It’’s not often one has the opportunity to meet a high school senior with a distinct vision of what she wants to accomplish in life. Inspired, motivated, excited, eager might be a conservative start at describing Maddie Catterson, an intern at Starfish One-by-One.
She credits her Advanced Placement Human Geography class with exposing her to ways to measure human success in a number of countries, “It really opened my eyes!” she says of the freshman-year class taught by Linda Lovin. “I loved it – I ate it up!”
It was an extra-credit project about how China was taking over Africa – taking advantage of Africa’s natural resources – that inspired her to set her sights on creating a nonprofit organization geared toward teaching students in Mozambique: 1) how to cut trees correctly, 2) how to use the wood constructively to sell to the US, and 3) how to work with a company in the US to market and sell in this country, thus helping create jobs in African communities. And creating a boarding school just might be another part of that dream.
Since that Freshman year at Evergreen High School, Maddie’s been busy gaining exposure to nonprofits and how they operate. She’s volunteered for the Denver Rescue Mission, Evergreen Christian Outreach, the Evergreen Chamber of Commerce, Rotary events and now Starfish One-by-One, which helps Mayan girls extend their education in Guatemala.
“I learned you can’t just give them money. You have to teach them, mentor them, help them through it, teach them how to manage money. The best thing you can give them is knowledge,” she says with the conviction of a seasoned nonprofit leader. “You have to teach them how they can help themselves.” She credits her Starfish exposure to learning it’s the quality of what’s given, not the quantity.
The Catterson family co-sponsors a Mayan girl through Starfish, and they send letters to her every few months. Maddie hopes she can be a resource for the Mayan girl as they both get older.
Maddie describes herself as being “starstruck” by the Nings – Connie, Ted and Travis – the principals behind Starfish. “I want to be like them someday.” The Nings, founders of Friendship Bridge in 1990 and later Starfish One-by-One in 2007, have created a model for setting up international self-help situations to effect major changes by focusing on individuals for extended periods; they educate selected girls beyond what's normal for Mayan girls, breaking the mold that would have them living in poverty, married and pregnant in their early teens.
Someone from Starfish had spoken to the school, whetting her appetite for wanting to volunteer over the past two years. It didn’t take much time to respond in the affirmative when they asked if she’d like to intern with them this summer.
Maddie’s parents – Ron and D'Anna Catterson – have also been an inspiration. Ron is the co-founder of the Mountain Area Home and Garden Show and an active member of Evergreen Rotary. The Home and Garden Show gives back to the community by distributing the proceeds to a number of area nonprofits. “My dad is one of my idols,” she says proudly. Speaking for herself as well as her two siblings, she said, “Our parents are open to their children’s wants … whatever they want to do, they will back them up.”
Last summer her parents made it possible for her to travel to Costa Rica with Walking Tree Travel, a program that escorts teenagers to different countries for community service. She and others from all over the US traveled for a week, then settled in with host families in a small, rural town. They mixed cement for two weeks, building a playground with a basketball court for the local school. “It was the best experience of my entire life!," Maddie exclaimed. "It was a nice foundation for what I’d like to do eventually.” Staying with a host family was especially enjoyable, as was the additional week after the work gig ended. She feels as though she’s made friends for life with others in the group.
This summer Maddie will become the third Catterson to attend RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards). She’ll be one of seven seniors from Evergreen who are going to the five-day camp being held in Estes Park. “Everyone says it’s a life-changing experience, and I’m not going to miss out on a life-changing experience!” she says with unbridled enthusiasm.
When she returns to school in the fall, she’ll be at the helm of Interact, the high school group of about 30 students that performs community service work. “Interact is designed to get high schoolers involved in the community for the love of it,” she explains, “not because parents want them to.” She feels having observed a number of different management styles in her practical experience at Starfish and other settings will be of help. Maddie will also be part of Interact on the district level, which brings together 20 different high schools.
“We transfer ideas really well in Evergreen." Whether it's something she's heard or her own assessment is not clear, but the statement came across as profound for a high schooler.
Her pride of Evergreen High School is obvious, but Maddie elaborates on the fact that she’s also proud of the community that supports it, supports education, and conveys the expectation of students to stay in school and graduate.
Maddie enjoys being around others who share her enthusiasm, referring to Rotarians and other students inclined to be involved with RYLA and Interact. “You meet the coolest people ever at Rotary!” she says with exuberance.
Travel to Guatemala for a week is on her agenda for fall, taking in the graduation ceremony for students helped by Starfish. Once back at school, she’ll be running cross country, her main sport. She’ll also be applying to colleges, with Tulane at the top of her list – or more accurately, the only school on her list. “I want to combine international business and biology of some sort,” Maddie elaborates, saying that Tulane has a reputation for being a service-oriented school. She’s looking forward to the diversity in the New Orleans area.
Amidst the busy-ness of her school and extra-curricular activities, Maddie will help with Wildlands Restoration, an organization working to restore land back to its normal habitat, She’s training to be a crew leader.
Maddie’s definitely someone to watch. Remember her name because you just might be seeing a TV documentary on her someday. She seems to have an innate sense of how to lead, and she’s making us proud already!