midfielder Michael Lahoud was played for the graduates as well. Lahoud congratulated the students on behalf of the local professional soccer club for their accomplishment and wished them all continued success moving forward.
Awards and accolades
A number of awards were also presented at the event.
Stephen Baumann was recognized with the Leadership In Youth Development Award for his work over the years with the Starfinder Foundation. Baumann served as the President and CEO for the organization from June 2009 until March of this year. In accepting the award he said, “Starfinder has been the highlight of my professional career.”
Starfinder also awarded Feltonville Soccer Club with the Community Partner Award for the involvement that the club has had with Starfinder from the beginning in 2002.
The final award presented on the night went to two graduating students. The Student Achievement Awards went to Selena Mercado and Amadou Sow. It recognized Mercado and Sow for the leadership that they demonstrated throughout the program.
The two awardees will receive $1,000 to put towards their college expenses. Mercado will be attending Delaware County Community College before transferring on to West Chester University, and Sow will be attending the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.
With graduation now complete, Starfinder is now looking ahead to their Summer offerings. The organization will be holding camps at four locations across the Philadelphia area, starting later this month.
For more information about the Starfinder Foundation and to learn more about the programs they offer, visit their website.
Kayla Cook and Sean Smith are Temple University students. This piece was produced for Philadelphia Neighborhoods in collaboration with WHYY’s NewsWorks.