The last two weekends, professional beach volleyball players April Ross and Alix Klineman have chosen organizations to represent and donate to while competing in the AVP Champions Cup series tournaments. Klineman has chosen the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and the Equal Justice Initiative while Ross has twice represented Starlings, an organization whose mission is “to positively impact the lives of at-risk girls through the sport of volleyball.”
In the first weekend alone, Ross announced that she would donate five dollars for every kill she earned and opened up a request for donations. The pledges and Ross’ kills collected over $1,400 with even more awareness of Starlings buzzing around the AVP the following weekend.
Noted on the Starlings website, “Far more than a youth program, Starlings is a home-base for struggling girls to find empowerment, direction, and love within a setting of quality volleyball training and competition.”
The Starlings organization fundraises and uses donations to bring accessibility to the sport of volleyball with the goal that no athlete would have to miss out due to financial hardship. It also offers year-round training and events to keep athletes engaged with a consistent positive influence in their lives.
“For many,” said Executive Director Lucy Jones, “we are their family, their support.”
After restructuring the organization in October of 2018, Starlings formed a new board and Jones was brought on board. That change allowed Starlings to catapult to provide a greater platform for it to be seen and nurtured. Over 60 cities and U.S. Native American reservations now have Starlings teams with approximately 3,000 athletes participating. The programs have reached over 40,000 girls since its inception in 1996 and over 800 athletes have earned college volleyball scholarships. Once they are through with the program, many find it in their heart to give back and one-third of the directors for the organization were once Starlings athletes.
The timing of the organization’s restructuring also helped Starlings see positive growth. The increased awareness of diversity and equity inclusion has directed a spotlight on Starlings and programs like it that offer a greater number of opportunities for minority athletes. Jones is a member of USAV’s Diversity and Equity Inclusion committee and noted that a vast majority (around 80 percent!) of USAV’s members are white. Around 90 percent of the Starlings participants are non-white people of color.
The nonprofit organization has a national presence that continues to expand, now offering Sister Club and Sister College programs. The Sister Club program allows clubs from the USAV, JVA, and AAU organizations to partner with Starlings for opportunities for outreach and to give back by sharing gym space, mentoring, volunteer coaching, and offering clinics.
Several clubs have made the pledge to become Starlings Sister Clubs including Club 303, WAVE, 1st Alliance, TAV, Michigan Elite, Marin Jrs, SoCal VBC, Vision, La Jolla, and Club Cactus.
Stanford, Arizona, Princeton, St. Mary’s, and California city colleges are now part of the Starlings Sister College program and have been able to offer virtual interaction and suggest workouts to the Starlings athletes during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Jones said, “It’s a wonderful way to build relationships with a culture – kids and coaches – that are different, setting up opportunities between coaches to interact with athletes and talk to them about what’s difficult.”
With Ross representing the organization on the AVP, Starlings has included beach volleyball training and additional clinics this summer.
Over the last few months, a number of people within the volleyball community have been looking for ways to bring more diversity to the sport. Starlings is a great place to start.
With the Starlings Ambassador program, there are opportunities nationwide for volunteer coaching, refereeing, helping with regional administrative duties and finding gym space, fundraising, and there are even ways to help virtually. If you don’t have a Starlings program near you, you can donate.
“We can’t do this without the support of people who believe in Starlings,” said Jones. “We need help covering practical expenses.”
On October 24, Starlings will host its annual fundraiser, a Virtual Luau Party, with Karch Kiraly as the “Chief Kahuna” and Ross acting as the “Hula Princess.” Participants can enter to win raffle items or a trip for two to Hawaii and proceeds go toward the Starlings Players Fund and