The Star Kids Scholarship Program was founded in 2000 by Dr. Timothy Flanigan, MD, Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and HIV and Infectious Diseases Physician at the Miriam and Rhode Island Hospitals. While working at the Rhode Island State Prison caring for substance-abusing women, Dr. Flanigan witnessed theseemingly insurmountable struggles the families encountered, including addiction, unemployment, depressions, family disintegration, and homelessness – but their primary concern was their children. The need for a program in which children could escape this terrible cycle was self-evident, and Dr. Flanigan realized that the way to break the cycle of substance abuse in families was rooted in supplying quality education and support for their children.

The Star Kids Scholarship Program was launched in the spring of 2000 to address these at-risk children in the communities of Newport County, RI and Fall River and New Bedford, MA. Suzanne Petronello, M.Ed., was hired as the program’s first Executive Director. Six students were enrolled that year, with the goal of accepting ten new students each year. As the program grew, New Bedford Star Kids officially became its own chapter in July 2009, led by Judy Zwirblis, BA. In 2011, Kathleen Burke, M.Ed., took over as Executive Director of the Newport/Fall River Chapter, and grew the program to 95 students by 2014. That summer, both chapters experienced new leadership, as Kristen Van Hull, M.Ed., stepped in as Executive Director of the Newport/Fall River chapter, and Ellen Lough, M.Ed, began serving the New Bedford chapter. Star Kids began with serving less than 10 children between 2000-2002, and has now grown to serving 96 in the Newport/Fall River Chapter, and 67 served in the New Bedford Chapter. The goal is to eventually grow both chapters to reach 100 students in each.


Star Kids welcomes collaboration with all social service agencies and schools. Currently Star Kids collaborates with many organizations including the following:

Newport County:

Head Start, CODAC III, Florence Gray Center, New Visions of Newport County, Child and Family Services of Newport County, DCYF (Department of Children Youth and Families), Tiverton Psychological Services, Psychological Centers, Newport County MentalHealth, Women’s Resource Center, Martin Luther King Center, Newport Partnership for Families and Salve Regina University.

Fall River:

SSTAR (Stanley Street Treatment and Resources), Child and Family Services of New Bedford and Fall River, DSS (Department of Social Services), Catholic Social Services, Steppingstones, Family Services.

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