Building Community Award Comes ‘In the Nick of Time’ for Starfish Initiative

Winning the 2022 Gerry Rauenhorst Building Community Award literally helped Indianapolis-based Starfish Initiative survive the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That money came in the nick of time," said Crystal Givens, President & CEO of Starfish Initiative. “We were really struggling to fundraise unrestricted income to fill the gap until we received our cyclical grant money in June and July. I'm forever grateful to Opus."

The $69,000 grant allowed Starfish to fund its operations – to cover payroll and pay rent and other bills – and continue providing highly motivated, underserved youth with mentors to help them reach high school graduation.

Launched in 2015, the annual Gerry Rauenhorst Building Community Award honors our founder's legacy of giving and provides one impactful nonprofit with an Opus Foundation grant totaling $1,000 for each year since Gerry Rauenhorst founded the organization that what would become The Opus Group. Each year, an office is randomly chosen, and the associates in that office get to select a winning nonprofit.

A Pathway to College and Lifetime Success

Founded in 2003, Starfish Initiative ensures at-promise youth have access to the resources and information they need to graduate high school and achieve their goals for post-secondary education.

“We envision a world where young people are empowered to elevate themselves, their families and their communities," Crystal said. “We partner our young people with individuals who can help them see there is hope and promise outside of their current situations and circumstances."

Following high school graduation, the young scholars served by the Starfish Initiative are eligible for four years of free tuition at an Indiana public university, further increasing the odds they can overcome challenging circumstances and become, in many cases, first-generation college graduates.

Rebuilding and Growing Connections

Starfish Initiative is on the rebound after suffering major setbacks during the pandemic. As a relationship-based organization that recruits volunteers and scholars through schools and community events, their mentorship matches dropped significantly in 2020 and 2021. They have also had to staff back up in the ensuing years, which proved difficult during historically low unemployment.

Now in the second year of a three-year strategic plan, Starfish Initiative has nine staff members to support outreach and training of the mentors and mentees and is on track to have 200 mentor-scholar matches by the end of 2023 and another 200 one year later. Their goal is to have a cohort of 80 to 100 scholars at each grade level by the end of 2024.

“If we have enough mentors to work alongside students, we will not have a problem reaching our goal," Crystal said. “It is the volunteers we so desperately need to ensure this program meets the needs of the scholars."

To support the recruitment and training of more volunteer mentors, the Opus Foundation recently awarded an additional $50,000 grant to Starfish Initiative to partially fund the salary of a mentor engagement specialist and related expenses.

In addition to fostering mentoring connections, the Starfish Initiative team works with volunteers – including our Regional Vice President of Construction Rich Kauffman, Director of Project Management Brad Leimer and Senior Project Manager Michael Silver – to carry out events including a college fair, career fair and team-building activities.

“Volunteers ensure this machine keeps turning," Crystal said. “Without funding and mentors, we don't have an organization."

Crystal hopes to grow her organization's relationship with Opus further – engaging additional volunteers and providing career exploration opportunities to students. 

“We want to expose our scholars to career opportunities and what better way to do that than through our corporate partners," she said. “I'm excited to have a partnership with Opus and build on our relationship."


The Opus Foundation®​ is the corporate foundation for The Opus Group and is building community for a better tomorrow by supporting projects and programs that make our communities better places to live, work and raise families. The Foundation is committed to improving conditions that disproportionately affect historically underinvested individuals and communities by resourcing key focus areas of early childhood education, youth development, workforce development, community revitalization and pressing/emerging needs. Read more about the Foundation's work. The Opus Foundation is a separate entity from The Opus Group and is led by its own Board of Directors.