Starfish Assignment was founded on July 20, 2018, but we've wasted no time in meeting dedicated professionals who have educated us and helped us to help others. What are the top five most popular Starfish posts of 2018? Read on....
Columbus Dispatch reporter Kevin Stankiewicz's article appeared on the front page on Purple Heart Day. A beautiful coincidence considering that we were established by a group of people who came together to help out a homeless Purple Heart recipient, Jim Stewart.
Kevin (pictured above) met with us several times and worked diligently on his insightful portrayal of Jim, a Vietnam veteran who never asked for handouts but who was very grateful for the people who changed his life. Together we raised nearly $10,000, bought Jim a "new" car, and helped him obtain affordable housing. Jim is an active member of Starfish and is especially happy to help with any homeless-related Assignments we receive.
Columbus Police Officer Kelly Shay asked if we could help a homeless veteran, Devin, whom she'd met on patrol. Jim eagerly took on this Assignment, visiting him frequently and helping him as much as possible. Devin now has a job and is working towards more improvement in his circumstances, thanks to Jim and Starfish donors.
Our president, Nicole Banks, a former Marine Corps military police officer, thought she knew what she was getting into when the narcotics tactical entry team of Columbus police invited her to come observe them.
She was wrong.
She spent two days with the unit, learning about how they work and riding along with them as they served a no-knock search warrant on a drug house. She came away with a profound respect for their dedication to protecting the citizens they serve and the risks they take as they perform 300+ dynamic entries a year. "Sitting at home or in my car, hearing about news reports on this war on drugs, I never gave much thought to the people who go in and shut down these drug houses. To actually see what these men go through was eye opening and very disconcerting. I am grateful beyond words for what they do for us."
Those of you who live in Columbus are fortunate to be served by two world class police agencies, Columbus Division of Police (CPD) and the Franklin County Sheriff's Office (FCSO). You can learn more about CPD by doing a ride along, but to learn more about the FCSO, you just need to turn your TV to A&E on Friday or Saturday nights and catch them on LivePD.
What you won't see on LivePD are the FCSO's four therapy K9s. One of only a handful of such programs in the country, these dogs and their partners work to provide comfort to victims who have experienced emotional or physical trauma. Most of their work centers on children, but they also frequently help domestic violence victims, especially when it is time for them to testify against their abusers.
We have a deep respect for the FCSO and Sheriff Dallas Baldwin for recognizing the value of this program and putting into action.
In an age where we're battered by the toll taken on us by the opioid crisis, our most popular story of 2018--read by over 30,000 people on Facebook alone--was one of a life saved and a second chance well used.
Columbus police officer Ed Chung patrols an area on the West Side of the city known as the Hilltop. He leads the department in Narcan deployments, having saved 42 people from dying of an overdose. One of those men, Walter, has turned his life around since Ofc Chung saved him. Just before Christmas, we got the chance to meet him and give him a gift from our donors and Ofc Chung.
Ofc Pete Casuccio patrols the East Side of Columbus and, along with Ofc Chung, has played a large role in educating us and helping us grow. One of the goals of our organization is to educate the public on what the police really do day in and day out--the stories that don't end up in the news. It was with this in mind that we posted our blog entry about Starfish volunteer Jim Stewart's ride along with Ofc Casuccio, in which Ofc Casuccio responded to a report of "two young male blacks" who had flashed a gun. The weapon turned out to be a BB gun, and if you watch the body camera footage, you can see Jim walk up on the right side of the camera as Ofc Casuccio is giving a stern lecture to the boys about the dangers of realistic looking weapons.
Although our honorable mention post didn't figure highly in our own most read stories, there's a good chance you saw the results elsewhere--maybe on the CBS Evening News, or Fox, or CNN. Maybe you even read about it in the New York Times, where CPD spokeswoman, Denise Alex-Bouzounis said, "the body-camera video came to the department’s attention after it was highlighted by The Starfish Assignment, a community organization." We were happy we were there to detail this encounter and that CPD pulled the body camera footage to show the public a story that doesn't usually make the news.
What happened that day with Ofc Casuccio is not unusual--police officers make positive decisions every day that do not make the news. In fact, most of the officers we've worked with have had this exact experience with kids and realistic looking weapons. In the interviews he gave, Ofc Casuccio repeatedly said that what he did was not outside the norm and that officers go to work every day genuinely hoping to make a difference in their communities.
We look forward to working with Ofc Casuccio, Ofc Chung, and many others like them in 2019. Please share our stories on Facebook and Twitter to help us spread these types of good news stories, and thank you for believing in us in 2018.