Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Starfish project hits the open road

by Rob Ireland

July 11, 2013

KAI HOVDEN, Wiley Koehler and Spencer Hartz have organized the Starfish Project. The three have begun their cross-country trip where they are visiting different charities. File Photo/Regional News.
Mix nervousness, excitement and a plan to travel more than 5,000 miles in the family van, and you have the formula for a college road trip.

Now sprinkle a dash of hope — because every stop will be at a charity where those in the van will volunteer — and you have the Starfish Project.

Kai Hovden, Spencer Hartz, both of Lake Geneva, and Wiley Koehler of Cedarburg met while attending Winona State University, and the trio is traveling across the country with stops at eight different charities.

At each charity, the three will learn about what the charity does and will role up their sleeves and help out where they can.

Call it an adventure or call it a mission because either description would be accurate. The adventure/mission could also be called filmmaking because the three will record their experience and turn it into a documentary.

The road trip

The first stop was in Milwaukee at the GIVE Shirt. The organization sells shirts that feature the word “Give.” The shirts are sold, and the proceeds go to a charity of the buyer’s choosing. The Starfish Project plans to distribute these shirts throughout the trip.

From Milwaukee, the three will drive about 800 miles to Pine Ridge, S.D., which has the lowest per capita income in the country and an 80 percent unemployment rate.

“We want to focus on the people who are improving it,” Hovden said.

Next they will travel to the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center in Breckenridge, Colo. The outdoor center has high-ropes courses, skiing and more. At the center, people who are disabled are able to participate in these activities.

The three said they were excited to see how the center takes blind people skiing and helps people with disabilities experience outdoor activities.

Then, it’s a nearly 1,000 mile drive to Skid Row, in Los Angeles. The Midnight Mission provides the area’s homeless people with life essentials, job training and counseling. Its goal is to provide a path from homelessness to self-sufficiency.

The group said they picked the Midnight Mission because of its reputation for helping people.

After the Midnight Mission, the group will travel nearly 2,000 miles to New Orleans, where they will visit two different charities, The Gulf Restoration Network and the Green Project.

The Gulf Restoration Network, created in 1994, works toward reducing and stopping pollutants from entering the Gulf of Mexico. The Green Project reuses items that aren’t typically recycled. The next stop is at Rural Studio, which is run out of Auburn University.

Hartz said that organization was especially excited about the Starfish Project visiting them, because they have more projects under way at the moment than volunteers.

The organization is part of the school’s architecture program, which provides affordable housing in some of the poorest parts of Alabama.

The final stop is at the Equality House, Topeka, Kan. The Equality House may be better known for the location that sits across the street from it.

Directly across the street is the Westboro Baptist Church, which has created outrage by protesting military funerals. The church is anti-gay, and is often described as a hategroup.

The Equality House is run by Planting Peace, an organization that’s goal is “spreading peace in a hurting world.”

Most of the charities that the Starfish Project is visiting have a lower national profile, which was part of the group’s goal. However, with the recent Supreme Court decision that said parts of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, the Equality House has received some more press. If they can meet with Fred Phelps, the controversial minister who runs the Westboro Baptist Church, they said they would take that opportunity as well.

Preparing for the trip

The three left after the Fourth of July, and met with the Regional News a week before embarking on their journey.

The three said they remained a little nervous about the trip, but they were mostly excited.

“We can’t plan for everything and that’s what I’m most nervous about,” Koehler said.

They will film their adventure using GoPros, a small camera that films high-definition video.

Using Facebook, they will post updates about their trip at

When the group returns, it will hold a Welcome Back Fundraiser at Simple Restaurant. The tickets are $10, which includes heavy appetizers. The tickets are for sale at Immanuel Lutheran Church and at the restaurant. The proceeds from the event go toward the Starfish Project.