Giving Tuesday is November 29 & Reach High to the Stars for Uniting Distant Stars

Giving Tuesday is November 29 & Reach High to the Stars for Uniting Distant Stars

This year we gave you three options on how you can make your tax-deductible donation to help us raise the start-up funds to build our new vocational training center in Brewerville, Liberia. If you donate at least $10, you will buy shovels, wheelbarrows, and other items.
  1. Facebook ]Fundraiser
  2. GiveMN Fundraiser:
  3. CashApp @ $UDStars

 

Besides the $600 matching grant that can be used on any of the above three platforms, Meta (aka Facebook) has one too. If you donate through our Facebook Fundraiser from now to December 31, 2022, and make it reoccurring, they will match after the second month’s donation. Also, you could get another match through your employer. Please check your employer’s HR site for the Employer Match program. We are a 501(c)3 tax-deductible charity and we are listed on that site.

I recorded a video to help explain how to use these platforms and the different ways to take advantage of these matching options. Thank you!

If you have any questions, please email us at [email protected] Thank you!

Happy Thanksgiving! We Give Thanks For Your Support of Liberian Youth

Happy Thanksgiving! We Give Thanks For Your Support of Liberian Youth

Happy Thanksgiving! May this be a day to give thanks for your family, friends, health, and life. All of us at Uniting Distant Stars wish you a wonderful holiday. 

We are extremely grateful that you include Uniting Distant Stars in your charitable giving. In 2022, your support graduated 69 students from our 5th commencement ceremony and welcomed the 6th cohort of young people seeking to learn trade skills. 

Recently, when we posted information about our current recruitment, three of our alumni commented about their experiences. First, Adolphus Kollie graduated in 2021 as an electrician who started his own construction business. Second, Theophilus Dobson Jr. graduated in 2022  as an electrician and participated in our first Virtual Tea Time. Third, Sylvester Yeah, Jr. graduated in computers in 2019 and stayed with UDS as an academic teacher and special assistant to the director. From their comments, you can see how much your generous support changes their lives for the better.

Download Your Souvenir 5th Graduation Ceremony Program

Download Your Souvenir 5th Graduation Ceremony Program

What an honor to finally attend one of the graduation ceremonies of our vocational training students. After two weeks of strenuous planning by our Liberian Team, we held the 5th Commencement Ceremony on October 15, 2022. Our graduates had their share of challenges with higher transportation costs and rice shortages but they made it through. Amazingly, 69 students wore their caps and gowns with pride. Oh, I should mention our tailoring students and alumni made these caps and gowns. 

As I still pull information together for the graduation, we do have three videos uploaded to our YouTube channel for your to watch as follows:

For the second consecutive year, we like to present you with the souvenir 5th Graduation Commencement Program designed by Kelvin Fomba and Slyvester Yeah. Please download your program and enjoy seeing the photos, names, and courses of all the graduates.

Meet New Board Member Paul Ostrow

Meet New Board Member Paul Ostrow

Paul OstrowWe are excited to introduce you to our new board, Paul Ostrow! He brings an extensive background in community service and legal expertise. He also had the opportunity to visit Liberia with an organization he serves and his heart was captured by the young people’s desire to have a better life. Please read Paul’s bio below.

Paul Ostrow currently serves as an Assistant Anoka County Attorney in the criminal division. Prior to his current position, He served three terms on the Minneapolis City Council from 1998-2009 representing northeast Minneapolis.

Paul also served as Council President from 1998-2009 and in leadership on many boards and commissions including the League of Minnesota Cities, the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, and the Hennepin County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.

He is a volunteer board member of the Civic Caucus, the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association, and the Minnesota Committee on Government Information and also serves as co-chair of No Labels Minnesota.

Paul visited Liberia in December 2018 and assisted in the creation of an NGO–CAST (Collaborative Action for Social Transformation)–in Liberia dedicated to the empowerment of young women in Bong County. He joined UDS to continue to support the development of young people in Liberia.

He lives in Northeast Minneapolis and is an active member of Grace University Lutheran Church.

Meet New Board Member Carla Woodson

Meet New Board Member Carla Woodson

Carla Woodson

Carla Woodson

We are excited to introduce you to our new board, Carla Woodson! She comes with a strong background in education as a teacher. Her passion for educating young people in low-income countries drew her to UDS. Also, she is pursuing her master’s degree and wants to utilize what she is learning for her non-profit leadership certificate to help further our cause. Please read Carla’s bio below.

A teacher at heart, Carla’s background is in education. After teaching school for four years and working with several nonprofit organizations, she is currently working on completing her master’s degree with a graduate certificate in Nonprofit Leadership. Carla is also involved in church and community service, mainly working in youth and children’s programs. Carla is very excited to work with UDS, and hopes to help make a difference in the lives of students in Liberia.

 

 

Interview with Myrtle S Toe & Heather Cannon on October 17, 2022

During Heather Cannon’s (co-founder & executive director) visit to the Uniting Distant Stars Campus in Liberia, she interviewed key staff members. On October 17, she interviewed Myrtle S Toe, who is the business manager registrar, and performs other duties, and is second in command. She is also a Mom with two teenage children.

