STARR Life Course for High-Risk Teen Girls

STARR stands for Succeed Through Accountable Responsible Resolve

“To be a star, you must shine your own light, follow your own path and don’t worry about the darkness, for that is when the stars shine brightest.” – Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

CARTE first developed STARR in 1991 to provide a safe, dynamic, and supportive environment to heal the wounds of sexual abuse of teenage girls, ages 14 to 18. Many of the girls, who graduated from the program, came from the social services system and had been removed from their homes due to the level of abuse they had endured. As we became more aware, we discovered that some of the girls that came to us from social services and probation were runaways and also had become victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Today, knowing what we know about neuroscience and trauma, their low levels of trust had to be addressed first. Many struggled with PTSD so we had to immediately work with the root causes of those issues. We used strategies based in Emotional/Social Intelligence (EI) and current research in neuroscience to support them in creating lasting change.   

We are a grass roots organization; therefore the Board of Directors of CARTE actively participates in raising funds to provide STARR to make it available to various families from all socio-economic conditions.      

STARR is a two-level accelerated, experiential life course that addresses specific issues most prevalent in this population of high-risk teen girls.

Some of the program outcomes from previous groups have been as follows:

  • Developed confidence and self-esteem
  • Built trust in themselves and others
  • Stopped abusing drugs and alcohol
  • With the support of the facilitators and staff, they honestly faced their pain and disappointment (which limited their need to consistently run away)
  • Addressed all levels of eating disorders
  • Decreased suicidal thoughts and self-mutilation
  • Reduced risk of early pregnancies
  • Shifted perspective from being a victim to becoming responsible, functioning, young women
  • Understood the power of changing their view of themselves in order to accomplish goals
  • Experienced a range of strategies and principles of leadership to influence and impact their world in a positive way
  • Served in partnership and in community with each other and developed into a high-functioning peer team
  • Re-defined themselves as strong, pure, vital young women through their resolve and committed action  

STARR 3-Day Life Course – Level 1

This three-day course provides an opportunity for participating teens to tell their stories and assess their perceptions of themselves. It begins with building trust with the facilitators and the volunteer staff, as well as the rest of the participants. They are given a specific set of rules of engagement to follow during the three days, with the understanding that any violation may mean they cannot continue to participate.

The facilitators take this time to observe and assess each of the teens for preparedness and willingness to participate in the advanced emotional work they will be experiencing.  Since this work is experiential in nature, they must be ready to personally and responsibly take it on. They will choose a team accountability buddy and be assigned to a staff partner to monitor their progress.

 

In the beginning, the girls develop a drawing of each other’s bodies. The theme is “masterpiece” so they each fill in their own “masterpiece” with a vision of who they aspire to become.

Positive messages are added throughout the three days. We also use a lot of positive music relevant to their age group to start and de-brief exercises.

Each day has a new message designed to open the door to their healing and willingness to move forward.

 

We bring in a team of modeling experts to teach a half-day self-defense course in which the teens learn to stand up and defend themselves, as well as learn the techniques of self-defense. It is at this stage in the course they test their emotional growth. The modeling exercises show them how to set clear, healthy boundaries, face their fears and, with an assertive voice, say “NO” to abuse.

The facilitators implement various exercises that drive the message of responsibility, accountability, and commitment as the key to transforming their own lives in a positive way… in spite of what happened to them. What happened to them isn’t ‘who they are’ and doesn’t need to determine their future … they learn they are always at choice.

The final day is a combination of empowering exercises such as breaking boards. The teens elect a leader out of four categories; best leader, best supporter, best risk-taker, and best overall.

Families and community at large, that supported the program, are invited to a graduation celebration. The results are phenomenal. The girls present themselves with all the fan-fare in a new and enlightened way. The families or those closest to them are typically shocked seeing the difference in them … after only three days.

 

Here is one mother’s perspective:

My daughter had the privilege of participating in STARR in 2015, and it has changed her life. When she first came home from it, we started seeing the amazing girl we remembered her to be. The change was noticeable, not only to us, her family, but to friends as well. I know that without this program, she would not be where she is today.

STARR Level 2

The 90 days of follow up consists of three ZOOM teleconference sessions and a live one-day session called Leadership-Accomplishment Day to celebrate having broken through their barriers and accomplished their goals. As a team, they will also participate in a community project to help other girls.

The building blocks of STARR (Level 1) was about taking the teens from a self-centered focus, to developing a trusting relationship with one other person, their accountability buddy, and then expanding this relationship into a more inclusive, cohesive, effective team. During this time, the teens started to reassess their distorted beliefs and perceptions of themselves, practiced supporting, and being responsible to a buddy and contributed to a team, wherein a healthy sense of community was developed. The significance of this process was to prepare them to break through the barriers that keep them from being self-forgiving, significant, functioning young women of purpose.

To prepare the teens for the challenges they will face, in the real world, their team members support each other in developing a forwarding personal contract that describe ‘who they aspire to be’, their life purpose and a plan for success. It is at this central point they declare and stand in their authenticity.

The teens then declare, through their contracts, how they will participate in life from this point forward. They reclaim their “lost innocence”; state their intention and began to “walk the talk”.

On the last physical exercise, the teens experience a breakthrough from fear to future wins, by breaking through a board. STARR Level 1 was the practice arena.

STARR Level 2 is the real world arena in which the re-invented teens recognize their unique gifts and strengths and courageously commit to their dreams. The true measure of their success from Level 1 will be demonstrated in what they bring of themselves, and the lessons learned, into their personal lives. Their willingness to be accountable, to be responsible, and have the resolve to go forward, stretching for what matters to them, sets the stage for personal success.

This segment of the program is all about results; they are consistently asked “what did you promise, what did you deliver?” They set three smart goals, physical/health, financial/career and relationship to be completed by the end of the 90 days.

Throughout the coaching time their professional coach and personal mentors follow up on their progress with weekly telephone conferences.

On the final weekend they are brought together once again culminating in a formal dinner held in their honor. They are the “stars”. They are provided new outfits, they get their hair, nails, and make-up done and are escorted to the event by limousine.

It is here that their triumphs over their adversities are acknowledged and celebrated, and both personal and community achievements are recognized. These courageous young women are illuminated in an outpouring of love and support from the staff, CARTE board, family, and community leaders.

They are now equipped to bring the value of the STARR Life Course into their day to day lives and to pay it forward to other teen girls that have been abused.

They can now be the cheerleaders for other girls who have suffered abuse and exploitation. This is the purpose that binds them to their promises and their communities.  

A past STARR graduate’s heartfelt testimony:

 “I am now 30 years old and I have a great job and great friends. My relationships are healthy and I no longer live my life as a victim. I remember times when I used to think about my abuse on a daily basis. I used to want to escape and I always felt alone. It is not like that for me any longer. My life is no longer defined by my abuse, it is defined by my new experiences as I live life as it is today; it is defined by joy, fun, love, healthy relationships and passion. CARTE was my light and lifeline and I am now a thriving survivor.”