The A.W. Jones Heritage Center, on St. Simons Island, was the setting for the annual STAR Foundation Gala.

Founded in 1996 by Wally and Kate Orrel and Ellen Murphy, with help from Don McGlamory, former director of the Brunswick Housing Authority, the program was founded to offer computer classes to residents of public housing so they could qualify for higher paying jobs. The organization received its official IRS nonprofit status in 1997.

During the first three years, all STAR program students were exclusively from the Brunswick Housing Authority, until a Points of Light Grant enabled the program to expand to include those living outside Brunswick Housing communities. In 2000, the STAR Foundation became a United Way partner. With funding from the United Way of Coastal Gerogia, STAR was able to welcome students from McIntosh and Camden counties.

Over the years STAR’s Employment Readiness Program has transformed from a basic computer software training class to an experience that utilizes computer training as the basis for teaching life skills, financial literacy and work-ready competencies. It educates people to become self-sufficient contributing members of the community. — Photos by Mary Starr/Coastal Illustrated