She is a 2019 hotel management graduate and came to Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) to certify her previous experience in this field. In this interview, she explains why she stayed with UDS and shares some stories of how our school is helping those hungry to learn.

Here is what she had to say about why she loves UDS, “First thing, it makes you know who you are… As a female just enter UDS and you will see the changes. UDS help restore hopes, help get people self-respect, and help to make people be recognized in society. I am one of those and I am proud of UDS. Because of UDS I know who I have become and know where it is heading to.”

Myrtle brings ideas on how we can be more efficient and save money. In 2022, she recommended that we make our own graduation caps and gowns because renting from others was no longer affordable. During the 2021 graduation, one of the gowns was accidentally torn and we were charged $50 USD. From this incident, she made her recommendation, and soon our tailoring team was sewing the 2022 graduates’ caps and gowns. Now that we have our own caps and gowns, we can start renting during the next graduation season.

Uniting Distant Stars Update 11/1/22 – Heather Cannon’s Liberian Trip Recap

Heather Cannon, Uniting Distant Stars Co-Founder & Executive Director gives an update on her recent trip to Liberia and how your support has made a difference with children and youth. She spent time with the students of each course, attended their graduation on 10/15, interacted with the academic students, and much more. Also, she invited you to visit our center if you like to volunteer or help out in some way. Here are some additional updates and ways to help:

  1. We are currently recruiting for the sixth cohort of students. Please call +231-770672461, +231-881429350, or +231-770797061 to learn more.
  2. Co-Founders Heather Cannon and Kelvin Fomba were featured in VoyageMinnesota https://voyageminnesota.com/interview/conversations-with-heather-cannon-and-kelvin-fomba/
  3. If you are on Facebook, remember to consider Uniting Distant Stars for your Birthday Fundraiser. https://www.facebook.com/unitingdistantstars
  4. Reminder Give to the Max Day on November 17 (stay tuned)
  5. Giving Tuesday on November 29 (stay tuned)
  6. Campaign to build our center will be coming soon.
  7. Learn more about our Star Champion (Monthly Donor Program): https://www.unitingdistantstars.com/donations/star-champion-monthly-donor-program/.
  8. Help support our plumbing students by donating today. https://www.unitingdistantstars.com/donations/7148/

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Conversations with Heather Cannon and Kelvin Fomba (Co-Founders

Conversations with Heather Cannon and Kelvin Fomba (Co-Founders

heather-cannon
kelvin-fomba

Article by Camila Sanchez, VoyageMinnesota (article link) 

Hi Heather Cannon and Kelvin Fomba, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
Uniting Distant Stars (UDS) was co-founded by Heather Cannon (U.S. Citizen) and Kelvin Fomba (Liberian Citizen) in 2011. They met in Liberia in 2007 while working at a local non-government organization (NGO) and found they shared a vision to empower Liberian Youth with educational resources. So, they started with two projects, academic scholarships and school supply drives for many local students.

In 2013, they decided to become an official non-profit in Minnesota. They launched their program in September in Liberia with a two-day workshop on creative and innovative thinking. When Ebola brought education to a standstill in 2014, their program expanded to vocational training. The youth in the area asked if they could learn some trade skills. Well, this led to three courses in auto mechanics, driver’s education, and tailoring. The latter became a service learning project of making backpacks from recycled drinking water sachets. Twenty-five students made 300 backpacks, and they were filled with school supplies and given to primary school children.

By 2016, they outgrew their current site (Kelvin’s home) and found a building to lease. From May to October that year, Kelvin and his team transformed a dilapidated building into a suitable learning environment. In November, they received their TVET (Technical and vocational education and training) permit and started recruiting students for their first official vocational training program.

The program consists of one-year courses in up to nine disciplines: Auto Mechanic, Catering, Computer, Cosmetology, Electricity, Event Decoration, Hotel Management, Plumbing, and Tailoring. The students receive at least 85% practical learning experience during the year-long course. They cater to students with no formal education to college graduates who can’t find a job. Since 2017, we have graduated four cohorts (300) students, and the fifth commencement ceremony will be held on October 15, 2022. With a strong focus on hands-on learning, many of their graduates find jobs as independent contractors. Liberia’s main employers are the government and private businesses owned by foreign nationals. Neither one provides good-paying jobs for Liberian Youth.

The UDS Liberian team and community worked together to establish affordable tuition, whereas the tailoring students would make the uniforms, and the parents would buy directly from UDS. This community partnership showed how they could collaborate in finding a solution to the high tuition problem plaguing their area. In 2018, UDS expanded its academic arm of the organization by opening a primary school to respond to the community’s pleas. Last year, they received an anonymous donation and used part of that to buy land for our future site. They are currently working on the building plans for their new center, including academic and vocational training classrooms.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been smooth?
There are many challenges with operating a non-profit in Liberia, one of the world’s poorest countries. First, Liberia is recovering from the 15-year civil war that ended in 2003 and slowly rebuilding its infrastructure. Second, the economy has suffered many blows from the Ebola crisis in 2014/15, UN Peacekeepers leaving in 2018, and now the war in Ukraine. The UN was the economic fuel for several years by renting spaces, buying supplies, and providing job opportunities. In their wake, the country is dealing with high inflation, price fluctuation of goods and services, and other economic issues.

