The S.T.A.R. Foundation (Success Thrives Around Respect) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide a sense of self-respect within girls and young adults through mentoring, educating and promoting the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, which incorporates HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases (STD) prevention.

According to the Center for Disease Control, more than half of the 14,000 people newly infected with HIV each day are under 25-years-old. The S.T.A.R. foundation believes that regardless of this information, young people are routinely disregarded when strategies on HIV/AIDS are developed, policies approved, and budgets allocated. The foundation’s campaign addresses this gap in service and advocacy by using pop culture to effectively communicate lifesaving messages and promote a healthy lifestyle.

S.T.A.R. was founded by Jennifer L. Payne while she was teaching in the public school system and noticed that a large percentage of the students were sexually active and that the entertainment industry played a major role in these students attitudes about sex.

By being in constant interaction with her students Payne realized that fine arts and entertainment could serve as a mechanism to promote self-respect and spread awareness of the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.

“Pop culture is the way to reach teens where they are,” said Payne. “It’s an opportunity to communicate with them on their level, and an attempt to sway their attention from sex, drugs, and alcohol, driving their attention to respect, goals, and achievement.”

The foundation focuses its energies on female youth between the ages of 13 and 18 within the public school systems through mentoring sessions covering topics such as self-respect, education, sex education, career choices, and personal and community issues.

Panel discussions have played a major role is promoting self-respect to these young women, and many celebrities such as Regina King, Tamala Jones, Meagan Good, Camille Winbush and Jill Marie Jones have come on board with the program to talk to the girls and hopefully instill in them a sense of pride and self-value.

“Women are the pulse of the earth; nothing happens unless it comes through us; in knowing that, why don’t we embrace that?” said Regina King at an all girls assembly at Westchester High School.

That question morphed into the mission for S.T.A.R. and Payne said, “We will embrace it. We will not only educate and change lives, but we will establish a network/sisterhood of accomplished women who will embrace, educate, mentor, and successfully lead the girls and young women coming up behind us. We will ensure that healthy living is a way of life and not an obstacle. We will ensure that self-esteem, self-acknowledgement, and self-reliance are high; and that self-destruction is an ultimate low.”

In addition to mentoring, S.T.A.R. also focuses on prevention education, which stresses abstinence but also teaches correct and consistent condom use. The program also has a fine arts and entertainment connection, and has an internship program that places young girls at various companies within the entertainment industry, including television stations, record companies, dance studios, public relations and entertainment management firms and sports organizations.

For more information on the S.T.A.R. Foundation, visit the website at www.foundationofstars.org