“It’s that joy; you get that true joy when you help somebody, that you don’t get any other way.”
Joni Clark-Moreland, President and co-founder of the Starfish Project, lives to serve and help others. She and her husband and co-founder Thomas Moreland spend their time connecting “lives, resources, and acts of kindness.”.
Joni started the Starfish Project two years ago, because “…when I was in the corporate world, getting beat up every day, working really hard, … I never felt like I was accomplishing anything. I never felt like I was helping anybody.” Inspired by her mother, who is “one of those people who would give her shirt off her back,” Joni’s desire was to
… have a job where I was helping people. I’ve been able to create this job where that’s what I do all day long. Our purpose is to serve others, really be a resource and a connector more than anything. Because I’ve found there are so many resources out there, and everybody’s kind of off doing their own thing, or they have the stuff and don’t know what to do with it, so if somebody can go and be the connector, now all of a sudden people are working together, we’re sharing resources and being more successful in what we’re trying to accomplish, especially in the non-profit world.”
The starfish with its radial symmetry and pointed arms seems the perfect illustration of the central role of connector for the Starfish Project, but the Project’s name is taken from an essay by Loren Eiseley called “The Star Thrower:”
While wandering a deserted beach at dawn…I saw a man in the distance bending and throwing as he walked the endless stretch toward me. As he came near, I could see that he was throwing starfish, abandoned on the sand by the tide, back into the sea. When he was close enough I asked him why he was working so hard at this strange task. He said that the sun would dry the starfish and they would die. I said to him that I thought he was foolish. There were thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach. One man alone could never make a difference. He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said, ‘It makes a difference for this one.’
Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich was another make-a-difference source of inspiration for Joni. She creatively applied the course’s principles to her non-profit work.
Two years ago I had a business coach, and he was doing the John Maxwell classes and one of the first ones I took was the Think and Grow Rich series. As you work through it step by step by step, you find that one thing, and mine was making creating her dream job of helping people. It all started with a Facebook page and two years later my husband and I running what I feel is a successful non-profit.
Helping people is why Joni gets up every morning. “It’s that passion for me to help people! My why is ‘Who can I help today? What kind of impact can I make?’ Because I truly feel that it’s about people helping people that is going to get us out of the situation we are in, no one is going to do it for us.
It’s this culture of giving back and mutual assistance that Joni works to instill in all who work with her. She finds partners and volunteers everywhere. “I network like crazy, and I volunteer all the time. So I’m just out there meeting people. You network and you talk to enough folks, and all of a sudden [someone says] ‘Oh you know I would really be interested in doing…’ Oh, my gosh, that’s exactly what I’m looking for! Hey, let’s see if we can work together.” Joni also values integrity and modesty; for her the emphasis is on those she helps. “Integrity is key for me. Everybody’s on the same page, we all stay together and move forward—having a … true passion for helping others. I’m not a person who’ll go ‘Oh look what I did.’ I truly believe that the more you help folks [anonymously] or the random stuff is way more important. I’m not a recognition person, I’m all about helping people.”
Helping folks takes a passionate attitude and focus. Still you have to recognize that you need to take care of yourself, too.
You have to have a passion for what you do, because in the non-profit world, there’s not that money. If you’re an entrepreneur, you always know there’s ‘X’ amount of dollars that you can make, or if you want to make more you can work harder, or you can add this to your business. Where [with] us, money’s not the thing that drives us, it’s the passion. So you’ve really got to want help people and then find those ways to be able to support yourself as well.
Part of taking care of yourself is to recognize the skills needed to be a successful resource connector. “Being able to market yourself, being very persistent. You’ve got to be well rounded too, because a lot of times you don’t have the funds to get that admin person.” It helps, too, to have an overall plan or method that makes things easier. “Keep it simple and duplicatable, even in helping folks, because it’s too easy to get overwhelmed, or you want to do too big, but if you keep it simple you actually accomplish more or get more folks to help.”
Getting more folks to help her is a strategy Joni uses to multiply what she can do. It also provides a reason to keep going when things get difficult. Some of the most difficult days for Joni were
… the days on Facebook, when you see story after story after story of people that are just in horrible need and there’s nothing you can do. You just sit there and look at the computer and you go ‘am I really going to make a difference, am I ever going to be able to accomplish enough?’ But I can’t stay like that; so then I keep telling myself, ‘you know, the more we can help, it’s that whole chain reaction.’ I’m not going to be able to help those people, but if I help enough people, they’ll reach over there to help. You have to keep going, you have to keep doing what you’re doing. So, I never really bought into it, but there are some days when I just sit at the computer and cry, going ‘how am I ever really going to make an impact?’ But in the end, the chain reaction is going to be huge. I won’t even see or know what all impacts we’ve made.
Impact is what Joni achieves through the Starfish Project. She looks for that impact in every project, but there was one family where she could see that the help she was giving them made a huge difference for their youngest member.
We had a homeless family of seven, that an organization had helped them get a house, but they had nothing. They had a couple of blankets and a couple of pillows but nothing else. The house was bare. We filled the entire house up [with furnishings], and then we partnered with another organization that got a whole bunch of food donated. I remember one night we were dropping this stuff off and their littlest little boy climbs up on the little dresser we just dropped off to them, and he’s just sitting there and he’s got his arm around me, and he’s talking to me (he was like two or three years old, just the cutest little thing), and I was like, ‘we just made an impact on his life.’ Because he’s two years old and he was living out of a van—their family was living in a van—so that’s all he knew. Now all of a sudden he’s got a house, and he’s got this stuff, [he’s] warm, and he’s like ‘what’s all this?’ But to look at him and go ‘we just made a huge impact on his life and how he’s going to grow up and what he’s going to know.’
Joni wants to spread her influence to new people, even those beyond Kansas City. Her advice for new non-profit entrepreneurs is to “see if there isn’t someone already out there you can partner up with first, or partner up with an organization like us where you can go under an umbrella.” Her long-range plans include growing the Starfish project nationally.
I look to build a business model and literally take it into other cities. If we build a business model, keep it simple and keep it duplicatable, and then take it into other cities, and we have a website that ties people back; then we can start teaching people: ‘hey, you guys start connecting!’ or ‘hey, we’ve got this website, you start here,’ ‘you guys start connecting and you guys start connecting,’ and now people can find the resources they’re looking for or they can share resources.
If you’re interested in getting involved with Joni’s Starfish Project, her website is https://starfishproject21.org. Joni offers some ways to get started:
If you want to give back and don’t know where or how, we can help.
We are always looking for businesses/individuals that are looking for ways to give back and sponsors.
Helping others does not always require money; the greatest gift you can give is your time.
We can assist folks with making their charitable event tax deductible.
We challenge folks to Pay It Forward and have plenty of cards to share. You can request your cards and tell your Pay It Forward story at https://starfishproject21.org/share-your-story/.