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OWC Honored at 2021 Orphaned Starfish Foundation Gala

Upon receiving the honor of OSF Corporate Honoree of the Year, OWC’s Larry O’Connor declared, “These kids are going to change the world!” Larry wasn’t talking about the latest batch of college graduates from an ivy league institution. He was talking about kids from some of the poorest countries of the world. 

The Orphaned Starfish Foundation has been hard at work for twenty years bringing technology, media, and education to underprivileged children around the globe. But recently, they’ve partnered with OWC to turbocharge these efforts. Now they are getting today’s top technology into the hands of kids who have never even imagined they could touch it. 

Larry O'Connor with Elektron
OWC CEO and founder, Larry O’Connor

O’Connor said, “They’re giving accessibility to kids to learn on the same stuff that the pros use. And these kids are becoming pros. It’s not a crutch, it’s something that absolutely connects them to something that they may never know otherwise existed. It gives them a place to tell their story, and it gives them stories to tell. And lift those around them.” 

Here’s the story of how this amazing effort got started.

Meet a banker in recovery

Andy Stein had a successful career in investment banking; until the day that he met a group of underprivileged girls in South America and caught a glimpse of the change he could make in their lives through technology and education. Andy went on to start the Orphaned Starfish Foundation. Today they serve over 16,000 children in 29 countries with 75 computer centers. 

Little girl on computer

Andy saw a problem that when orphans “age out” of sponsorship programs and orphanages that they fall back into systems of abuse and exploitation. The Orphaned Starfish Foundation was born to impart marketable skills in technology, media and the arts to underprivileged children. These job skills serve as “the great equalizer” and allow for 91% of their graduates to go on to do something great.

A child’s first access to tech

Stein’s foundation works with orphanages and organizations that care for at-risk youth. They go in and build media centers complete with all the hardware, software, and writing needed. In almost every case, Orphaned Starfish is the first access to technology that these vulnerable children will ever have. 

Imagine being handed a Macbook or iPhone and being taught how to create a movie and edit it yourself. For these children, the validation goes beyond anything that they can imagine. Many of these children have been trafficked or abused. They’ve been cast off and treated as worthless. Orphaned Starfish brings a message of hope and validation to them. 

Little boy looking at laptop

Technology partners

Stein says, “Having technology partners is the most important thing we can do as we look forward to the next 20 years of the foundation. It’s paramount for the children’s success. When these kids get a new iPhone or MacBook they care for it, and use it to its maximum potential.”

Students are trained in Microsoft Office and even get a certificate! Others learn filmmaking with Macbooks furnished by OWC. Apple provides software. Apogee and Saramonic help furnish professional audio gear. These kids are even able to shoot with the app FiLMiC Pro, which is used by professionals all over the world whenever they get out their iPhones to grab a shot. 

MacBook Pro and Envoy Pro

Last year OSF started OWC Media centers in Haiti, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, New Mexico, Kansas, Minnesota, and New York. This year they doubled down and are going to add 10 more around the world and incorporate Kiss The Ground Curriculum (based on the documentary of the same name narrated by Woody Harrelson and covering the important topic of ground conservation and replenishment).

OWC also equipped the media centers and students with hundreds of thousands of dollars of OWC gear. OWC wants to help Orphaned Starfish build global technology opportunities for kids all over the world. Stein went on to say, “Our goal is to have an OWC Media Center in every one of the 75 programs in Orphaned Starfish.”

An instant love affair

OWC is a special partner with Orphaned Starfish. Andy recounts that even though they are a technology organization, it was difficult to find a hardware company that would partner with them. But when they met OWC it was an instant “love affair!” With computers and disks, OWC became their first hardware partner—but not the last. 

For instance, the We Make Movies partnership allows these children to learn video production so they can be employed in the entertainment industry. We Make Movies opened up partnerships with other vendors. It goes beyond funding to opening up new opportunities. 

More organizations like Luma Touch (makers of the popular mobile editing app LumaFusion) and the enterprise social media consultancy TSMA joined the efforts. This resulted in young people being trained not only in tech, but in filmmaking, and social media marketing with the best tools available. 

What does it cost to change the world?

It’s striking to think that it only costs $50-$100K to open a program in a new country.  Orphaned Starfish then commits to the care and upkeep of the facility for its life. This costs as little as $25-$50K a year. The result is the transformed lives of underprivileged and trafficked children. 

OWC Media Center

They then go on to create an exponential impact. For instance, one of the scholarship recipients in Brazil is actually leading a team looking for markers for childhood with leukemia for Sloan Kettering, the cancer care experts. He published a research paper and at the end of the acknowledgments he mentioned that Orphaned Starfish is the reason he’s able to conduct this research. “So you never know,” comments Stein. And after seeing the children learn filmmaking, he’s certain that we’ll see filmmakers and voices come out of this training that will change the world around them.

Operational efficiency

People can’t believe it when Stein tells them that the foundation operates on an annual budget of just $2 million a year. Dollar for dollar, the impact on 16,000 children and their communities is incomparable. Due to Stein’s bank background, he is able to run the foundation with the efficiency of a for-profit company. This results in 89% of donations going directly to benefit the children, with just 11% for overhead. 

They have the cost to start a new program down to just $50K. And overall, it costs a mere $40K to bring a student through to college graduation. Sometimes people ask Andy what he could do with $1 million more in funding. His answer? “Change the world.” And that’s no exaggeration. This successful system has led to more than a dozen locations now on the waiting list, hoping for their own Orphaned Starfish center.

Caring for an entire country

Andy relates the story of one of the girls in Panama. “She was the top student we had in Panama. We gave her a scholarship. She graduated top of the class in nursing school. I went and just met her about a month ago. She told me that she was the lead nurse in the COVID ward at the public hospital in Panama. And had it not been for her, who knows who would have had the position, or even if the position would even be filled.

But she was the last voice that anyone who passed from COVID heard. And she was the one caring for most of the patients in Panama that had COVID. The impact of a single life can be truly infinite. Just think what the impact will be on the thousands of children who are educated every day in the Orphaned Starfish media centers.

Pros are taking notice

Each year the Final Cut Pro editing community gathers at Apple headquarters for the Final Cut Pro Global Summit, where they learn about the latest developments with Final Cut Pro. This year, Andy Stein will be speaking to them about the ways these up-and-coming movie makers are using Final Cut, Macs, and iPhones to tell their stories. 

A legacy of change

Many fine organizations impact the lives of underprivileged children around the world. But so many of those children find that the world has no place for them after they become adults. The work of the Orphaned Starfish Foundation values these children as whole human beings. They are full of dignity, worth, and value. They have within them the spark to change the world. And through the help of partners like OWC, you can help light their fire.

OSF Gala photo
Reuben Evans
the authorReuben Evans
Reuben Evans is an award-winning screenwriter, Executive Producer at Faithlife Films/Faithlife TV, and a member of the Producers Guild of America. He has produced and directed numerous documentaries and commercials. RED Cameras, Final Cut Pro, and DaVinci Resolve are his tools of choice. Reuben has written for such sites as The Frame.io Insider and is part of the Blade Ronner Media writers network.
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