One of the significant challenges is youth employment. According to The EPAG Project in Liberia, “There are roughly 1.1 million people in the workforce, of whom 195,000 (about 18 percent) are engaged in wage employment; the remaining 900,000-plus workers (82 percent) are considered in vulnerable employment, working for themselves or working unpaid for their households (LISGIS 2010).”

While the challenges may be overwhelming at times, UDS knows that helping Liberia’s Youth with skills training and education prepares them to be the next leaders of their nation.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
UDS is a U.S. Non-Profit and Liberian Non-Government Organization (NGO) focused on youth development. Over the last 11 years, UDS’s approach has been to value young people and listen to what they seek. Much of their growth has been from the feedback and suggestions of their students.

This non-profit has a native Liberian, Kelvin Fomba, as its co-founder and director. He understands how his country works and successfully navigates through problems, including two pandemics–Ebola and COVID. He also serves as a role model for the next generation. Kelvin lifted himself out of poverty as a tradesperson with skills in multiple trades, so he guided the students through some of their challenges. It is not cheap to run a vocational training school because you need equipment, instructors, materials, and supplies to teach trade skills. So, we developed an affordable tuition program with a payment plan to cover our basic needs and let young people feel invested in their education. UDS’ training approach covers skills training and confidence building to prepare them as independent contractors. Based on how UDS shows youth that they have value, some alumni return to work with the organization either as administrators or instructors/teachers.

UDS thrives on being innovative. As mentioned in “Your Story,” they showed young people how to take recycled plastic drinking water sachets into usable backpacks in 2015. Another example is how Kelvin transformed an upright freezer into an oven that heats with coal for the catering students.

Additionally, UDS values sustainability in many forms. First, they partnered in 2019 with Sierra Leone Foundation for New Democracy. (SLFND) SLFND provided permaculture training during this nine-day exchange, and UDS students provided catering and hotel management services. Second, they installed solar panels on the roof to deal with unreliable and unstable electricity. While the center is not at 100% capacity, the solar provides 24/7 electricity for lights, which gives peace of mind. Third, they are slowly adding social businesses as another form of revenue. The first is a beauty salon for our cosmetology students to work with actual clients. UDS plans to expand in other areas as funding needs are met.

Throughout the years of growth, they partnered with other organizations in the U.S., Liberia, and Sierra Leone. In 2015, they received a $3,000 grant from Sundance Family Foundation for our Backpacks for Peace project. From 2014 to 2017, they worked with a Minnesota youth group called you to thrive on virtual peer-to-peer exchanges. This gave Liberian Youth the first opportunity to connect and talk with their peers in Minnesota and other states. In 2019, we partnered with Sierra Leone Foundation for New Democracy (SLFND), as mentioned above.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
Being honest when dealing with people is probably the most important. We also respect and value others regardless of age or ability. Active listening to and collaborating with students and partners allows UDS to be successful because they are part of the process. We look for people who are passionate about teaching their trade and students wanting to learn. This has allowed the quality of training to improve year after year. Also, we are grateful for the generosity of our supporters in Europe. U.S. and Liberia.

Contact Info:

Help Plumbing Students Learn How to Unclog Your Commode

Help Plumbing Students Learn How to Unclog Your Commode

Please help make our plumbing students training successful with a one-time or a monthly donation to replace their learning materials. As a result of your help, Uniting Distant Stars Plumbing Students can complete their one-year course with over 85% practical learning. Since 2017, we have trained five cohorts of students in plumbing. So, your generous gift today will ensure we can develop more plumbers in the future.

Our goal is $1000 to buy learning materials to help plumbing students learn how to install pipes, connect fixtures, and much more.

Watch Sylvester Bacchus, Plumbing Student, shares his excitement about attending Uniting Distant Stars. This was recorded during our Virtual Tea Time on July 30.

“I am so overwhelmed to be part of this great family. I’m so excited because graduated from high school and was sitting and nothing doing” ~ Sylvester Bacchus

If you click the image above, you can select one of the listed options below.

  • $8 Buys four 2″ Floor Drains
  • $10 Buys ten 1/2′ Tee Fittings
  • $12 Buys six 2″ Tee Fittings
  • $15 Buys three 1/2″ Pipe Fittings 19° or 1/2″ PVC Pipe Fittings 19°, or 15 1/2″ Elbows 90°
  • $18 Buys six 4″ PVC Elbows 90° or 4″ Tee Fittings
  • $24 Buys ten 2″ PVC Elbows 90°
  • $27 Buys three 2″ Pipe Fitting s19°
  • $30 Buys ten 1/2″ Finishing Elbows 90° or six 1/2″ Angle Values
  • $40 Buys four Shower Values
  • $50 Buys one Urinal set
  • $60 Buys one Kitchen sink set
  • $72 Buys six cartons of tiles
  • $100 Buys two Handheld Shower Head Kit or Wash Basin
  • $130 Buys one Water Heater
  • $140 Buys twenty 4″ Blocks
  • $1,000 Buys all the materials