Starfish Alliance was founded in 2002 to help empower youth in foster care to defy the gravity that accompanies loss, separation, abuse and neglect. We believe all young people can have bright futures.
We refuse to accept the statistics, that youth in foster care are more likely to be homeless or unemployed later in life. We refuse to be cynics. We celebrate young people who beat the odds and offer a leg up for young people who need one.
We provide opportunities for youth and alumni of foster care to lead and to grow into confident adults through mentoring and community partnerships.
We invite you to join our force of Starfish Allies on this journey, as a volunteer mentor, staff, community partner or sponsor.
Annually, between 100 and 200 youth “age out” of foster care at age 18 in Franklin County. Too many foster alumni become trapped in a catch 22 when lack of transportation and a permanent address prevent them from maintaining employment and staying enrolled in college or career training. Founded in 2012, LINK22 works to turn this proverbial catch 22 on its head. LINK22 offers young adult alumni of foster care a safety net and a launchpad into their community’s highest demand career fields, as well as social entrepreneurship.
Each LINK22 member is connected with: 1) a volunteer mentor— a community leader who can provide counsel and enrichment opportunities; 2) a peer group that will hold them accountable to life and career goals; 3) leadership and enrichment seminars; and 4) connection to in-demand careers and entrepreneur certification.
The Columbus Social Entrepreneur Launchpad equips LINK22 members with entrepreneur certification from the Economic and Community Development Institute, barista training from Brioso Coffee, and the know-how to start a coffee bar or other pop-up business. In 2013, Starfish Alliance and Brioso Coffee came together to develop a jointly-owned social enterprise benefitting youth and alumni of foster care in central Ohio.
Starfish Alliance also sponsors the camp and school-year club of Royal Family KIDS of Franklin County, programs for local foster youth ages 6-12. Visit their website to learn more.
Meet The Team
Jennifer S. McKenzie Executive Director
Prior to joining Starfish Alliance, Jennifer spent 5 years at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office in the Human Resources Section with progressive responsibility. There she managed a program that provided developmental and experiential opportunities to undergraduate and law students. Additionally, she was responsible for the implementation and analysis of the agency’s diversity and recruitment plans. In the immediate past, Jennifer spent a year and a half learning about the non-profit landscape as the Assistant to the President/CEO of one of Columbus Foundation’s 2016 “5 Non-profits to Watch,” CPO Management.
Jennifer has a commitment and passion for community services and programs that empower, prepare and enable our youth and foster youth in particular. This is evident as you examine Jennifer’s community service record.
Since 2013, Jennifer has been serving as a Board Member, Officer & Volunteer for Leader Spark, a youth development organization that provides leadership training to high school youth. From 2013-2015 Jennifer served on the Advisory Council for the National College – Health Information Technology Program as well as the program advisory council for Starfish Alliance. And for multiple years, Jennifer served as a Volunteer Event Planner to former Minority House Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard’s annual Girl Power Fundraiser.
Jennifer is a rising star in the greater Columbus community with a passion for lending her talents in the non-profit space. In fact, Jennifer was recently recognized by Columbus City Council for her work as an important leader to Starfish Alliance. Columbus City Council appropriately recognized Jennifer as an “example of remarkable achievements of which those who experience foster care are capable.”
Jennifer holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Human Resource Management. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband (Ashon McKenzie, Esq.) and two children.
Kathleen Harkin, HCS, Executive Director
John Dale, Assistant Director, Royal Family KIDS Camp
Ann Bischoff, Executive Director, Star House
John Richard, Associate Executive Director, Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators
Sharon Ryan, Director of Client Service, Resource
Jennifer Sharma, Chief Strategy Officer, Alvis House
2016 Columbus City Council Recognizes Starfish Alliance for 14 Years of Service
2012 National Center for Adoption Law and Policy Champion Award
2009 Franklin County Children Services Community Advocate Award
2004 Franklin County Children Services Executive Director’s Award for Voluntary Service